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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 12:15 p.m., Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Judge wants no more delays in return of artifacts

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

A stern U.S. District Judge David Ezra this morning said there will be no further delays in the return of 83 priceless cultural artifacts and ordered that the Native Hawaiian group that borrowed them from the Bishop Museum cooperate in their return.

Ezra denied Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei's request to reconsider his original order to return the objects, stating that its attorneys had no new information to change his mind.

"I will not have your client ignoring a valid and subsisting court order," Ezra told attorney Alan Murakami of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which is representing Hui Malama. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week reaffirmed Ezra's earlier decision ordering the immediate return of the artifacts.

Ezra ordered Hui Malama to turn over by 4 p.m. tomorrow all information regarding the whereabouts of the artifacts, which Hui Malama officials have stated have been returned to two remote caves along the Kawaihae coast of the Big Island. While Murakami said his understanding was that Hui Malama had turned over what information it has, including the Global Positioning System coordinates of the items, Ezra said what he had seen to date was inadequate.

The judge agreed to Hui Malama's request to not participate actively in the removal of the artifacts. Instead, the group will pay for half the costs associated with their removal. Bishop Museum will pay the other half. He also granted the group's request to keep the exact location of the objects under a court seal.

No immediate time line for the return was discussed. Ezra ordered all parties to submit by next Wednesday a list of three engineers they believe qualified to review the structural integrity of the caves, which Hui Malama officials said have been sealed.

Hui Malama officials fiercely believe the artifacts should stay where they are, pointing out that they were removed from caves in Kawaihae in 1905 by Western archaeologists. Removal of the artifacts from the caves would be culturally insulting and be dangerous to those involved in such an undertaking, they said.

The artifacts have been in dispute for some time. More than a dozen Native Hawaiian organizations, including Hui Malama, are claimants to the artifacts and have been engaged in discussions over the final resting place of the objects. Two of the other groups, Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa and the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts, sued Hui Malama and the museum, seeking that the artifacts be returned to the museum to allow the groups to make a final determination.

A key point of discussion is whether the objects are funerary, or placed with the remains of humans at the time of burial. Hui Malama insists that they are, while its opponents say that has never been established.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8026.