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Draft report says Harvard holds remains of 19 possible enslaved people and thousands of Native Americans, according to Harvard Crimson

The Johnston Gate at Harvard Yard in Cambridge on May 4, 2017.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

A leaked draft report by a Harvard committee says the university has the remains of at least 19 people who were likely enslaved and nearly 7,000 Native Americans, according to the Harvard Crimson.

The student newspaper, which said it obtained a copy of the report in May, reported that the university has identified the remains of four individuals from the Caribbean and Brazil. Last year, the university said it had identified the remains of 15 people of African descent that were being held at the university’s Peabody Museum as part of its collection. The individuals were likely alive when slavery was legal in the United States, the university said.

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Additionally, the draft report says the Peabody Museum holds the remains of thousands of Native Americans, according to the Crimson, despite a more than 30-year-old federal law that requires institutions that accept federal funds to return Native American remains and cultural objects to their descendants or tribes.

Attempts by the Globe to obtain a copy of the draft report Wednesday were unsuccessful, and the university did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

The leaked report comes as the university continues to reckon with its deep historical ties to slavery.

The draft report, dated April 19, was prepared by the university’s Steering Committee on Human Remains in Harvard Museum Collections, according to the Crimson. The committee, which was created in January 2021, reportedly calls for the university to return the remains to the individuals’ descendants.

The committee’s chairperson, Professor Evelynn Hammonds, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday. In a statement to the Crimson this week, Hammonds sharply criticized the newspaper for reporting on what she called “an initial and incomplete draft report.”

“Releasing this draft is irresponsible reporting and robs the Committee of finalizing its report and associated actions, and puts in jeopardy the thoughtful engagement of the Harvard community in its release,” Hammonds said in the statement, according to the Crimson. “Further, it shares an outdated version with the Harvard community that does not reflect weeks of additional information and Committee work.”

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In her statement, Hammond said the committee apologizes to “those parties who will be negatively impacted by the draft’s premature release” and said a final report will be released to the public “once the Committee is ready,” according to the Crimson.

In April, Harvard released a 130-page report detailing the institution’s historical ties to slavery and pledged $100 million to fund recommendations for making amends. According to the report, university presidents, faculty, and staff enslaved more than 70 people, while a major portion of its early donations came from men who held slaves or built their wealth through slave-produced commodities.

The April report also described how the Ivy League university perpetuated racist ideologies and the legacy of slavery through the decades following emancipation, including the promotion of “race science” by Harvard academics and at least one president, as well as anti-Black and anti-Native discrimination through limited admissions and exclusion from housing and other facets of campus life.

“Harvard benefited from and in some ways perpetuated practices that were profoundly immoral,” Harvard president Lawrence Bacow said in a letter to the Harvard community on April 26, following the report’s release. “Consequently, I believe we bear a moral responsibility to do what we can to address the persistent corrosive effects of those historical practices on individuals, on Harvard, and on our society.”

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The leaked draft report by the committee said the remains held at the Peabody Museum were “obtained under the violent and inhumane regimes of slavery and colonialism” and represent “the University’s engagement and complicity in these categorically immoral systems,” according to the Crimson.

The draft report says further research, including DNA analysis, will be necessary to identify the descendants, according to the Crimson.

“The best outcome of provenance research would be identification of lineal descendants but, if that is not possible, research should aim to ascertain descendant or affinity groups that have a direct social, emotional, family, or place-based connection to the individual, that is people who feel a direct responsibility or interest in the individual themselves,” the draft report says, according to the Crimson.

The report also calls for the university to review how its museums handle human remains and consider methods to individually honor those whose remains are held by the institution.

“Treating the remains of all individuals as a single group for the purposes of memorialization is problematic and disrespectful,” the draft report says, according to the Crimson. “The University’s focus should be on restoring individuality as far as possible through provenance research to open the possibilities of engaging specific, appropriate communities to consider memorialization.”


Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.