Indigenous actor, activist says Harvard can’t undo past harms ‘until it stops the harm that it i
As a part of a larger effort to reckon with its historical ties to slavery and other atrocities, Harvard recently held an event looking at its legacy of mistreatment of Indigenous people.
Dakota and Diné actor, comedian and activist Dallas Goldtooth, well known for his role in the acclaimed series Reservation Dogs, did not mince words in his keynote last week at the Responsibility and Repair conference. Harvard’s massive collection of Native American remains – well over 6,000 according to ProPublica – came up often.
“Y'all had the audacity to do a report, name a whole conference - Legacies of Indigenous Enslavement, Indenture - and you still got bodies in the buildings? You still got remains up in here,” he said. Man, you guys are saucy. That’s a lot of courage right there.”
Before the keynote, Harvard President Claudine Gay addressed the issue, saying “Native American ancestors should not be in our collections.”
Gay said the university’s Peabody Museum is committed to returning all remains and belongings over the next three years, and that she has requested “quarterly updates to make sure that this continues to move apace.”
Goldtooth told the audience “the road that we took to get to Reservation Dogs” taught him that “there is an inherent power in building something together, there is inherent power in collective action.”
“Institutions such as [Harvard] historically have been designed in a way for us to think on an individual level that has been so counterintuitive to our experience as native peoples, has completely been counterintuitive to our experience as community,” he said, adding that accountability and justice are not individual tasks.
“When we're talking about social injustice and the harm perpetuated by institutions, it is a collective task that we as individuals take responsibility for,” Goldtooth said. “Institutions like Harvard cannot undo the harm of the past until it stops the harm that it is doing today.”
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