By: Sarah Elmquist Squires
The Northern Arapaho Business Council has called for Harvard University and its Peabody Museum to return hair samples that were taken from children separated from their families in U.S. boarding schools.
According to a report from the Business Council shared on social media, the Peabody hair samples were taken from an estimated 700 Native children, including members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe. They were taken in the 1930s and have been maintained at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and according to Smithsonian Magazine, the museum issued a formal apology last week and promised to return the hair samples.
Peabody leaders wrote, “We recognize that for many Native American communities, hair holds cultural and spiritual signficance,” adding apologies “for our complicity in the objectification of Native peoples and for our more than 80-year possession of hair taken from their relatives.”
The museum maintains the hair samples were never on display, but admitted that after anthropologist George Edward Woodbury collected the samples in the early ’30s and donated them to the museum in 1935, they were used in studies that in many cases were used to support, “directly or indirectly, scientific racism.”
Some Native tribes across the country have expressed outrage that not only were the hair samples taken, but that they were possessed by the Peabody Museum for so long without their knowledge. Several months ago, the Harvard promised to return the remains of 19 people believed to have been enslaved to their descendants.
“It is impossible to undo atrocities committed against Native children ripped away from their families as part of the federal government’s forced boarding program, but Peabody Museum can and must cease its role in this abuse by returning to apprpriate tribes any hair samples taken from these children,” the Northern Arapaho Business Council said in a statement. “It is long past time that museums, universities and other institutions apologize for their objectification of Native people and culture and return to rightful owners the sacred artifacts stolen from Indian Country.”