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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Cave artifact dispute 'not over'

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

PAUKUKALO, Maui — The Hawaiian Homes Commission yesterday denied the Bishop Museum permission to enter burial caves in Kawaihae and retrieve 83 rare Hawaiian artifacts.

The question now is: Does that end the matter, or will the objects first taken from the Big Island caves by David Forbes in 1905 continue their journey through the courts?

"It's going to lead to more legal entanglement," said La'akea Suganuma of the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts, one of 13 organizations that claim ownership of the objects. "It's not over yet."

William Brown, president of the Bishop Museum, said the museum's board of directors will review the matter and consider its options in the ongoing attempt to repatriate the artifacts as directed by a federal agency.

Commission members, meeting on Maui, voted 8-1 to deny the museum's request, saying they would rather leave the relics where they are out of respect for their ancestors.

Only commissioner Quentin Kawananakoa voted against the motion. He said he preferred to defer the matter 60 days to allow O'ahu groups claiming ownership of the artifacts to have their say.

The artifacts, which include a well-known wooden carving of a female figure believed to be worth millions, along with skeletal remains, were removed from the burial caves as far back as 1905. Additional removals continued as late as 1980, according to a Hawaiian Homes Commission staff report.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act review committee studied the issue in May and concluded that the artifacts have not been properly repatriated. The committee said the museum is responsible for resolving the issue, and it said the 83 items should be made available to "all parties in the consultation."

But Hui Malama board member Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. told the commission that it was time to get the Bishop Museum out of the Kawaihae dispute.

"It's a Hawaiian matter," he said. "We should keep the lawyers and the legal entities out of it. The Hawaiians should go to the 'aina (on the Big Island) and kukakuka (discuss)."

Reach Timothy Hurley at thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 244-4880.