Silence ordered in artifacts mediation

Honolulu Advertiser
Saturday, January 14, 2006

Advertiser Staff

Attorneys involved in an ongoing court case over 83 priceless Hawaiian cultural objects were told to keep mum about any developments toward resolving the dispute following a 90-minute closed-door conference yesterday with U.S. Magistrate Kevin Chang.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge David Ezra gave the parties until yesterday to come up with a game plan for proceeding with a mediation process.

Two Native Hawaiian organizations filed a lawsuit in August against the Bishop Museum and Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei that called for the return of the objects that the museum had loaned to Hui Malama in 2000. Hui Malama members said that the objects had been buried in two Big Island caves from where they were taken by Westerners in 1905. Hui Malama has refused to return the items, maintaining that doing so would violate the group's religious and cultural beliefs.

Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts and Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa are seeking the return of the objects to the museum so that a final disposition may be determined by 14 claimants. Hui Malama and the two groups that filed the suit are among the claimants.

A status conference before Ezra is slated for Tuesday morning.

Last week, the judge said that if the parties make strides with mediation, Hui Malama 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.

Ezra yesterday issued an order naming Englekirk and Sabol Consulting Structural Engineers Inc. and Geolabs Inc. as the two companies that will study the structural engineering of the Kawaihae Cave, one of the two caves where the objects are believed to be. The court had previously selected Applied Technology Corp. but the company said it would not be available.

Hui Malama's masonry contractor filed an affidavit stating that he sealed one of the caves with a concrete wall and warned that reopening the cave could cause its collapse and would be a danger to those involved.

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