Edward Halealoha Ayau and Hui Mālama
Repatriate from England

On September 11, 2011, Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna O Hawai‘i Nei (Hui Mālama) successfully repatriated one ancestral skull (iwi po‘o) from the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, England. This follows only a year after the successful international repatriation of ancestral bones (iwi kūpuna) and 2 funerary objects (moepū) from the Maidstone Museum in Kent, England.

Edward Halealoha Ayau (Hui Mālama) repatriates from the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, London, England.
Edward Halealoha Ayau (Hui Mālama) repatriates from the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, London, England.

 After more than 20 years of pursuing international repatriations, Hui Mālama is fully aware of the processes involved in negotiations with international repositories. These have historically involved lengthy consultations, discussions, education, and red tape. But, more recently, the United Kingdom has begun to shift hard line, and traditionally abused scientific reasoning to support the non-consensual retention of indigenous ancestral remains and cultural objects within their collections, toward accepting the moral, ethical, and equality-based abuses embedded within this human rights issue. In addition, the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) supports international repatriation in Article 12. The UNDRIP has been signed by all countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, signaling the adoption of international repatriation of ancestral remains and cultural objects as an international norm. As a result, museums and activists in the United Kingdom have begun to address repatriating indigenous ancestral remains within their collections.

In the United States, the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) has started researching international collections and helping Native communities work toward international repatriation. But, allies in international repatriation, working on-the-ground in countries outside of the United States are also assisting indigenous communities. Four Directions UK, through the work of David Meanwell, notified Hui Mālama of the ancestral remains in both the Hunterian Museum and the Maidstone Museum. As a result of the work of such organizations working in partnership with indigenous communities, international repatriations may begin occurring in a more reasonable time. In the case of Hui Mālama and Four Directions UK, it only took one year to repatriate internationally, a vast difference in the average time it has taken communities in the past.

 Edward Halealoha Ayau, Executive Director of Hui Mālama states, “The two successful repatriations from the Maidstone Museum and the Hunterian Museum have restored our faith in institutions in the United Kingdom to recognize our cultural kuleana (duty, privilege) to care for our ancestors through repatriation and reburial. However, more work needs to be done, especially with efforts to identify and consult with Indian Tribes whose ancestors are also held in UK collections and repositories.”

One of the major problems associated with international repatriation efforts is that international museums do not know who to contact in Native American communities, and, unfortunately, often have not fully identified the indigenous community origins of their collections.

The international repatriations by Hui Mālama from the Hunterian and Maidstone Museums are encouraging for international repatriation efforts of ancestral remains and funerary objects from the United Kingdom. The International Repatriation blog looks forward to reporting more of this positive news for Native American communities to its readers in the future!

Honor Keeler

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