Interim Research Policy for Human Remains and Associated Funerary Objects Under NAGPRA

Announcement of Interim Policy

25 October, 2021

The Peabody Museum recognizes its significant role in the colonial history of museum collecting and the ethical imperative to address that legacy and to work to repair it. The Peabody upholds NAGPRA as Federal law and promotes NAGPRA as a key mechanism to initiate such repair through dialogue with Indigenous nations. This work includes a concrete commitment to the return of individuals and their funerary belongings to fulfill the ethical and moral imperative of NAGPRA.

The Museum is introducing an interim research policy that covers all collections that have been identified as potentially covered by NAGPRA, collections under active consultation, collections reported in Federal Register Notices, and collections repatriated under NAGPRA which are still under the physical care of the Museum. It was developed with the Peabody NAGPRA Advisory Committee and is informed by ongoing conversations with Tribal nations. The policy aims to encourage knowledge generation in a manner founded on respect for, and in partnership with, descendant communities, in line with the Museum’s broader commitment to the ethical stewardship of all collections in our care. 

An important aim of this policy is to encourage scholars engaging in research to respect Tribal concerns and guidance regarding their research. In this way the Peabody aims to support Tribes’ heritage interests and research goals by ensuring that Tribal interests may be voiced and incorporated into research activities.

The Museum will not authorize research (including analytical sampling) on human remains or associated funerary belongings without permission from authorized Tribal representatives. This applies to items that have been culturally affiliated and items that are, under current NAGPRA regulations, deemed culturally unidentifiable. Given the process of determining whether objects can be designated as sacred objects or objects of cultural patrimony under NAGPRA, these items will have restricted access once they are repatriated or are under active consultation.

In all cases, and in addition to the Museum’s general policies on sharing research results, researchers will be asked and encouraged to share data, unpublished summaries, and publications with Tribal communities.

In cases where Indigenous communities (including state-recognized tribes) seek access to collections and documentation as part of their own research, the Museum will facilitate access without the requirement of written authorization from related Tribes, either federally or state recognized.

Generally, the Museum will continue to provide access to accession files and archival collections, unless the Tribe requests otherwise; however, if access to digital image collections is restricted, physical access to archival photographic originals will also be restricted.

This policy is in place until it can be reviewed in light of the upcoming report from the Harvard University’s Steering Committee on Human Remains and the completion of the Peabody’s Faculty Executive Committee consideration of Museum-wide research policies.