Court refuses to dismiss Hawaiian artifacts case

Groups continue to meet to resolve the repatriation dispute

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Tuesday, February 14, 2006

By Sally Apgar

A federal judge rejected yesterday the demands of a native Hawaiian organization seeking dismissal of a controversial case involving the disposition of native Hawaiian artifacts that were secretly reburied in a Big Island cave in 2001.

In a 21-page ruling, Judge David Ezra ruled that the native Hawaiian group Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei cannot win dismissal of a federal lawsuit that alleges the group illegally reburied valued native Hawaiian artifacts that were claimed by several competing native Hawaiian groups. Hui Malama was founded in the late 1980s to repatriate native Hawaiian remains and artifacts from museums and construction sites.

Ezra's order said, "While the court appreciates zealous advocacy, Hui Malama's arguments stretch the bounds of reasonableness and effectuate a waste of judicial resources and the parties' resources."

In part, Hui Malama argued that under federal laws known as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Bishop Museum lawfully repatriated the artifacts and that 14 competing claimants therefore have no right to demand their retrieval from the caves as part of a process to decide their disposition.

Alan Murakami, lead attorney for Hui Malama, said of Ezra's decision, "Those orders are not typically granted."

Asked if he agreed with Ezra's decision, Murakami said, "He's got his point of view, and we've got ours."

Edward Halealoha Ayau, a Hui Malama leader who submitted to several weeks of federal jail time rather than fulfill a federal court order to disclose the location of the artifacts, declined to comment on Ezra's order.

In November, Hui Malama announced that it would not answer any questions from the Star-Bulletin until it changed its reporting on the organization's activities.

Last August, two native Hawaiian claimants to the artifacts filed suit in federal court for the retrieval of the items so that all 14 native Hawaiian groups with cultural or familial ties to the artifacts could review them.

The two -- Abigail Kawananakoa, a Campbell Estate heiress, and La'akea Suganuma, president of the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts -- sued because they believe Hui Malama had no right among native Hawaiian traditions or federal repatriation laws to rebury the artifacts in two Big Island caves without the consent of other groups or families with claims.

Suganuma agreed with Ezra, saying, "He did the right thing."

For the past several weeks, Suganuma, Kawananakoa and members of Hui Malama have been meeting behind closed doors in accordance with Ezra's orders, to find a Hawaiian negotiated solution to the dispute under the supervision of the federal court.

© 2006 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --

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