Claimants of iwi, or remains of native Hawaiians, that were excavated at Mokapu on the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base during the 20th century are unhappy over the Bishop Museum's recent efforts to return the bones to them when reinterment plans are not yet final.
ancient bones removed
By Debra Barayuga
"I'm just very disappointed the Bishop Museum has chosen to do this and didn't allow us to work this out," said Linda Kawai'ono Delaney, of the Prince Kuhio Hawaiian Civic Club, one of 22 groups that have laid claim to the iwi based on cultural or family relations.
Bishop Museum filed a complaint in Circuit Court yesterday asking the court to authorize a party to receive the iwi, referred to as the "Mokapu collection," and that the museum be absolved from any liability related to the disposition of the collection.
The complaint said Bishop Museum cannot determine to which of the groups the collection belongs.
Ruth Ann Becker, Bishop Museum spokeswoman, said the remains were never in the possession of the museum, but belong to the 20-plus groups that claimed an interest in them under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
The claimants had asked Bishop Museum -- and they entered into a loan agreement in August 1999 -- to store the bones until they decide on their final resting place. The agreement drawn by the claimants was for no longer than three years and expired January 2001, but was extended by the claimants.
Despite repeated requests, the claimants have not removed the collection from Bishop Museum. "We need for there to be a final decision on where they will go and move them out of here," Becker said.
The complaint is a "procedural thing to get it moving along so we can free up the space," and not a contentious move on Bishop Museum's part, she said.
But claimants say they have no place to put the bones at this time and are working with Marine Corps Base Hawaii officials to decide where and how they will be reinterred. Also, before the iwi are reinterred, cultural rituals need to take place.
Delaney said Bishop Museum began notifying them in May and August last year to take possession of the collection from Bishop Hall so that the building can be renovated.
"We're aware that they've been patient with us, but for almost 150 years, they've held those ancestors and always had space when they wanted to study them," she said, adding that this has been a very difficult repatriation.
Delaney said they recently sent letters to Marine Corps officials that they have agreed on a reinterment site and should be renewing meetings with them soon.
They have asked the Marine Corps for permission to move the bones to the base.
"Just be patient," Delaney told Bishop Museum. "This is something that has to be done. They have to be given a dignified reinterment."
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