Leslie MacMillian and Tom Masberg, The New York Times
May 10, 2017
"A 210-year-old seminary here that is in the process of joining Yale Divinity School is coming under fire from federal regulators for failing to follow a law designed to ensure the return of sacred and other special artifacts to Native American tribes.
The Newton Andover Theological School has a collection of 158 Native American items, including locks of hair, wampum belts, “peace pipes” and finely beaded ceremonial garb, mostly gathered in the 19th century by Christian missionaries. For about 70 years, the artifacts have been housed at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.
But the museum alerted the United States Department of the Interior two years ago when the Newton school, which is struggling with low enrollment, proposed selling some items to raise money. Officials quickly warned the school that a sale would violate a federal law that says any organization that receives federal funding must make every effort to return any spiritual or culturally significant items it holds to the tribes.
Last week, federal officials sent another warning letter to the seminary because it still has not complied by sending inventories of the items to tribes, as required.
“Is Andover being negligent or incompetent?” David Tarler, a federal official tasked with enforcing the law, said in an interview. “Are they confused about the law but acting in good faith? I can’t answer that question.”
School officials said they “abruptly pivoted” after the initial warning in 2015 and decided that no sale would take place. They blame delays on the difficulty of searching spotty historical records to determine which objects might belong to what tribes."