November 14, 2022

Harvard’s Peabody Museum returning Native American hair samples

Author: Bea Mitchell

Harvard University’s Peabody Museum is returning a collection of Native American hair samples taken from Indigenous children at boarding schools in the 1930s.
The museum has apologised for its decades-long ownership of the samples and “complicity in the objectification of Native peoples”. The Peabody Museum is attempting to return the clippings to relatives tribal communities.
“The Peabody Museum apologizes to Indigenous families and tribal nations for our complicity in the objectification of Native peoples and for our more than 80-year possession of hair taken from their relatives,” it said.
The museum said it recognises that “for many Native American communities, hair holds cultural and spiritual significance and the museum is fully committed to the return of hair back to families and tribal communities”.
Museum apologises for ownership of hair samples
In a statement, the museum said the hair samples were collected by anthropologist George Edward Woodbury between 1930 and 1933. He donated the samples to the institution in 1935.
The majority of these hair samples “were taken from living people”, the museum said. They include “clippings of hair from approximately 700 Native American children” attending American Indian boarding schools.
“Many of these samples have the names of the children whose hair was taken, as well as their tribal affiliation,” said the Peabody Museum.
“We estimate there are approximately 300 tribal nations represented in the total of 700 youth.”
Earlier this year, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts elected Lynette L. Allston as president of its board of trustees. She is the first Native American board chair at a major US arts institution.
Images: Peabody Museum