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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Artifact negotiations urged

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

A federal panel ended three days of emotional testimony from the Hawaiian community by once again criticizing how 83 cultural objects were handled five years ago, valued artifacts that had been part of the Bishop Museum collection and then were reburied in what's been dubbed "Forbes Cave."

That panel, the review committee established to weigh disputes arising from a federal grave protection law, stopped short of asking that the objects be recalled: It only urged the museum to seek a solution with all 13 groups that have pressed a claim to the objects.

It's unclear whether the recommendation of the advisory committee, which met this week at the East-West Center, will have any immediate effect other than spurring meetings among various groups to settle the dispute. The hope, said some of the claimants yesterday, is to avoid having a court decide who finally owns the objects.

But museum director William Brown said he is "pleased" with the panel's statement.

La'akea Suganuma, representing claimants who protested the reburial of the objects, said he was surprised that the committee, formed under the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, upheld a May 2003 finding that the Kawaihae repatriation was "seriously flawed." Suganuma said he had expected the five members to rescind the finding.

For the present, members of the group that buried the Kawaihae objects — Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei — weren't happy with yesterday's advisory. The reburial, they said, corrected a century-old wrong committed when the Forbes expedition removed the objects and the museum accepted the collection later.

"The theft occurred when Forbes went into the cave," said Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell, the hui's president. "Now that we put back the 83 items in the cave, we made it pono. We made it good and right again."

In other matters, the review committee has recommended:

• The museum should repatriate three burial objects from Moloka'i.

• The museum should amend its private agreement with a Moloka'i group concerning the care of the Kalaina Wawae sandstone blocks on Moloka'i. The amendment would bar removal without the agreement of its partner, a group representing the island's Mo'omomi area.

• Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park should proceed with considering a 1999 request to repatriate five objects.

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8053.