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Monday, January 10, 2005



TEN TO WATCH

Abigail Kawananakoa


Kawananakoa a force
in the dispute over
Hawaiian artifacts

Abigail Kawananakoa, a wealthy heiress and descendent of King Kalakaua, could live in blissful seclusion working her California ranch and raising more champion quarter horses while indulging her taste for pet philanthropic projects.


2005 Ten To Watch

The Star-Bulletin spotlights 10 people who are expected to have a big year:


Instead, Kawananakoa, at the age of 78, is stepping into a big fight.

Kawananakoa is throwing her wealth and support behind those who believe that native Hawaiian artifacts should not rot in caves, but should be protected in climate-controlled museums so that future generations can learn about their heritage.

Her opposition believes, just as fiercely, that ancestors meant for these items to be buried with them in caves.

Observers say her entry is significant because she has the wealth and tenacity to finance a fight over the disposition of priceless artifacts that could end up as costly court battles.

For the past 15 years, one native Hawaiian organization, Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei, has dominated the repatriations of human remains and artifacts. Hui Malama has had political backing reaching up to U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and supporters that include the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp.

To date, claimants who have disagreed with Hui Malama have had few resources.

But now, Kawananakoa has stepped in.

To position herself, Kawananakoa formed Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa in November as a native Hawaiian organization defined under the 1990 Native American Graves and Repatriation Act.

Congress passed NAGPRA to create a process for native Americans and native Hawaiians to repatriate human remains and certain treasured artifacts from museums. Kawananakoa recently submitted Senate testimony criticizing aspects of the law she feels need to be retooled.

Kawananakoa's group includes her close advisers Rubellite Johnson and Edith McKinzie. Johnson, a professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii, is a renowned scholar of Hawaiian culture, language and history. McKinzie, a kumu hula, is an expert in Hawaiian genealogy who authored the two-volume "Hawaiian Genealogies," considered among the most authoritative texts on the subject.

Recently, Kawananakoa's group has staked claims with the Bishop Museum for several artifacts found on Molokai. Hui Malama is also competing for the items. Kawananakoa's group is expected to make more similar claims.

Kawananakoa's group is also backing La'akea Suganuma, a practitioner of ancient Hawaiian martial arts, in his fight over 83 artifacts, once part of the Bishop Museum's collection, that Hui Malama reinterred in Kawaihae Cave on the Big Island in 2002.

"It's crucial that she has entered this fight," Suganuma said. "She has a strong sense of duty and obligation for the preservation of our culture for future generations."



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