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Repatriation Process for Native American Artifacts Has Begun

The following letter was released to the Andover Newton community on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, regarding the school's efforts to repatriate Native American artifacts given to the school in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Dear Andover Newton Community,

Many of you have raised questions about recent publicity regarding the Native American collection Andover Newton has at the Peabody Essex Museum. As the school’s point person on repatriation efforts, I hope I can clarify the misinformation that has been published so that you have a better understanding of the school’s actions in relation to these objects.

In the 1800s and 1900s the school was given more than 1100 items from alumni/ae and other friends of the school, approximately 125 of which are Native American objects. The school stored them at the campuses it occupied over the years. Many were never looked at, and in the 1970s the then current trustees sought to find a place where they would be well cared for. Toward that end, in 1976 the school entered into an agreement with the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) to hold and care for these items.

In 1993, in order to comply with the new 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the PEM surveyed their collection and then submitted a summary of their Native American collection to the government, including those objects the PEM deemed relevant that were owned by Andover Newton, as required by NAGPRA. This process allowed any Native American tribe that wished to do so to make a claim for repatriation of any of the objects.

Since 1976 only a few of the items of the Andover Newton collection were ever put on public display in the PEM. In recent years, the school has explored potentially removing items not subject to NAGPRA and transferring them to other museums or individuals who would donate them to museums so the public could benefit from the entire collection. As we investigated the NAGPRA law further and learned more, however, the school realized that many of the objects in the collection may indeed be subject to NAGPRA. The school also came to understand that it has an obligation to reach out to tribes directly about those objects that may be related to certain of them. As a result the school reassessed the plan and it currently has no plans to transfer items from the Andover Newton collection of Native American artifacts held by the PEM.

The school has now begun the process of repatriation to Native American tribes and is working closely with NAGPRA officials in order to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the law, and they have been very helpful and supportive of our efforts. Once the repatriation process is complete, which will take some time, the school will explore the possibility of transferring the remaining collection to another museum or museums.

Dr. Nancy Nienhuis
Dean of Campus Life & Vice President of Operations
Professor of Theology and Social Justice

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