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Andover Newton Pursues Repatriation Effort

October 5, 2015

Dear Members of the Andover Newton Community,

A few stories have appeared in news outlets in the last several weeks regarding artifacts owned by Andover Newton that are currently housed at the Peabody Essex Museum.  Since some of those stories have included misinformation or a lack of current information, I am writing to clarify the matter.

For several decades the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, Massachusetts has housed Andover Newton’s collection of artifacts, which consists of more than 1,100 items donated over many years by alumni/ae from their ministries all over the world.  About 150 of those items came from a number of different North American tribes.

A federal law passed in 1990, Native American Graves Protection Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), is designed to protect “human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony” and to provide a process for returning such objects to the lineal descendants of the owners who can be located or to the tribes that are most culturally affiliated with them.  The school is—and has always been—committed to following both the letter and spirit of this law.  After this law was passed, the Peabody Essex Museum notified Andover Newton that 10 of the artifacts in the school’s collection were potentially subject to the provisions of NAGPRA.

In recent years, we have explored removing items not subject to NAGPRA from Peabody Essex and transferring them to other museums or individuals who would donate those items to museums.

As we investigated this matter further and learned more, however, it became clear that other objects in the Andover Newton collection—beyond the 10 identified by Peabody Essex—may also be subject to NAGPRA.  That led us to reassess our plan of action.

As a result, currently we have no plans to transfer items from Andover Newton’s collection of Native American artifacts held by the Peabody Essex.  Instead, we have begun the process of repatriating items to Native American tribes and exploring the possibility of transferring the collection to another museum or museums.

Recent publicity about this issue states that the school is under investigation by the NAGPRA office in Washington, DC for its treatment of the collection.  The School has not received notification of any investigation, but is committed to full cooperation with the federal authorities.

Throughout this process we remain committed to adhering to both the letter and spirit of NAGPRA.


Martin B. Copenhaver

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