Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, August 8, 2004

Does museum have valid claim to native antiquities?

On May 27 of this year, the board of trustees of the Bishop Museum formally approved a "guidance" document asserting that the museum is a qualified Native Hawaiian Organization under a federal law governing repatriation of Native American and Hawaiian human remains and other objects.

That law, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, was enacted in 1990. It allows, among other groups, qualified Native Hawaiian organizations to make claims for the return of objects. By defining itself as such an organization, the museum places itself in the position of being a claimant, equal to others, for Hawaiian objects and antiquities now in its possession.

This decision has created a fair amount of controversy. Some Hawaiian groups, active in the effort to return objects, say it makes no sense for the museum itself to be a claimant.

Others argue that there is no better place for many of these objects than the Bishop Museum, which has cared for such objects for decades.

On Sept. 17 and 18, a high-level NAGPRA review committee composed of both scientific and cultural experts will meet in Washington, D.C.

Among other items on its agenda is an informational briefing on the Bishop Museum's finding that it is a qualified Native Hawaiian organization.

Neither the NAGPRA review committee nor the Department of the Interior will make any judgment on that finding based on the September meeting. Such a judgment would come only when and if there were a dispute between the Bishop Museum and other claiming entities over specific objects.

And even in that case, the review committee might simply conclude that while the museum is legitimately a Native Hawaiian organization, its claim to a particular object is less persuasive than another group's.

The excerpts are from the museum's finding that it is a qualified Hawaiian organization, laying out the philosophy and history that go into that decision. Accompanying that is an article by a number of Hawaiian leaders and activists who insist the museum has no right to be a claiming organization.

 •  YES
Museum is a steward of Hawaiian culture
 •  NO
Museum policy further threatens artifacts