Since 1990, Federal law has provided for the repatriation and disposition of certain Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. By enacting NAGPRA, Congress recognized that human remains of any ancestry “must at all times be treated with dignity and respect.” Congress also acknowledged that human remains and other cultural items removed from Federal or tribal lands belong, in the first instance, to lineal descendants, Indian Tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations. With this law, Congress sought to encourage a continuing dialogue between museums and Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations and to promote a greater understanding between the groups while at the same time recognizing the important function museums serve in society by preserving the past. (US Senate Report 101-473).
In both size and scope, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University cares for one of the largest collections subject to NAGPRA, which, before the legislation was passed, included remains from more than 10,000 individuals, and includes 6,100 individuals today. In its development as a premier research and teaching institution, the Museum directly benefited from collecting practices that we recognize today ignore the wishes and values of families and communities. In January 2021 Peabody Director Jane Pickering made a specific and formal apology for the practices that led to the Peabody’s large collection of Native American human remains and funerary objects, and pledged to prioritize the urgent work of understanding and illuminating our history to begin to make amends. (Peabody Museum)
The Harvard Clubs of Washington, DC and Southern Connecticut are honored to be able to host a virtual event featuring a conversation between Jane Pickering, the Director of the Peabody Museum, and Kelli Mosteller, the Executive Director of the Harvard University Native American Program and member of the Harvard NAGPRA Advisory Board. We expect to discuss the ongoing process of repatriation of Native remains and sacred objects, including the obstacles that have been faced and the path forward.
About the speakers:
Kelli Mosteller has served as the Executive Director of the Harvard University Native American Program since the summer of 2022. In her role, she works closely with Harvard students, faculty, and staff toward the mission of fostering the well-being of Indigenous people and championing Indigenous excellence. She is dedicated to supporting programming that advances education and scholarship, and opportunities that strengthen the Indigenous community at Harvard and beyond.
She proudly serves on several Harvard committees, including the NAGPRA Advisory Committee, the Human Remains in the Harvard Museum Collections Returns Committee, and the Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery Memorial Project Committee. In 2023 she was appointed by President Biden to the National Museum and Library Services Board.
Before her time at Harvard, she was the Executive Director for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center from 2010 to 2022. During her tenure, she oversaw the tribe’s cultural services including a museum, cultural classes and programming, tribal archives, and oral history projects. Mosteller was also the tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, overseeing historic preservation for thousands of acres of tribal trust lands, and she also oversaw the nation’s NAGPRA efforts.
As a Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal citizen, her most cherished role over the years has been as a mentor for Citizen Potawatomi youth, facilitator of women’s ceremonies, and auntie to the eagles at the CPN Eagle Aviary.
Jane Pickering was appointed as the William and Muriel Seabury Howells Director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology in 2019. At the Peabody, she is leading new initiatives to address the profound challenges of historic anthropological museums, especially around ethical stewardship of the collections in the University’s care. Jane has more than 30 years’ experience in university museums including at the University of Oxford, MIT, and Yale before moving to Harvard in 2013. During her careery, Jane has focused on the unique opportunities available to university museums to serve communities both on and off campus, through her work as an administrator as well as leadership of multiple exhibition projects and the development of innovative programs in informal education.
Jane has an MA degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge, UK, an MS degree in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester, UK, and is an alumna of the Getty Leadership Program’s Museum Management Institute. She was appointed to the National Museum and Library Services Board by President Obama and served from 2016– 2020.