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President Copenhaver Responds to NYT Article
Letter from President Martin B. Copenhaver on Andover Newton’s Native American Objects

May 10, 2017

Dear Members of the Andover Newton Community,

There continues to be media interest in our work to return Native American objects in the Andover Newton collection to the rightful owners under federal laws. So I want to take this opportunity to update you on our progress on that project, particularly in light of today’s New York Times story on the subject.

The story focuses on efforts by institutions such as ours to comply with the law and uses Andover Newton as an example of the challenges faced particularly by smaller institutions working hard to fully comply.

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

A federal law passed in 1990, the Native American Graves Protection Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), is designed to protect objects from Native American tribes and to provide a process for returning such objects to the lineal descendants of the owners or to the tribes that are most culturally affiliated with them.

Andover Newton and its leadership team fully support the NAGPRA process and remain committed, in vision and action, to the proper treatment of all Native American artifacts. We will ensure they are properly stored until they are fully repatriated and at all times with care and respect.

Since Andover Newton learned it is subject to the provisions of NAGPRA, leadership here has made every effort to comply with the law and we remain committed to doing so until all appropriate items are repatriated.

Our process of repatriation has continued throughout this time of transition for our school. The progress has been slower than we would have liked, however, as the law is extraordinarily complex, and we do not have the in-house expertise of a museum. Also, we have been committed to approaching this process in a way that is respectful, deliberate and thorough, and that takes time.

Gratefully, we are nearing the point in our process when we can appropriately reach out to the proper representatives of Native American tribes to begin the process of repatriation of those objects. We are working directly with federal officials responsible for NAGPRA and we will continue to take our guidance from them.

We are committed to continuing the process set forth in NAGPRA until it is complete. Until then, we will ensure the artifacts are held safely at all times. Along the way, if we can appropriately donate these objects to a museum, we will consider doing so if -- and only if -- the recipient of the donation is equally committed to the proper care and ethical repatriation of these objects.

As we continue the process of repatriating these objects, we will keep the Andover Newton community updated on our progress.


Martin B. Copenhaver

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