Wednesday, November 3, 2004


Federal panel to revisit
artifacts dispute

A member of the committee
criticizes the Bishop Museum's
repatriation as a "sham"

A federal review committee will rehear testimony in Hawaii and possibly reconsider its 2003 ruling that Bishop Museum's "loan" of sacred objects from its collection was a "flawed" repatriation under federal laws.

Edward Ayau, Hui Malama spokesman, has said repatriated items were reburied in a secured cave. He spoke outside Bishop Museum during a press conference in August regarding protection of native graves.

Yesterday, the committee that oversees the Native American Graves and Protection Act held a telephone conference from Washington, D.C., so that museum representatives and native Hawaiian groups in Honolulu could discuss the dispute involving 13 groups who claim family or cultural ties to the artifacts.

The artifacts were taken from Kawaihae cave, a burial cave on the Big Island, in 1905 by David Forbes and sold to the Bishop Museum.

The NAGPRA committee plans to meet March 14-15 and possibly March 13 in Hawaii to discuss the disputed repatriation. The committee is still debating whether the hearings will be held on the Big Island, the site of the cave, or Oahu, where the majority of claimants live.

Finding the repatriation flawed, the committee directed the museum in 2003 to reclaim the artifacts, which had been reburied in the Big Island cave, so that all 13 claimants can come to agreement about their disposition.

Yesterday, Guy Kaulukukui, the museum's NAGPRA official at the time of the loan, told the review committee: "The repatriation was not flawed. We followed the law faithfully.''

But NAGPRA review committee member Vincas Steponaitis said he was bothered by the museum's repatriation.

"It looks like the Bishop Museum repatriated the items to one of the 13 claimants and basically gave the other 12 claimants an IOU. I don't think you can repatriate an IOU," said Steponaitis, director of the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at the University of South Carolina, who was not a member of the committee in 2003.

Steponaitis called the museum's repatriation "a sham." He said that giving the artifacts to a group who reburied them in a cave beyond the physical reach or inspection of the other claimants "pre-empted a good-faith process in which all the claimants had a say."

On Feb. 26, 2000, two museum employees handed a crate with 83 artifacts to Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei on a one-year loan.

After the loan, nine more claimants emerged. When the museum asked for a return of the artifacts, Hui Malama refused.

Edward Halealoha Ayau, a spokesman for Hui Malama, has repeatedly said the artifacts were reburied and that the cave was secured.

Ayau has also repeatedly said Hui Malama never intended to return the items and that museum staff knew that from the beginning.

Yesterday, Ayau, the only claimant to address the committee, said the repatriation was final and that therefore neither the review committee nor the museum had any jurisdiction.

Ayau said the issue should be decided "in a court of competent jurisdiction."

Hui Malama's critics, including some of the claimants, have said the loan was a secret deal struck between some museum staffers and Hui Malama to repatriate the artifacts solely to Hui Malama.

In making his argument to the committee yesterday that the repatriation was proper, Kaulukukui, the former museum official, quoted an August 2001 letter from La'akea Suganuma, a spokesman of the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts, one of the 13 claimants. The letter said the claimants "cannot reach unanimous agreement." Kaulukukui said that indicated they did not want the items reclaimed from the cave.

Former museum President Donald Duckworth, who spoke to the committee by telephone, said of the claimants, "Ultimately they told us they didn't want to attempt recovery."

Suganuma, who was present but not on the agenda to speak at yesterday's meeting, said the letter did not mean the claimants did not want recovery of the items from the cave. He said the letter only meant they could not agree on final disposition. He said Kaulukukui and Duckworth knew that.

Garrick Bailey, another committee member, said there might be a difference between what Suganuma and the other claimants "formally agreed to and what they thought they agreed to."

Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei
Bishop Museum
U.S. Interior Dept. -NAGPRA


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