By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer
A Native Hawaiian group is asking the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to postpone the enforcement of a federal judge's ruling directing the organization to return to Bishop Museum 83 priceless burial objects.
Hui Malama I Na Kupuna 'O Hawai'i Nei said U.S. District Judge David Ezra's order directing the group to return the items by Sept. 23 would violate the group's free exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment and place the group members in physical and spiritual danger.
"It is an order to steal from the dead," the group said in papers filed with the appeals court this week.
The request asks that the enforcement of the order be postponed pending the outcome of Hui Malama's appeal of Ezra's decision, a process that could take months.
At the request of two other Native Hawaiian groups, Ezra had ruled that the artifacts should be returned to the museum while Native Hawaiian organizations sort out claims to the artifacts and decide what should be done with them.
In his order issued Wednesday, the judge said there are "serious questions" about whether a federal law was violated when Hui Malama got the items from the museum in 2000 and refused to give them back. He also expressed concerns about Hui Malama not providing information about the location of the objects or their condition.
Hui Malama maintains the objects were looted from a Big Island cave in 1905 and turned over to the museum. The group said it returned the items to the cave where they were originally placed, and sealed the entrance.
In a declaration attached to the request, Hui Malama spokesman Edward Halealoha Ayau said it would be wrong for him or any other Hui Malama member to remove the 83 artifacts in the burial cave.
He also said the removal would threaten their safety because of the "physical nature of the interior of the caves and the real threat of collapse of the ceiling and walls."
Reach Ken Kobayashi at email@example.com.