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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 16, 2005

Group wants disclosure of artifacts site under seal

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

The head of Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei is signaling an intention to comply with a federal court order requiring disclosure of the location of 83 priceless funerary artifacts the group obtained from the Bishop Museum, but the group wants that information kept sealed from the public.

The Native Hawaiian group, however, will continue to seek relief from the part of the order requiring that it do the actual recovery and return of the artifacts to the museum, according to Alan Murakami, an attorney for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. which is representing Hui Malama.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court yesterday, Hui Malama executive director Edward Halealoha Ayau said he will disclose the location of the artifacts in a written declaration. But Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. attorneys say they want that disclosure to be sealed.

"Given the court's concerns regarding the security and safety of the moepu and the availability to the public of documents filed with the court, sealing of the location of the moepu is warranted to ensure they remain secure pending compliance with the court's order," wrote M. Uilani Pau'ole, a Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. attorney.

Further, she wrote, "Hui Malama believes and fears that if the location of the moepu is not under seal, then any number of unlimited people outside of this action can and may locate the moepu and retrieve, or attempt to locate and retrieve, them improperly and illegally and with severe risk to their personal safety."

The items are believed to be in a cave, or a system of caves, known as Kawaihae Cave on the west coast of the Big Island. The site is believed to be on property owned by the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which has said it will not fight the court order.

Hui Malama has submitted an affidavit from a masonry contractor who warned that attempted entry could cause the cave to collapse.

Bishop Museum loaned the items to Hui Malama in 2000, but the group since has refused to return them, saying they belong in their original resting place and that returning them would again desecrate the burial site.

At least 13 Native Hawaiian groups have sought claim of the artifacts. Two of those groups, Na Lei Ali'i Kawananakoa and the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts, filed the suit seeking the return of the artifacts. The museum, named defendant in the case, has supported the return of the artifacts.

Known as the Forbes Collection, the items were taken from the Kawaihae caves in 1905 and turned over to the museum. Hui Malama and its supporters say the items were looted from the caves then and that to seek their removal again would go against the group's "cultural and religious beliefs."

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week rejected an appeal by Hui Malama and affirmed U.S. District Judge David Ezra's order that the organization cooperate with authorities in retrieving the artifacts.

Hui Malama officials and attorneys are scheduled to hold a press conference today explaining their strategy in the face of the Circuit Court's decision.

Hui Malama continues to maintain that the artifacts should stay where they are, Murakami said. He pointed to the safety issues and a Dec. 2 letter from the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Review Committee "clarifying" that it did not wish to seek removal of the items from the cave.

Parties seeking the artifacts' return to the museum have sought to discredit the recent NAGPRA letter, pointing out that two committee members said they did not approve it and want it withdrawn.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com.