Ownership Of Controversial Native American Artifacts Transferred To Peabody Essex Museum

"Halibut Hook," Haida or Tlingit artist, ca. 1800 (Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum, via the Andover Newton Theological School)
"Halibut Hook," Haida or Tlingit artist, ca. 1800 (Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum, via the Andover Newton Theological School)

A controversial collection of about 150 Native American artifacts are staying at the Peabody Essex Museum.

The Andover Newton Theological School announced Thursday it was transferring ownership of the collection to the museum where it's been housed since 1946.

The seminary has come under fire in recent years for not engaging in the repatriation process despite a law requiring federally funded institutions to inventory cultural items.

In a statement, the Peabody Essex Museum pledged to complete the work to bring the collection into compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

Since 1990, the NAGPRA has required museums and federally funded institutions to submit lists of sacred or cultural objects so tribes could lay claim to their heritage.

“We are gratified that this vitally important collection of Native American art and culture and related materials will be held in public trust so that it can continue to enrich and inspire the public over time through exhibitions, publications, research and public programming,” PEM's director and CEO Dan Monroe said in a statement.

When Andover Newton began exploring solutions to its financial woes a few years ago, its compliance with NAGPRA was called into question. When the school was thinking about selling the collection, officials said they were not aware of their obligations in regards to the law.

As the Boston Globe reported earlier this year, federal officials from the Department of the Interior issued a warning to the school for not complying with the law.

The 210-year-old seminary, after selling its Newton campus, began an affiliation with Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut, earlier this year, but Yale declined to house the artifacts.

Andover Newton President Rev. Martin Copenhaver said in a statement Thursday that the PEM was "the ideal location for these treasured items." The PEM says it holds one of the most comprehensive collections of Native American artifacts in the Northern Hemisphere.

In addition to the 150 Native American works, the seminary is transferring about 1,000 additional cultural objects to the PEM.


Headshot of Amy Gorel

Amy Gorel Senior Editor
Amy Gorel is a senior editor of digital news at WBUR.



More from WBUR

Listen Live