A Message from the President regarding NAGPRA Compliance

Dear all,

I am writing to inform you of a disturbing matter and to let you know what we are doing in response. Last semester, the Dean of the Faculty and I learned that Native American human remains, which had been collected for research in the 1980s and 1990s, were being stored in a building on campus. We notified the authorities that administer the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), took steps to safeguard the remains, and launched an investigation.

The remains of these Indigenous peoples have not been afforded the dignity and respect that they deserve. This is not in keeping with the values that underpin the College, and it is not aligned with the community that we aspire to be. On behalf of the College, I apologize and am committed to ensuring that Vassar fully complies with NAGPRA.

Passed by Congress and signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, NAGPRA is premised on the principle that human remains “must at all times be treated with dignity and respect,” and 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.”

Vassar is actively working with experts on NAGPRA to identify remains and cultural items covered by NAGPRA. At the same time, we are currently in the process of developing guidelines and procedures designed to ensure that this situation is never repeated. In addition, we will be conducting a campus-wide assessment to determine whether other collections subject to NAGPRA exist on campus.

My heart goes out particularly to Vassar’s Native American students, faculty, administrators, staff, and alumnae/i, and I acknowledge and profoundly regret the pain that this has caused. We are committed to affirming our responsibilities to Indigenous peoples in and of our community. We are also dedicated to intentional processes of healing. Let us be present with each other and mindful of how this may affect our community.

If you have any questions about this or just want to talk, as always please reach out to me, or to the Dean of the Faculty, Bill Hoynes.

Elizabeth H. Bradley, President
Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604