Open Letter from the Anthropology Faculty to President Minouche Shafik - April 19, 2024

The Anthropology department finds itself shocked that you would have called in the NYPD to break-up a peaceful demonstration of justifiable student outrage at current events in the Middle East and its repercussions in the US. It is clear from the Congressional hearings on Wednesday, 17 April, that there is now enormous pressure on your office; we believe that this is precisely the moment to bring our entire community together in defense of our hard-earned and deeply cultivated commitment to processing respectful political antagonisms.

We very strongly urge that you intervene immediately to secure the release of all our detained students, and ensure that all charges against them are dropped. We further encourage you to issue a call for all faculty and students to unite in our community's continued resolve to nurture and process political dissent in freedom and mutual respect.



The Department of Anthropology, established by Franz Boas in 1902, is the oldest in the United States and remains a center of disciplinary innovation and theoretical leadership. The department’s faculty members are actively engaged in research and writing about issues of both pressing contemporary relevance and historical significance. Our scholars work in regions and language traditions around the globe and in the United States, as do our students. We operate doctoral degree programs in both sociocultural anthropology and archaeology, and host two distinct MA programs, one in sociocultural anthropology and the other in museum anthropology. In addition, we offer rigorous undergraduate training toward both the major and the concentration, and welcome students from other disciplines into our classes. More.


The Department of Anthropology at Columbia University is committed to the ethical pursuit of knowledge, and the responsible stewardship of that which is entrusted to us in the course of our research, including diverse materials of cultural value and significance. As heirs to a lengthy history of anthropological research, we are also committed to the ethical stewardship of objects and collections that were generated or acquired by our predecessors. To that end, we are engaged in an ongoing process of identifying and inventorying materials on site, consulting with relevant professional and cultural organizations and authorities to determine provenance, and working to ensure the well-being and, where appropriate, repatriation of objects and materials of cultural value and significance to the communities whence they originated.

We are guided in our efforts by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), and by international treaties, professional protocols, and our own commitments to just and responsible research practice.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was enacted by Congress in 1990. NAGPRA both acknowledges the rights of lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations to the return of human remains and certain cultural items, and provides a mechanism to do this.

In 2002, the Department of Anthropology inventoried a collection of human remains from Okiedan Butte, and Sheyenne-Cheyenne Site in Ransom County ND, and On-A-Slant Village (site 32MO26), Morton County, ND. These were removed during excavations in 1938, led by William Duncan Strong and jointly sponsored by Columbia University and the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Originally, Strong brought the human remains to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) where they were placed on “permanent loan.” In January 2002, a detailed assessment of the human remains was made by researchers at Columbia University, and the AMNH subsequently transferred them to the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University.

In compliance with NAGPRA, the Department of Anthropology published notices on the federal registrar and notified representatives of the following tribes: Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana; Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Oklahoma; Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, South Dakota; Crow Creek Sioux Tribe of the Crow Creek Reservation, South Dakota; Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe of South Dakota; Lower Brule Sioux Tribe of the Lower Brule Reservation, South Dakota; Northern Cheyenne Tribe of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, Montana; Oglala Sioux Tribe, South Dakota; Rosebud Sioux Tribe of the Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota; Santee Sioux Nation, Nebraska; Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North & South Dakota, Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota; and the Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota.

None of the aforementioned groups or any group that has permission under NAGPRA to claim these remains have requested repatriation.  As such, Columbia has an obligation to care for these remains until such a request is made. 

More information regarding the Department of Anthropology’s work with respect to human remains may be found on the federal register at:

In 2024, the Department of Anthropology began taking steps to comply with new NAGPRA regulations, which went into effect on January 12, 2024.

Further information.

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The research interests of our faculty and students cover a broad range of theoretical and empirical questions, and our scholarly and personal engagements traverse an equally wide range of geopolitical and territorial domains. Broadly speaking, these interests can be grouped under the thematic headings indicated by the icons below. On the pages linked to the icons, you will find: a brief description of the issues and the Department’s historical relationship to them; a list of faculty members whose research and writing addresses these themes; a list of courses covering related questions and problems; and select publications on these subjects by our faculty members.   


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