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Harvard Peabody Museum Releases Data on Repatriation Efforts

The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology was founded in 1866. The museum released updated data on their repatriation efforts last week.
The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology was founded in 1866. The museum released updated data on their repatriation efforts last week. By Naomi S. Castellon-Perez
By Neeraja S. Kumar and Annabel M. Yu, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology released updates on its repatriation efforts under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act last Wednesday.

The data — the first update since October 2023 — reported that as of Dec. 31, 2023, the Peabody has repatriated 10,209 funerary belongings, and as of Feb. 1, the Peabody has repatriated 4,439 ancestors. No ancestors have been repatriated since the start of 2024, according to Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Holly J. Jensen.

A 2022 University report revealed that at the time, the Peabody held nearly 7,000 Native American human remains and at least 19 remains of enslaved individuals.

Since NAGPRA was passed in 1990, the Peabody has repatriated 44 percent of the Museum’s 10,118 total held ancestors, according to Jensen.

The Peabody’s latest updates on repatriation efforts became publicly available on the museum’s website following repeated requests by The Crimson for the data.

Harvard University spokesperson Nicole Rura wrote in an emailed statement that the decision to publicly release information was made after “Museum staff updated the committee on the latest data, in advance of the update being made on the public facing dashboard.”

According to Rura, the Peabody will now provide updated data through the dashboard twice annually in June and December in an effort to “provide greater transparency around the progress of this work.”

Earlier this month, the Peabody removed over 40 objects from public display after consulting tribal leaders on removal of sacred and funerary objects. The Museum reopened all closed exhibits last Friday.

The repatriation process involves consulting tribes to ensure the proper return of objects and remains to their homelands. Currently, the Peabody lists data on the tribal consultation process by state, marking nine as “completed consultation,” with others “under active consultation” or “pending consultation.”

Some Native American organization leaders have said the timeline of the Peabody’s repatriation process has dragged.

Shannon O’Loughin, chief executive and attorney of the Association on American Indian Affairs, said she “would really like to see them acknowledge the fact that, for whatever reason, that they have at least been extremely slow in their work.”

According to Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain, Peabody staff are simultaneously communicating with 50-75 Tribal Nations.

Other Native American leaders have urged more patience with a complicated process.

John “Jim” Peters Jr. — a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and executive director of the Commission on Indian Affairs in Massachusetts — said “there’s a reason why some of the ancestors and associated objects are still there.”

Peters said in addition to doing “our due diligence to help put our ancestors back in a place where they should be,” there should also be “patience among us both.”

“I feel a responsibility to help do justice with our ancestors,” Peters said. “But it’s something that we haven’t really had time or resources to really do that in the proper manner,” Peters said.

—Staff writer Neeraja S. Kumar can be reached at

—Staff writer Annabel M. Yu can be reached at Follow her on X @annabelmyu.

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