A Controversial Repatriation Case Results in Prison Time


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In 2000, there were three repatriation cases and four more in 2001. The first case, in October 2000, was an international case involving 49 iwi poʻo housed at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act does not apply outside of America, however, in 1990, the University of Edinburgh adopted a policy of returning human remains to “appropriate representatives of cultures in which such remains had particular significance” so this policy served as the requisite authority.

In 1999, two members of Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna O Hawaiʻi Nei visited the University of Edinburgh and consulted with Dr. Martin Lowe, and then had OHA contract Dr. Cressida Fforde to conduct provenance research, which resulted in the documentation of 49 Hawaiian skulls. I coordinated the international aspects of the case with U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and the U.S. State Department. The iwi originated from Oʻahu and Hawaiʻi Island and were ceremonially reburied.

Additionally, three iwi kūpuna originating from Oʻahu and Kauaʻi were repatriated from the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C., and were ceremonially reburied.

Seven mākau (human bone fishhooks) and one hiʻa (human bone net needle) were repatriated from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. It was a challenge to accurately identify modified bone as being human, but this was achieved by a combination of science (Dr. Yoshi Sinoto, Bishop Museum) and cultural practice (Kamuela Kumukahi). Their joint expertise resulted in the positive identification of these objects, which are now curated at the Bishop Museum.

In February 2001, there was another repatriation from the University of Edinburgh, this time of an ālalo (lower jaw bone). This iwi originated from Kohala and was ceremonially reburied there.

A repatriation in March involved 18 iwi kūpuna and 83 moepū stolen from caves in Kawaihae by David Forbes and others and sold to Bishop Museum in violation of existing law. The case was controversial and five years following reburial, the U.S District Court ordered Hui Mālama to return all items to the museum.

In a December 2005 court hearing, I refused the order of Judge David Ezra. I was held in contempt and placed in federal custody for three weeks. In the end, the Court ordered the removal of 83 moepū, leaving the 18 iwi kūpuna. Bishop Museum has yet to determine the disposition of the 83 moepū.

In May, an ipu ʻāina which included human teeth embedded into a wooden bowl was repatriated from the Peabody Essex Museum and is on loan to the Bishop Museum. Finally, in July, 13 iwi kūpuna were repatriated from the U.S. Navy and Bishop Museum to Puʻuloa, Oʻahu, where they were reburied.