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Repatriation efforts are underway to return Arapaho and Shoshone hair samples from Harvard University

The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology is affiliated with Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology is affiliated with Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Peabody Museum at Harvard University has a collection of hair samples taken from Indigenous people. Much of the collection is from Indigenous children who were forced to attend Indian boarding schools. The collection has samples from both Arapaho and Shoshone peoples.

According to an announcement from the Peabody museum, the collection of around 1,500 samples was donated by George Edward Woodbury, the curator of the State Historical Society of Colorado, in 1935.

Jordan Dresser has worked on many repatriation projects for the Northern Arapaho and he said nothing surprises him about museums taking liberties with Indigenous body parts.

“But what I was excited about was the fact that they were open to tribes repatriating those items back, which is important because no institutions should have those. And those need to be properly taken care of in a good way so you complete those people's life cycles,” he said.

Dresser said the collection has samples from those who attended the boarding schools on the Wind River.

“It was at St. Michael's here, and also Fort Washakie, the boarding school that was there. So it's just, it's wild,” he said.

Repatriation efforts are ongoing to bring an undisclosed amount of hair back to the Wind River Reservation.

According to Indian Country Today, the Peabody Museum has never displayed the collection.

The Northern Arapaho tribe has multiple repatriation projects going on currently including one with the Carlisle Indian School, another with the Penn Museum in Pennsylvania concerning Chief Black Cole’s pipe, and one with the British Museum in London who holds Chief Yellowcalf’s headdress.

Taylar Dawn Stagner is a central Wyoming rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has degrees in American Studies, a discipline that interrogates the history and culture of America. She was a Native American Journalist Association Fellow in 2019, and won an Edward R. Murrow Award for her Modern West podcast episode about drag queens in rural spaces in 2021. Stagner is Arapaho and Shoshone.
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