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Photo of Abigail Kawananakoa

I am pleasantly surprised that Abigail Kawananakoa (the woman who is the queen of the Hawaiian people) is fighting for these items:




Campbell Estate heir claims rare Molokai items at museum

A group headed by Abigail Kawananakoa is taking a first step into the dispute between the Bishop Museum and another native Hawaiian organization over three sacred objects from Molokai that reside in the museum's collection.

The three items, believed to have spiritual powers for some native Hawaiians, are: a 5-inch, hook-shaped pendant carved from rock oyster; a "kii," which is an 8-inch stick figure with a human face that is carved from wood; and a cowry shell.

Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei, a native Hawaiian group recognized by federal law for the purpose of repatriating and reburying ancestral remains and other sacred items from museums, claims these were burial objects intended to accompany an ancestor.

Hui Malama says the museum should give them the items for reburial. The museum says it needs time, in the potentially precedent-setting case, to determine legal ownership issues and to consider the rights of other potential claimants.

Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa, which made a claim in secret last month, was founded by Kawananakoa, a descendent of Hawaiian royalty and an heir to the wealthy Campbell Estate. According to recent incorporation papers, her group also includes close advisors Rubellite Johnson and Edith McKinzie.

Johnson, a professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii, is a scholar of Hawaiian culture, language and history. McKinzie, a kuma hula, is an expert in Hawaiian genealogy who authored the two-volume "Hawaiian Genealogies," considered among the most authoritative texts on the subject.

All three items from Molokai were found in burial sands and later sold or donated to the museum. Hui Malama claims that the donors were grave robbers and is challenging the museum's "right of possession" under a federal repatriation act known as the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Yesterday, Hui Malama filed a written protest with NAGPRA over the issue. In response to inquiries made by Hui Malama months ago about what it saw as the museum's slow reaction to repatriation, the dispute has become part of an investigation by the National Park Service, which oversees NAGPRA.

Edward Halealoha Ayau, a spokesman for Hui Malama, also asked that the NAGPRA review committee discuss the Molokai repatriation when it meets here in March about the controversy among 13 claimants to the contents of Kawaihae, or Forbes, cave on the Big Island.

Museum Director Bill Brown declined comment yesterday. And Ayau could not be reached.

In the past, the museum has said it is studying the issue and if it can establish ownership under Hawaii law, then it believes it holds possession rights under NAGPRA. The museum's collections committee is expected to meet perhaps as early as tomorrow, in part to discuss a claim on the items made by Kawananakoa's group.

The new claimant was revealed yesterday in a museum statement.

Kawananakoa could not be reached for comment.

According to incorporation papers, Kawananakoa's new group "is formed to be a Native Hawaiian organization as defined" under NAGPRA. It is unclear whether this new organization will challenge Hui Malama or other recognized native Hawaiian groups over the fate of other artifacts.

It is not unusual to have several claimants compete for the same objects and NAGPRA has a hierarchy of criteria that weighs family and cultural ties in determining who is the closest claimant. It is up to the museum to recognize claimants.

In its statement yesterday, the museum said claims by Kawananakoa's group are "in competition with claims" made by Hui Malama. The museum also said that it will decide the claims of the two groups "in the near future."

Since many of the native Hawaiian items in the museum were bought or donated from collectors who found items in a similar manner to those on Molokai, the fight over "right of possession" could set a legal precedent that affects native Hawaiian and Native American items in collections here and across the country.


Seen in the Honolulu StarBulletin

Cross-posted to abouthawaii, hawaiians and to nativeamerican

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