Harvard University holds the human remains of thousands of Native American people, despite a 1990 federal law requiring their return, according to a draft report leaked to the student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson. The school also holds the remains of 19 people of African descent who were probably enslaved at the time they died, according to the leaked report.
The draft report urged the school to speed up its return of the Indigenous remains and to find appropriate descendants or affinity groups to whom it could return the African remains. It also recommended memorialization that would “restor[e] individuality as far as possible.”
“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, according to the Crimson. The report was commissioned by the school last year when it formed the Steering Committee on Human Remains in Harvard Museum Collections.
The committee comprises museum curators and college faculty and staff, including noted African American scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. A representative for Gates said he was not available for comment. The committee chair, Evelynn M. Hammonds, released a statement to the Crimson saying “it is deeply frustrating that the Harvard Crimson chose to release an initial and incomplete draft report of the Committee on Human Remains.”
The Crimson journalist who wrote the story declined to respond to questions about how the Crimson obtained the report or why it may have been leaked.
The remains are primarily housed in Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnography.