Artifacts litigants consider old ways

Honolulu Advertiser
Friday, January 6, 2006

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

The leader of Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei remains in prison after a federal judge advised the sides involved in a dispute over 83 priceless cultural objects to participate in the Hawaiian problem-solving pro-cess of ho'oponopono or another kind of alternative resolution.

But U.S. District Judge David Ezra, during a hearing yesterday, gave Hui Malama supporters hope that the group's leader, Edward Halealoha Ayau, may at some point be eligible for home confinement. Ayau has been held in the Federal Detention Center near Honolulu International Airport since Dec. 27, when Ezra found him in contempt of court for not complying with a federal order to divulge the exact location of the objects.

Alan Murakami of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which is representing Hui Malama, said he does not believe keeping Ayau incarcerated would help resolve the dispute.

Ezra said he would consider home confinement if, at some point, "I see that progress is being made" to reach a solution to the conflict.

Hui Malama and the Bishop Museum were sued by two other groups which sought the return of the objects to the museum, pending an agreement between 14 parties.

Museum staff in 2000 loaned the items to Hui Malama officials, who never returned them. Instead, Hui Malama members said they buried the objects in two burial caves on the Big Island from where they were taken by Westerners in the early 1900s. Ayau and other Hui Malama leaders said to remove the objects from the burial caves would go against their religious and cultural beliefs.

Ezra yesterday asked parties involved in the dispute to participate in the Hawaiian practice of ho'oponopono or some other type of alternative resolution as a possible means to resolve the controversial lawsuit.

The judge said he agrees with those Native Hawaiians who have publicly stated that the federal court should not decide the outcome of the case. "The whole idea is to take the matter out of the courtroom and into the hands of Hawaiians," Ezra said.

Murakami told Ezra that his side is willing to look at the alternate way of resolving the issue. "Hui Malama has always been open to this kind of Hawaiian alternative dispute resolution procedures," Murakami said after the hearing.

Sherry Broder, an attorney for the opposing groups, declined comment until she could talk with her clients.

The judge assigned U.S. Magistrate Kevin Chang to preside over the alternative resolution process. Ezra said the process will go on a "dual track" with the ongoing traditional court case continuing.

"I want to make this case a healing rather than a divisive circumstance for the Hawaiian community," Ezra said. "A divided Hawaiian community is an ineffective Hawaiian community," he said, noting that Hawaiians are seeking federal recognition in Congress.

About a dozen supporters have been been holding vigils and offering chants on behalf of Ayau at 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. each day across from the Federal Detention Center. The loose-knit group, over the weekend, also began passing out a petition seeking Ayau's release, said Mehana Hind, a traditional Hawaiian practitioner.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at

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