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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 25, 2003

Repatriation of Forbes Cave remains was flawed

 •  Seeking the rightful home for bones, burial items

By La'akea Suganuma

The Bishop Museum recently announced that it had "repatriated" 83 "Forbes Cave" items "loaned" to Hui Malama to 13 claimant individuals or organizations.

The position of the museum was that since title now belonged to the claimants, the museum no longer bore any responsibility for the recovery of the items from the Big Island caves where they allegedly had been placed after they were removed from the museum and loaned to Hui Malama.

My attempts to resolve this matter were to no avail. It was at that point that I requested that the Review Committee for the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, look into this matter.

My position before the Review Committee was that proper and legal repatriation never took place; that the Bishop Museum had purposely treated the claimants unfairly; and that the museum had deliberately planned to use this move as an excuse to escape their responsibility for the return of the items.

Just before the hearing and after receiving and reviewing my 315 pages of allegations, reports, articles, documents, etc., that I had submitted in support of my position, the Bishop Museum reconsidered its previous position and decided that there were "errors" made and that my position was valid.

Although the final report of the Review Committee is still being prepared, the following represents what was stated by the committee at the end of the dispute hearing:

  1. The repatriation process was flawed and incomplete.
  2. The process used was not in compliance with NAGPRA regulations and requirements.
  3. The Bishop Museum is responsible for the completion of the repatriation process.

Therefore the Review Committee recommended:

  1. That Bishop Museum renew the consultation process with the 13 recognized claimants.
  2. That Bishop Museum recall the Feb. 26, 2000, loan of 83 items that it made to Hui Malama.
  3. That Bishop Museum treat all 13 claimants fairly and equitably.
  4. That Bishop Museum make the 83 items available to all 13 claimants.

The Review Committee further stated that recognition of the good faith efforts of myself (The Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts) and Bill Brown (director of Bishop Museum) to resolve this dispute would be noted.

My purpose in pursuing this was in the interest of fairness to all of the 13 claimants. I have always maintained that this situation was caused by actions taken by the museum.

As far as the "loan" is concerned, that was an agreement made by and between Bishop Museum and Hui Malama and is for those parties to resolve. Meanwhile, the consultation process will continue and the issue of final disposition will be discussed by the claimants on an equal and fair basis.

This is simply a matter of setting things right.

La'akea Suganuma represents the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts.