By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
Reopening a Kawaihae cave to retrieve Hawaiian burial artifacts as ordered by a federal judge could cause the collapse of the Big Island cave, according to a mason who helped seal it.
The mason's statement, filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the group Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei, came to light yesterday as Hui Malama leaders reaffirmed their vow to resist the court order.
U.S. District Judge David Ezra earlier this month ordered the group to help return to Bishop Museum 83 lots of sacred burial objects that the group said it placed in the cave.
In his ruling, Ezra sided with two of the 13 Native Hawaiian groups that had filed suit arguing that the museum should have possession of the artifacts until the claimants can come to an agreement on their final resting place under the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
Hui Malama, one of the 13 claimants, has argued that the artifacts were taken illegally from the cave in 1905 and should remain there until the groups resolve their claims.
A declaration filed this week by Kona mason George W.K. Fields III, who resealed the cave, warns that "removal of the security measures at the cave will cause the cave to collapse." Fields, hired to work on the project by Hui Malama, also cited the possible expense of working on a cave that is in a remote area of the Big Island.
"I would not attempt the removal of the cave's security because it would violate my cultural beliefs ... (and) would be cost-prohibitive to ensure safe working conditions, account for extraordinary costs of working at this remote location, and guard against life-threatening conditions posed by the location of the cave," Fields said.
George Van Buren, an attorney of the two groups that sued Hui Malama, yesterday said Fields had not raised safety concerns previously.
Van Buren said Fields' claims will be one of a number of points addressed when his legal team files a response to Hui Malama's request for an appeal, a filing that is expected today.
At a news conference yesterday at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa Center for Hawaiian Studies, Hui Malama leaders vowed to be steadfast in their fight.
Alan Murakami, attorney with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which represents Hui Malama in the case, said the group is hoping to convince the appeals court to set aside Ezra's decision.
Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., Hui Malama president, said the group will not back down.
"From the cultural standpoint, if all legal means fail and Hui Malama is obligated to follow the ruling of Judge Ezra, we are set in our cultural feelings that we will protect the kupuna (ancestors)," Maxwell said. "That is our job. That is our solemn duty."
The court has ordered Hui Malama "to do the unthinkable," said Hui Malama spokesman Edward Halealoha Ayau. "We won't be a party to a theft of our kupuna."
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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