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Thank you for Douglas Pravda's article on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and Peabody Museum ("Museum Returns Native American Sacred Artifacts," news feature, Sep. 19, 1995). Since Harvard's Peabody Museum has one of the largest collections of native remains and cultural items, this story is of concern to many of us inside and outside the Harvard community. I encourage The Crimson to continue coverage of the issue.
I appreciate the Peabody's and Harvard's commitment to fulfilling the law and, with other members of both the Harvard and the national native community, will watch with enthusiasm. Let me in the process point out a couple of issues.
This is not a giant lost and found. People's remains were not lost, they were dug up, usually with hefty grants from the University, the Smithsonian or some government agency. And hundreds of Harvard graduates, whether undergraduate students, graduate students or now-tenured professors at some institutions benefited additionally, receiving their degrees based on this work.
This process has caused tremendous trauma to the native community, by a spiritual disruption related to the unspeakable dishonor of having that which is yours taken for others. These ancestors and many sacred remains have been in many cases callously displayed for voyeurs (Harvard) has been much more conscientious than most collectors), augmenting the grief on a deep psychological level of the collective native communities. This violation of the sanctity of cultures has caused deep trauma from which we have yet to recover.
Second, I hope that Harvard will continue funding the Peabody activities as well as NAGPRA. It costs money, yes, but it also costs money to take the objects out of Indian country and will cost much more to put them back. Ironically, native American science, literature, medicine, philosophy, legal institutions, governing structures and art are by and large excluded from the academic curriculum at Harvard University. The mathematical concept of zero, for instance, originated in Mayan cultures, as did sophisticated medical practices; native astronomy (including native Hawaiian astronomy) has been extremely sophisticated, as are our architectural and artistic traditions.
Are there courses which teach indigenous intellectual traditions at Harvard, are there any native Americans on the faculty? No. The only place our fine art traditions are presented is at the Peabody Museum and in the anthropology department. It is an ironic situation. I implore Harvard to continue funding the Peabody's operations. I also challenge Harvard to recognize intellectual and cultural traditions from the Americas, Pacific, Africa and elsewhere. I recognize the new Islamic program as a start, but also point out that native America's cumulative "gift" (albeit received under dubious circumstances) to Harvard University (just beginning with eight million objects) probably has as much worth as any major gift from an alumnae or special concern today.
Finally, there are more Indians at the Peabody than have ever been inside Harvard Yard. Some 300 years ago Harvard College was established for the education of Indian and British youths, because that's who was here. For around 20 years, Harvard admitted native men, most of whom,unfortunately, died from consumption. Harvard College did not admit any native people for at least a couple of centuries and has admitted around seven per year since the mid 1970s. (Seventeen were admitted in the Class of 1999, I understand, much to the University's credit.) In comparison, there were until recently 12,000 native people at the Peabody Museum.
I appreciate my education, and this university. Native people are a good investment, and we have made a substantial investment in Harvard. Support NAGPRA, fulfill the law, support native programming and build on it. And please continue your coverage of this important issue. Winona LaDuke '80
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