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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Key dates, decisions involving burial objects

Advertiser Staff

This ipu 'aina was made with human teeth and ivory pieces cut level with the bowl surface.

University of Hawai'i Hawaiian Cultural Committee | Bishop Museum

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A lava-tube burial cave on the Big Island yielded this wooden female figure in 1905.

Seth Joel | Bishop Museum

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1905: The David Forbes expedition takes artifacts and human remains from a burial cave in the Kawaihae Caves on the Big Island and eventually conveys them to the Bishop Museum. The burial objects are known as the Forbes Collection.

1990: The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the federal law commonly known as NAGPRA, is passed, setting up a process for returning remains, burial objects and other cultural treasures to indigenous groups.

February 2000: The Bishop Museum, while reviewing a NAGPRA claim on the Forbes Collection by several groups, lends 83 artifacts to Hui Malama I Na Kupuna 'O Hawai'i Nei. When the museum later asks for the items back, Hui Malama officials refuse and say repatriation had been completed.

May 2003: A NAGPRA review committee finds that the repatriation was "flawed" and contends that the items need to be returned.

March 2005: The review committee reaffirms its earlier decision, over the objections of Hui Malama.

August: Two Native Hawaiian groups, Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa and the Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts, sue the museum and Hui Malama, seeking the return of the artifacts to the museum so they can be given to their rightful claimants. At least 13 groups are seeking possession of the artifacts, which include carved wooden statuettes of family gods, or 'aumakua; carved bowls; a human-hair wig; gourds decorated with human teeth; tools; and pieces of feather capes.

Sept. 2: Federal District Judge David Ezra orders the return of the artifacts to the museum so discussions among the claimants can continue.

Sept. 5: Ezra sets a Sept. 23 deadline for return of the artifacts. In his decision, Ezra noted "serious questions" as to whether the federal law governing the disposition of burial objects was violated when Hui Malama received the items and refused to return them. In addition, he said the risk of harm to the objects from natural decay in the cave also warranted their return to the museum.

Sept. 20: The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifts the court order directing retrieval of the artifacts, ruling they may remain in the cave while Hui Malama appeals Ezra's injunction that ordered the return.

Dec. 12: The Circuit Court affirms Ezra's September injunction calling for the return of the artifacts.