The New York Times reported that the Harvard Museum, specifically the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, has made the decision to return hundreds of Native American hair samples. These samples were collected from Indigenous children at government boarding schools during the 1930s. The Peabody Museum issued an apology, acknowledging its "Complicity in the objectification of Native peoples."
The hair samples in question were obtained from Indigenous children during a period in American history when Native American communities were subjected to a policy of forced assimilation. Native children were taken from their families and sent to government-run boarding schools, where they were often subjected to harsh treatment, cultural suppression, and the erasure of their cultural identity. These hair samples were collected as part of a broader effort to study and document Indigenous peoples, but they symbolize a dark chapter in Native American history.
Healing and reconciliation: Returning the hair samples is a step towards reconciliation between institutions like the Peabody Museum and Native American communities. It is an opportunity for healing and addressing the intergenerational trauma that has resulted from the historical mistreatment of Native peoples.
Repatriation of cultural artifacts: This act is part of a broader movement within the museum and cultural heritage sector to repatriate stolen or collected items of cultural significance to Indigenous communities. It underscores the importance of respecting and returning such items to their rightful owners.