Harvard University Called Upon to Return the Remains of Enslaved African Americans and Native Americans

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Image: Denis Tangney Jr/Getty Images.

A Harvard faculty committee’s leaked draft report revealed that the university houses in its museum collections the remains of nearly 7,000 Native Americans and approximately 20 enslaved African Americans, according to NBC News. Most of the remains primarily resided in Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Ethnology and Archaeology. The Steering Committee on Human Remains in Harvard Museum Collections urged the University to return the remains.  

Although the document has not been finalized, the draft report urged the university to return the remains to the descendants’ families. If ancestry is unclear, then thereport recommended that the university should consult with the descendants’ communities about how to address returning the remains.

Per the Harvard Crimson, Harvard University’s newspaper, the draft report acknowledges that the remains “were obtained under the violent and inhumane regimes of slavery and colonialism” and that they “represent the University’s engagement and complicity in these categorically immoral systems.” 

“Moreover, we know that skeletal remains were utilized to promote spurious and racist ideas of difference to confirm existing social hierarchies and structures,” reasoned the report. 

Last year, Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow and the director of the museum offered an apology for Harvard’s methods of acquiring the remains.

After Harvard’s museum collections discovered that the remains belonged to 15 who were enslaved people of African descent and to Indigenous people, the university pledged $100 million to implement the recommendations in the report.  

“Harvard benefited from and in some ways perpetuated practices that were profoundly immoral,” Bacow wrote in a statement released with the initial report. “Consequently, I believe we bear a moral responsibility to do what we can to address the persistent corrosive effects of those historical practices on individuals, on Harvard, and on our society.” 

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