Bishop Museum could be strong cultural partner

The Honolulu Advertiser
Sunday, August 29, 2004

By A. Van Horn Diamond

The Honolulu Advertiser recently ran an article in which the Bishop Museum was described as putting out a new policy on repatriation of Hawaiian cultural items which, the authors contended, would produce serious "harm to Hawaiian practices and values."

Twenty-three individuals plus the article's primary author, Edward Ayau, were identified as supporting that particular stance. The Advertiser also printed portions of the museum's interim policy.

Sometimes little facts can enlighten. For example, the term "interim" and the fact that comments on the interim guidance policy are welcomed by the Bishop Museum clearly says nothing written heretofore is in concrete as yet!

Although I readily admit I've talked with many about the policy, these comments are my own mana'o (thoughts or beliefs). Most importantly, I do not explicitly or implicitly speak for the Hawaiian community or any of its many parts.

However, my remarks do reflect an awareness regarding the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Bishop Museum, Hui Malama, Forbes Cave and Mokapu (the burial site).

First, I expect to review and evaluate the interim policy based on the experiences of the Van Horn Diamond Ohana, a NAGPRA-recognized claimant to Mokapu na iwi kupuna (ancestral bones from Mokapu) and the Forbes Cave items.

I see advantages to the Bishop Museum being both a Native Hawaiian organization and a museum:

  • Provided we are all vigorous participants in the development of the museum/Native Hawaiian organization, this entity can indeed be responsive to our Hawaiian civilization, its development and needs.
  • In this proposed policy, our Hawaiian civilization may be given greater clarity as to the past and the future.
  • No federal or state law governs the repatriation of Hawaiian remains and artifacts from international sources. We can now have a Native Hawaiian organization, a duly accredited and recognized museum, able to facilitate the return of items and ancestral remains back to Hawai'i.
  • I happen to see the museum trying to reach out to the entire Hawaiian community so as to be responsive to the whole.

Next, the Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum will need to demonstrate it is indeed a bona-fide Native Hawaiian organization pursuant to NAGPRA. Given its connections to the ali'i legacy, its history of stewardship and its efforts to open itself to the entire Hawaiian community, the prospect may be positive.

Hui Malama has petitioned the NAGPRA Review Committee to review the Bishop Museum NAGPRA guidance policy and its 2003 position that the Forbes Cave repatriation was not completed.

The kuleana (jurisdiction) is not exclusively that of Hui Malama. It never was. It is the kuleana of families who stepped forward and were denied the opportunity to malama (care for) the items.

The authors have called for the removal of Bishop Museum director William Brown and his replacement by a Hawaiian. Within the Hawaiian community, many are observing and evaluating the interplay between those who clearly dislike Brown and those who like what's been happening.

I don't only listen to the words. I note the behavior in relation to the words. Thus far, Brown has been consistent. He is open and candid. But he's no pushover. He'll plant when approach and behavior presumes that their way is the only way.

Recently on Olelo television, sovereignty was said to be based on the mana (power) of the iwi kupuna (ancestral bones). But doesn't sovereignty start with the individual and his family? If so, the mana is for the family; hence, the kuleana to care for their iwi kupuna is priority for the family. Only then can each family convey its sovereignty to the whole.

Above all, the 24 authors speak for themselves and others as do I. But none of us represents the thinking of the Hawaiian community, or more precisely, of all the Hawaiian people.

Finally, if the fear is that the Bishop Museum will pre-empt repatriation to Native Hawaiian claimants duly recognized, then it is incumbent on the fearful to work with all claimants. Absent disagreement, the museum would be hard pressed to prove it needed to do the pre-emption.

Looking at the whole for a moment, it seems to be an advantage to have a Native Hawaiian organization that happens to be a museum. It also seems to be an advantage to have a museum that happens to be a Native Hawaiian organization.

Doesn't it?

Considering the resources such an entity provides for the advancement of the Hawaiian civilization past, present and future, shouldn't we be supportive? If, on the other hand, the notion is opposed, what happens to those who follow us? How will they learn?

Will our descendants inherit the wind?

Besides, what do we fear?

A. Van Horn Diamond is chairman of the O'ahu Burial Council.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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