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Friday, August 4, 2000

Dispute grows
over recovery
of artifacts

Bishop Museum says the
National Park Service is interfering
in the retrieval process

By Burl Burlingame

Bishop Museum and the National Park Service are sniping at each other over conduct in the recovery of missing Forbes Cave artifacts.

logo Stung by criticism of the museum, director W. Donald Duckworth testified last week in Washington, D.C., that Park Service scientists are influenced by the "academic biases" of science.

And Park Service officials have continued to demand that Bishop Museum retrieve the artifacts before they are stolen or damaged.

Before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on July 25, Duckworth said: "Bishop Museum's experiences with the NPS have raised concerns regarding the appropriateness of continuing to administer NAGPRA at the Archaeology and Ethnology Program at the NPS."

NAGPRA stands for the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act -- administered by the Park Service -- under which an unusual "loan" was made to claimant group Hui Malama of ancient Hawaiian artworks from the Kawaihae area of the Big Island.

Although Hui Malama said it was working in conjunction with other claimant groups, the museum quickly discovered that was not true, and on April 27 the museum board demanded return of the artifacts unless all claimants were in agreement on July 1.

At least 12 additional claimant groups have sprung up because of the furor in the Hawaiian and archaeological communities over the missing artifacts, worth millions of dollars to antiquities collectors.

The museum has since put off possible return of the artifacts until late September. Not all potential claimants have returned mailed certificates of their standing in the process.

A Star-Bulletin estimate shows half were approved as new claimants.

Bishop Museum continues to receive letters from Park Service officials demanding that the museum recover the artifacts.

The latest, dated July 19 from associate director Katherine Stevenson, states that "the National Park Service's immediate concern in the Kawaihae Cave Complex matter is first and foremost that Bishop Museum shall reestablish and maintain direct physical possession as well as control of human remains and funerary objects subject to NAGPRA until disposition can be determined properly."

This is the first time repatriated human remains have been brought up in addition to the "funerary objects," rare Hawaiian artworks whose patrimony is in dispute.

Stevenson asks that the museum "honor your commitment" to recover the artifacts and remains, to notify her when the action has taken place and to describe the museum's plan for the items.

Six days later, as Duckworth testified before the Senate committee, he said, "Bishop Museum has tried, in good faith, to work out solutions in a highly charged emotional context."

He claimed that NPS scientists were "attempting in strong terms to influence decision making between the Museum and the claimants ... they are creating an atmosphere of suspicion and ill will."

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