Dartmouth finds Native American remains in collections


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-29-2023 8:59 AM

HANOVER — The Hood Museum of Art and the Dartmouth Anthropology Department have discovered the skeletal remains of 15 Native Americans in its collections, the college announced Tuesday.

Some of the discovered bones were a part of human osteology teaching labs as recently as last fall, according to a Dartmouth statement, which added that the remains were initially believed to be of non-Native origin.

“For many of these that were newly discovered, the repatriation process will begin in the coming days and weeks,” Jami Powell, the Hood’s associate director of curatorial affairs and curator of Indigenous art, said in an interview with the Valley News.

Dartmouth has been involved in four repatriation efforts since the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, was passed in 1990. The federal law mandates the return of sacred objects, human remains and other objects of cultural patrimony to federally recognized tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations.

Until the Hood Museum was opened in 1985, Native American remains were maintained by the then-Dartmouth College Museum and stored in various departments across campus, “often with little or no documentation recording their movements,” the college said.

“This is an extremely painful discovery, especially for Native American and Indigenous students and alumni,” Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon said in the statement. “We know this finding comes in the context of overwhelming grief for Native and Indigenous people as they struggle with the discovery of ancestral remains at institutions throughout the country.”

Harvard, the University of North Dakota, and the University of California, Berkeley are among the institutions that have faced criticism for only recently turning over Native American remains.

Following the passage of NAGPRA, initial inventories from federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding were due in 1995. The Hood Museum, founded a decade earlier, served as the college’s NAGPRA reporting body.

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At that time, the anthropology department had a collection of Native American remains in its possession.

“What appears to have happened is that the physical transfer of the rest of the collection to the Hood during that process, the remains that were still in anthropology weren’t properly recorded, and so they were missed during the initial 1995 inventory,” said Powell, the Hood curator.

“The anthropology department was working under the assumption that the remains were in the museum’s collection, not in their possession,” she added.

“Faculty believed in good faith that they were teaching with non-Native ancestors in their classrooms and labs.”

Dartmouth announced it will convene a task force to address “institution-wide issues beyond NAGPRA,” the statement said, including the handling and repatriation of ancestral remains determined to be non-Native American and those from other countries.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.