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99 Chapter 4 A Call for Healing from the Tragedy of NAGPRA in Hawaii E. SUNNY GREER “I would recommend and plead with all the people now to respect your kupuna [ancestors, elders] . . . Give them the best, even when they die.” —Papa Henry Auwae1 When my papa said the aforementioned words, the Hawaii State Historic Preservation Division was interviewing him for a video regarding the reburial and care of Native Hawaiian iwi kupuna (ancestral bones). Papa was respected for his expertise in life and death issues since he was a Po‘okela Kahuna Lā‘au Lapa‘au (foremost medicinal herbalist). He was also noted for his experience in conducting reburial rituals, such as the return of multiple ancestral remains to our sacred healing grounds at Lapakahi. As one of Papa’s youngest haumana hānai (adopted student), my training in traditional Native Hawaiian funerary customs was enhanced when Papa was invited to participate in the NAGPRA consultation process regarding the “Forbes Cave” controversy,2 which will be discussed later in the chapter. Our kupuna (ancestors) lived above Honokoa Gulch in Kawaihae, where the human remains and cultural objects originated, and where Papa was taken as a young boy.3 Papa shared with our ohana (family) that the ancestors involved were iwi kahuna (bones of the priestly class), specifically from the same healing lineage as ours.4 Papa reasoned that in light of the significant rank and practice of the kupuna involved, the objects buried with them (wewe huna5) were “very powerful and very dangerous . . . ” He said that he wasn’t supposed to reveal these things but he “had to because innocent lives [were] put at risk.”6 As Papa protected us from the political and social controversies associated with the cultural objects from Kawaihae, he accelerated my training in Native Hawaiian funerary practices. On top of learning additional burial customs and rituals, Papa subtlypreparedmeforhisowndeath,whichhepredictedtomultiplefamilymembers nearly a decade earlier. He repeatedly told us that he would never see the dawning of 100 CHAPTER 4 the new millennium; and as foretold, our ancestors welcomed his ‘uhane (spirit) on December 31, 2000. In spite of my attempts to steer away from exercising the burial traditions he taught me, circumstances led me to work at the Hawaii State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) from 2004 to 2006, where I last served as its cultural programs director, providing oversight and support to Hawaii’s five island burial councils.7 The challenges encountered at SHPD further exposed me to controversial repatriation “dichotomies of past versus present, traditional versus contemporary, authenticity versus reproduction.”8 Even my subsequent journey to law school predominantly revolved around burial issues, and I became the first graduate from the William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawaii at Mānoa, to obtain dual certificates in Environmental Law and Pacific-Asian Legal Studies, with a specialty in Native Hawaiian Law. I can no longer ignore the fact that both my personal and professional paths converged around Native Hawaiian funerary traditions. In my free time, I serve as a volunteer traditional practitioner of lā‘au lapa‘au (herbal medicine) on two kupuna councils convened under federal and state of Hawaii law to address Native Hawaiian health issues. Like Papa before me, it is quite a humbling experience to serve as an instrument of healing, which sometimes involves death rituals. Thus, it is no coincidence that my doctoral dissertation revolves around traditional Native Hawaiian funerary practices and NAGPRA.9 The purpose of this chapter is to briefly discuss the implementation of NAGPRA in the state of Hawaii. Where others might emphasize the successes of NAGPRA, it would be a dereliction of my duty as an academic and cultural practitioner to ignore the fact that in Hawaii, NAGPRA appears to be a source of cultural contention rather than a repatriation remedy. Some would argue that the legal framework divides the Native Hawaiian community and undermines Native Hawaiian funerary traditions. Where other Native peoples experience the healing effects of NAGPRA, why is NAGPRA so problematic in Hawaii that more than half of all disputes addressed by the NAGPRA Review Committee have been Native Hawaiian disputes?10 In fact, Hawaii’s first Native Hawaiian representative on the NAGPRA Review Committee, Colin Kippen, describes its implementation in Hawaii as “particularly difficult.”11 While other Review Committee members portray NAGPRA in Hawaii as “a complicated situation”12 and even an outright “disaster.”13 Although few Native Hawaiians view repatriation under NAGPRA as “positive”14 others perceive the Act as...


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