Native Hawaiians and Army talk about Iwi Kupuna

August 4, 2010

Native Hawaiians and Army talk about Iwi Kupuna

By Dennis Drake, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public Affairs

HONOLULU – More than 50 people attended the first-ever Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act workshop sponsored by U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii’s Native Hawaiian Liaison Office and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement at the Hale Koa Hotel, July 29.

Among those attending were representatives of Native Hawaiian organizations, community leaders, and concerned citizens.

The purpose of the workshop was to share the NAGPRA statute with the Native Hawaiian community and explain the process by which Native Hawaiian organizations and lineal descendants may claim human remains, cultural items, and items of cultural patrimony.

NAGPRA, a 1990 federal law, requires federal agencies, which include military installations, to inventory and return Native American cultural items – human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects or objects of ancestral cultural heritage – to lineal descendants and/or culturally-affiliated Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations.

In May, the Army notified the Hawaii State Historic Preservation Office and the Oahu Burial Council of the inadvertent discovery of human bone fragments by Army-contracted archaeological and cultural monitors during routine construction at Schofield Barracks

As part of the NAGPRA process and USAG-HI’s Inadvertent Discovery Plan, the Army will be querying the community to identify potential claimants. The Army will consult with the claimants on the final disposition of the remains

“In anticipation of this action, we decided to conduct this workshop on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and to invite Native Hawaiian organization representatives to participate, to learn more about the law, and enable them to make an informed decision as to whether or not participation in this process is appropriate,” said Col.  Douglas Mulbury, commander, USAG-HI, in his opening remarks. “We share a common interest. We both want to do what is right and proper, we both want to act with integrity and honor, and we both take responsibility for the tasks before us.”

The workshop began with an overview of NAGPRA by Kerry Abramson, USAG-HI and 8th Theater Sustainment Command attorney, followed by Dr. Laurie Lucking, USAG-HI archeologist, who covered the garrison’s responsibilities under the law.

A lunch panel by June Cleghorn, U.S. Marine Corps archeologist, and Dawn Chang, a consultant on Native Hawaiian cultural issues and former Hawaii deputy attorney general who drafted a similar state law following enactment of NAGPRA, discussed the sensitive nature of these issues.

“I can’t stress the importance of early consultation, working with families and other interested parties, when discoveries of cultural items are made,” Chang said.

“The sharing of information is so important for many reasons,” said Annelle Amaral, Native Hawaiian liaison, USAG-HI. “For the community, access to this type of information empowers Native Hawaiians to care for our kuleana. For the Army, the workshop was the opportunity to better explain these sometimes confusing laws and procedures.”

The afternoon consisted of open discussion and questions between attendees and workshop presenters

“It is hard for Hawaiians to speak of burials because these matters were always “huna” (secret). Usually, someone was designated in the family who dealt with such matters,” said Phyllis Coochie Cayan, who attended the workshop on behalf of Hui Kako’o ‘Aina Ho’opulapula, a Native Hawaiian organization.

Since NAGPRA’s inception, 38,671 remains; 1,142,894 funerary objects; and 4,303 sacred objects have been transferred to lineal descendants, culturally-affiliated Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations throughout the United States.