Community Partnerships developed through NAGPRA

At the Peabody Museum, NAGPRA plays an active role in creating relationships that broaden into intercultural collaborations of scholarly and educational significance. NAGPRA is an opportunity as well as ethical and legal responsibility. Relationships with Native American groups begun with NAGPRA consultations often grow to encompass other activities including research, teaching, and public programs.  

Reflections on Repatriation with Philip Deloria 
HMSC Connects! Podcast is a bi-weekly podcast that goes behind the scenes of HMSC museums to talk to the scholars, researchers, collection keepers, exhibit designers and other fascinating individuals who keep the museums humming along and create a compelling array of exhibits and programs. In this episode host Jennifer Berglund speaks with Professor Philip Deloria who is the Chair of the Peabody Museum’s NAGPRA Advisory Committee. Professor Deloria recalls his childhood in South Dakota as the son of the well-known Standing Rock Sioux member and scholar Vine Deloria Jr., his circuitous journey from a career in music to academia, and the ethical issues introduced by NAGPRA.  


Indigenous Partnerships 

In this video, which is a part of the exhibition All the World Is Here: Harvard's Peabody Museum and the Invention of American Anthrpology, Patricia Capone, Curator and Director of NAGPRA discusses how partnerships with indigenous communities, researchers and museum curators can be mutually beneficial. This video describes a collaboration between the Peabody Museum and the Alutiiq Museum of Kodiak, Alaska that explored historic Alaska kayaks and items associated with kayaks such as paddles and kayak models. More details of the project can be found on our conservation page. The video also describes research done collaboratively with tribal members on a gutskin parka that is on display in the gallery.

Two students digging a hole in Harvard Yard
Harvard Yard Archaeology Project groundbreaking ceremony, 2007, with Carmen Lopez (left), director, Harvard University Native American Program; and Tiffany Smalley (right), student, Harvard College.

Harvard Yard Archaeology Project

When the Museum embarked on a project to search out the foundations of Harvard's Indian College. The Peabody's relationships with area tribes including the Wampanoag, offered an opportunity to involve area tribes in a broad discussion of how and where native Americans interacted with colonial Cambridge and Harvard College. The resulting discussions and programming have resulted in a rich dialogue and a Native voice in understanding and interpretation of archaeological discoveries.

Harvard University's 1650 charter founded a multicultural educational setting when it committed the new institution "to the education of the English and Indian Youth of this Country in knowledge and godliness." The Harvard Yard Archaeology Project (HYAP) contributes to renewing Harvard's founding commitment. Please visit Harvard Yard Archaeology Project information about HYAP, including the museum exhibit.


Two Poles, One Story

"A man named Kaats' from the Saanya Kwaan Neix.adi Clan was hunting in the woods and fell into a bear den. There, he encountered a she-bear who would eventually become his wife and the mother of his sons . . ."

Totem Pole wooden sculpture
Kaats' Xóots Kooteeya or Kaats' and Brown Bear Totem Pole. Nathan Jackson, sculptor, 2001. Photo by Mark Craig. PM 2001.26.1.

Thus begins the story conveyed by this pole, titled Kaats' and Brown Bear Totem Pole (Kaats' Xóots Kooteeya). This pole came to the Peabody Museum directly from the studio of Master Tlingit Carver Nathan Jackson. Until 2001, another pole telling the same story stood where this pole is now. Both poles depict the brown bear, an emblematic crest that is owned by the Teikweidi Clan of the Tlingit people. Crests like this one are among the most important possessions of Tlingit clans and are manifest in both tangible and intangible forms. They are central to clan identity, because they are frequently associated with clan origin stories. Crests are recorded on clan objects, and their origins are recounted at potlatches (koo.eex), celebratory gatherings at which gifts are bestowed on guests.

The original Teikweidi totem pole, a memorial totem pole representing the clan’s commemoration of an individual, was taken from Gaash Village near Cape Fox, Alaska, during the Harriman Expedition around the Alaskan Coast in 1899. The Teikweidi Clan people of Gaash called themselves the Saanya Kwaan (People of the Southeast Wind). In 1894, Samuel Saxman, a Presbyterian missionary, encouraged Gaash residents to relocate for education, Christianization, and unification with their neighbors, the Taanta Kwaan. Some of the people did move at that time. Then, because of smallpox brought in by the early settlers and the ensuing epidemic, leaders of Gaash Village moved away with the few families that survived.

Thinking that the village was abandoned, Edward Harriman and his crew took objects like totem poles, house posts, and ceremonial items and later distributed them among several museums across the continent. It was through this process that the Teikweidi memorial totem pole came to the Peabody Museum. At the time of the Harriman Expedition, it would have been considered the clan’s communal property and should not have been “alienated, appropriated, or conveyed by any individual.” Therefore, today it is rightly considered to be an “object of cultural patrimony” under NAGPRA.

Tlingit representatives at the dedication ceremony for the new Kaats' and brown bear totem pole
Tlingit representatives at the dedication ceremony for the new Kaats' and brown bear totem pole, Harvard University, 2001

In 1999, one hundred years after the expedition, Cape Fox Corporation, on behalf of the Saanya Kwaan Teikweidi Clan, submitted a claim for repatriation of the memorial totem pole under the provisions of NAGPRA. After the Peabody Museum agreed to repatriate it, Cape Fox Corporation gave the Museum a cedar tree as a gesture of friendship and appreciation. The Museum then commissioned Nathan Jackson to carve that tree into the totem pole that you see here. This totem pole not only represents the Saanya Kwaan Teikweidi clan and their history, but revitalizes the relationship between the Saanya Kwaan and the Peabody Museum.

Wen-Jie Qin made a short film, included below, that tells the story of these two totem poles, and the installation of the new totem pole in the Peabody.