Harvard has remains of 1,000s of Native Americans and 19 people who likely were enslaved, draft report says

The report comes as the university is in the process of coming to terms with its racist history.

Charles Krupa
Harvard President Lawrence Bacow announced on April 26 that the university is committing $100 million to study its ties to slavery and create a "Legacy of Slavery Fund." Charles Krupa

An article published in The Harvard Crimson this week claims that a draft report says Harvard University has custody of the remains of at least 19 people who were likely enslaved, as well as the remains of nearly 7,000 indigenous Americans.

The Crimson reported that the draft report was created by the University’s Steering Committee on Human Remains in Harvard Museum Collections, which was created in January 2021 to determine how the university should treat human remains in its museum collections.

The college newspaper wrote that the report is dated April 19, and that it urges the university to give the remains of people who were likely enslaved back to their descendants.


The newspaper said the report also calls on Harvard to act more quickly in returning the remains of indigenous Americans to their descendants, which has been required by federal law since 1990.

The Crimson notes that the report is unfinalized, which means its language, findings, and recommendations could change before the Committee releases its official report.

“Our collection of these particular human remains is a striking representation of structural and institutional racism and its long half-life,” the Crimson quotes the draft report’s introduction as saying.

In a statement to the newspaper Monday, the Crimson reported, the steering committee’s chair, Professor Evelynn Hammonds, wrote that “it is deeply frustrating that The Harvard Crimson chose to release an initial and incomplete draft report of the Committee on Human Remains.”

“Releasing this draft is irresponsible reporting and robs the Committee of finalizing its report and associated actions, and puts in jeopardy the thoughtful engagement of the Harvard community in its release,” Hammonds reportedly wrote.

“Further, it shares an outdated version with the Harvard community that does not reflect weeks of additional information and Committee work.”

The steering committee was created after an evaluation of the Peabody Museum of Ethnology and Archaeology found the museum had custody of the remains of at least 15 people of African descent who were likely alive when slavery was legal in the U.S., the Crimson reported.


Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow gave the steering committee the responsibility of reviewing all human remains in Harvard’s museum collections, developing a new university policy for the keeping of human remains, and creating a process for creating memorials and returning remains.

“They were obtained under the violent and inhumane regimes of slavery and colonialism; they represent the University’s engagement and complicity in these categorically immoral systems,” the Crimson quotes from the draft report.

“Moreover, we know that skeletal remains were utilized to promote spurious and racist ideas of difference to confirm existing social hierarchies and structures.”


The draft report was leaked at a time when Harvard is in the process of reckoning with its racist history.

In April, the university released a 130-page report documenting its historical ties to slavery, and said it would allocate $100 million for financing a search for recommendations on how the university can engage in reparations.  

The report alleged that university associates enslaved more than 70 people, and that a large portion of its early donations came from slave owners or men who got rich off of slave-produced goods.

It also details how Harvard’s professors helped spread racist ideologies through bogus “race science” and how the university furthered anti-Black and anti-Native discrimination by refusing to admit them and stopping them from using university housing and other resources.


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