In 1990, a federal law mandated the return of the remains of thousands of Native American people being held by Harvard University. 32 years later, a leaked draft report of the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson shows that they have yet to return all remains to descendants, including those of 19 enslaved African Americans.
According to The Washington Post, the draft report calls for the school to “speed up its return” of the indigenous remains, and to find appropriate descendants or groups to return the remains of the African Americans.
“Our collection of these particular human remains is a striking representation of structural and institutional racism and its long half-life,” the draft report stated. The report was commissioned last year by the school as it formed the Steering Committee on Human Remains in Harvard Museum Collections.
Committee chair, Evelynn M. Hammonds, released a statement to the Crimson that read: “It is deeply frustrating that the Harvard Crimson chose to release an initial and incomplete draft report of the Committee on Human Remains.”
In the last 32 years, the school has returned some 3,000 out of the 10,000 remains it once held. In January, 2021, Peabody director Jane Pickering offered a formal apology for the slow progression of the project, and “for not confronting our historic collecting practices and stewardship of all of these human remains and for our failure as an institution to face the ethical and moral issues that undergirded the practices that brought them to our museum.”
The Peabody is also at the center of an ongoing lawsuit against Harvard for images it holds depicting an enslaved man and his daughter forced to pose nude for a scientist in 1850. While in most cases, photographic images belong to the photographer, this becomes refutable when the subjects are proven to have been kidnapped. Many are calling for these images to be turned over to a woman by the name of Tamara Lanier who has proven to be a direct descendant of the subjects. The court’s ruling in this case is still pending.
This past April, Harvard released a report about its ties to slavery, and committed $100 million dollars to redress its legacy. Other universities such as Georgetown University, the University of Virginia and William and Mary have also made similar pledges in recent years.
The Crimson journalist who wrote the story declined to respond to questions about how the Crimson obtained the report, or how it could have gotten leaked.