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Smithsonian Vows Repatriation Amidst Indigenous Remains Controversy

Smithsonian apologizes, vows indigenous remains' repatriation; Pinoy researcher rejects, alleging deception

 |  3 min read

Note: SS from other sources are for quick references

In response to mounting public concern, the Smithsonian Institution has reportedly issued a statement of apology and a committment to taking active steps to repatriate the remains of indigenous peoples collected in the past under the pretext of 'research' or 'science.'

Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Lonnie G. Bunch III released a statement of apology on behalf of the institution through an op-ed published by The Post.

"I condemn these past actions and apologize for the pain caused by Hrdlicka and others at the institution who acted unethically in the name of science, regardless of the era in which their actions occurred," he said.

"I recognize, too," he added, "that the Smithsonian is responsible both for the original work of Hrdlicka and others who subscribed to his beliefs, and for the failure to return the remains he collected to descendant communities in the decades since."

Descendants of the Igorot (for Maura) and Sami (for Mary Sara) have also come forward to share their family's experiences.

Together with others, they are fervently hoping for substantial actions from the Smithsonian to right these historical wrongs.

Regarding Maura's case, the Smithsonian has stated that they are in communication with relevant Philippine agencies to address the issue.

"Concerning the brains of individuals brought to the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, the remains of other Filipino citizens in our possession," Bunch III asserted that "we are in discussions with the Philippine government and the National Museum of the Philippines to determine the best course of action."*

In response to the Smithsonian's commitment, the National Museum of the Philippines has released an official statement, acknowledging the institution's pledge.

Notably,[ Janna Langholz], the pioneering researcher behind the efforts to repatriate Filipino remains to their homeland, has rejected the Smithsonian's apology. Through an IG post, she stated the following:

Dear Secretary Lonnie Buch of the Smithsonian Institution,

I do not accept your apology. Your institution incinerated the remains of someone very important to me. How can you expect forgiveness when you haven't even apologized directly.

Your institution lied to me about the actions you were taking to honor the remains of the individuals from the 1904 World's Fair who still remain in the collections. Why should I trust that you are moving forward in this process with care and respect?

Your institution promised me for years that I would be welcomed in Washington, D.C. to pay respects to Maura. Now, there is nothing. You cannot make a young woman disappear without consequences.

When the Smithsonian cut off contact with me in November 2022, I was forced to wait months in silence, in grief, in anger for what your institution did to Maura without sympathy or explanation.

How could you do this to me? How could you do this to us?

I will not accept your apology until you have demostrated that your words and actions are sincere. Your institution has stolen the voices of thousands, but you cannot silence mine."

This development underscores the growing awareness and demands for meaningful corrective actions in addressing historical injustices.


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