Field Museum Statement on North American Hair Collection
The Field Museum cares for and stewards a collection of 111 human hair samples taken from Indigenous people in the United States and Canada, likely during the late 19th century. Museum records identify these individuals by parental lineage or by tribal affiliation. No information regarding the individuals’ name, sex, age, or geographic location has been found.
Through ongoing research, the Museum believes these hair samples were collected around the time of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (WCE). While collecting cultural items for the WCE, anthropologists also collected anthropometric data and hair samples from thousands of Indigenous people from the United States and Canada.
Particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries, anthropometry—the systematic measurement of human bodies for the purpose of studying human variation—was misused to perpetuate racist and harmful stereotypes. Such misuse, often characterized as “race science,” purported that certain individuals or groups of people were innately and biologically less “advanced” than others. WCE displays, especially in the Anthropological Building, promoted ideas of cultural and racial hierarchy through “race science.” Many of these collections were later acquired by the Field Museum.
The Field Museum is committed to repatriating these hair samples to the appropriate Indigenous Tribes and First Nations pursuant to the Museum’s Repatriation Policy and, where applicable, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The Repatriation Program sent initial requests for consultation to affected Indian Tribes and First Nations in late May 2023. Through meaningful consultation with the Tribes and Nations, the Museum will work to repatriate the hair samples respectfully.
The Field Museum apologizes to the individuals and communities at the focus of these studies for the collection, acquisition, and possession of these hair samples. We reject the beliefs that motivated the racist, colonial practices that disenfranchised and objectified Indigenous people. The Museum is committed to addressing harmful collection practices of the past and to establishing relationships and practices based on accountability, equity, inclusion, and respect.
For more information, please visit https://fieldmuseum.io/humanhaircollection.