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Tuesday, March 28, 2000

Priceless artifacts lost
by Bishop Museum

Bullet The issue: Rare artifacts found at Hawaiian grave sites have been removed from the Bishop Museum.
Bullet Our view: These acts represent serious losses to the museum and to the community's ability to study ancient Hawaiian culture.

PRICELESS Hawaiian artifacts are being taken from the Bishop Museum and lost to both public viewing and scientific study. Scholars have expressed alarm, but it isn't clear what can be done to stem the losses short of action by Congress.

The problem stems from a 1990 federal law aimed at protecting native American grave sites and returning remains to the descendants.

The law was an attempt to balance the emotional requests of Indian tribes and other native Americans with the scholarly interests of scientists and museum officials. It established guidelines for museums to return human remains and cultural items buried with the bodies. Although the primary focus was on Indian tribes, the law affects Hawaiian remains as well.

The legislators' attempt to balance the interests of the native Americans with those of the scientists and museums wasn't successful. As the Star-Bulletin's Burl Burlingame reported, as many as 80 artifacts may have been removed from the Bishop Museum. Staff members at the museum have protested, stating that the removals "are damaging to the museum's reputation on many levels."

Museum director W. Donald Duckworth says that under the law once the claimants are identified, they "have complete control of the process." He said the claimants' desire for confidentiality created a situation in which "we cannot release much of the information about the process nor can we respond to statements that are being made by others."

In brief, not only is the museum powerless to prevent the removal of the artifacts, it can't even discuss the matter. This is a disturbing rejection of public disclosure on a matter of strong public concern.

The artifacts in question include wooden statuettes, carved bowls, tools, gourds, feather capes and other items discovered in Honokoa Gulch in Kawaihae on the west coast of the Big Island in 1905 and housed at the museum since 1906. The artifacts were reportedly handed over last month to a group called Hui Malama I Na Kupuna o Hawaii Nei, although this cannot be confirmed officially because the agreement that was reached is confidential.

Under the law, there appears to be no limit to the potential losses to the Bishop Museum of artifacts associated with burials. This is an issue that should concern everyone with an interest in the preservation of ancient Hawaiian culture. The museum is the main repository of Hawaiian artifacts; its losses are the losses of the entire community.

The only remedy may be to have the federal law revised to give museums discretionary authority over the release of artifacts based on their artistic and scientific importance. Senator Inouye, who has long served on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, should give this problem his urgent attention.

Russia’s president-elect

Bullet The issue: Vladimir Putin easily won election as Russia's president, succeeding Boris Yeltsin.
Bullet Our view: Putin hopefully will strengthen Russia's economy without jeopardizing democracy and human rights.

THE outcome of Russia's presidential election on Sunday was no surprise, but uncertainty remains about what it portends. Vladimir Putin was virtually unknown only a few months ago, when then-President Boris Yeltsin appointed him prime minister, then resigned on New Year's Eve, making Putin acting president and endorsing him for election to the post. Most Western leaders and Russian voters are hoping he will not become the tsar-like ruler that some fear.

Never before elected to any office, Putin was a KGB officer during the Soviet era and then deputy to the reform-minded mayor of St. Petersburg. He became Yeltsin's chief of domestic intelligence before rising in the Kremlin ranks. His launching of an all-out war against rebels in Chechnya brought him disfavor in the West but won him insurmountable popularity in domestic opinion polls and at the ballot box.

In his low-key presidential campaign, Putin promised to bring Russia's post-Soviet chaos to an end by restoring its military prowess and fighting corruption, poverty and social injustice.

The question is whether he will approach those daunting tasks within the framework of continued economic reform, democracy and individual rights. Putin understands that foreign investment is important to Russia's future, and that may require Western approval on human-rights issues.

The signs that Putin will continue on the road to economic reform are positive. His advisers since he became acting president have been youthful market reformers, but the question is whether they were pre-election window dressing. His selection for prime minister, expected after his inauguration in early May, may provide further indication of his intentions.

Concerns are based on the dour, 47-year-old former spy's image as a no-nonsense, strong-arm leader of the kind that some Russians identify with the stability of the Soviet era at its height.

Others see a strong president as essential to eliminate corruption, challenge tycoons, fight white-collar crime and achieve a prosperous economy. Most Russians and Westerners share that hope for Russia's future.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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