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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 30, 2005

Group key in fight for repatriation

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Who is Hui Malama to make decisions for all Hawaiians?

That question has been flipped around quite a bit lately.

The question is asked as if to insinuate that this group showed up unannounced one day. As if it was just a bunch of guys who got together and made up club rules.

Hui Malama I Na Kupuna 'O Hawai'i Nei is the go-to organization for the repatriation of Native Hawaiian remains and burial objects.

The federal government said so.

Hui Malama I Na Kupuna 'O Hawai'i Nei is recognized by the U.S. government as an organization with legal standing for repatriation and reburial, as well as consultation on such matters.

Moreover, Hui Malama played an integral part in getting Native Hawaiian burials and artifacts included in the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990.

If not for Hui Malama, hundreds of Native Hawaiian remains would still be in cold drawers in museums across the country instead of resting in the sands of their home. Hui Malama brought the bones back to Hawai'i and worked with community burial councils to ensure proper reinterment.

Hui Malama members did the wrangling with the museums. They flew to far corners and secured the bones and escorted them back on airplanes. Group members, volunteers, took on this emotional, somber responsibility.

It began with the Ritz Carlton on Maui. In 1988, the remains of more than a thousand Native Hawaiians were dug up to build the hotel. Native Hawaiians and supporters lodged a successful fight to have the bones returned to their original resting place in perpetuity and have the hotel site moved inland, away from the burials. Hui Malama grew out of the resolve to not let that kind of desecration happen again.

There are other questions that should be asked instead, such as who are these other groups who claim rights to the burial objects taken from Forbes Cave and what was Bishop Museum doing issuing a "loan" for these pieces? There must have been some complicity on that end.

On Tuesday, supporters of Hui Malama gathered outside the federal courthouse. Several Hawaiian scholars were there, as well as students of Hawaiian language and culture.

Among them was a young woman holding her baby. She wasn't there to argue for the retrieval of the objects so her keiki could see them on some future school excursion. She wanted the objects left with the bones of the ancestors. She held her baby and she chanted her support for Hui Malama.

Respect the kupuna. Take care of the keiki. Some believe that those two things are one and the same, that they are accomplished with a single act, and that the future is best served by righting the wrong done when the burial cave was first violated by Forbes.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Correction: The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act does not specify any particular organization as the only authority on Hawaiian burial issues. The law describes organizations to be used in connection with complying with the law and names two organizations as examples: the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Hui Malama I Na Kupuna 'O Hawai'i Nei. Other organizations have been identified in official Federal Register notices as being culturally affiliated with Native Hawaiian remains and cultural items.