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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Parties in artifacts suit agree to try mediation

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Attorneys for the three sides in the heated federal court case involving 83 priceless Hawaiian cultural objects yesterday agreed to explore the possibility of a mediated solution for their ongoing dispute.

The legal representatives for Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei, the Bishop Museum and the two Native Hawaiian organizations that sued them will meet over the next few days to see if they can agree to ground rules for how a mediation could occur. They are scheduled to give a progress report to U.S. Magistrate Kevin Chang on Friday.

"The parties agreed in principle to move forward with a type of mediation process ... that would incorporate Hawaiian culture and protocol," said Sherry Broder, an attorney for the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts and Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa. The two organizations sued Hui Malama and the museum seeking the return of the objects to the museum pending a final disposition to be determined by 14 claimants. Hui Malama and the two groups that filed the suit are among the claimants.

The items were handed over by the museum in 2000 as a "loan" to Hui Malama. Hui Malama officials said the items, known as the Forbes Collection, have been placed in two caves in the Kohala region of the Big Island from where they were first taken in 1905 by Western explorers. Hui Malama officials consider the items repatriated and oppose their removal on religious and cultural grounds.

But the plaintiffs in the case maintain that the other claimants have had no say on the matter.

Last week, U.S. District Judge David Ezra asked the parties to consider ho'oponopono, a traditional Hawaiian method of dispute resolution, or some other form of mediation.

Alan Murakami, an attorney for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which is representing Hui Malama, said he was pleased by the progress.

"I think everybody's anxious to see if we can reach some sort of resolution informally to get Hawaiians to, hopefully, decide Hawaiian issues," he said.

"The questions are: In what form? For how long? And who's going to lead it?"

Most of the answers could surface by the end of the week, Murakami said. He expressed doubt, though, that a facilitator agreeable to all the parties could be named by Friday.

Museum attorney LindaLee Farm also expressed hope for a successful mediation. "Everybody wants things to work out, so they're optimistic," she said.

As the mediation process begins, the court proceedings would continue on a dual tract. Ezra has already ruled that the items are to be returned to the museum, a decision reaffirmed by the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals.

Hui Malama executive director Edward Halealoha Ayau has been incarcerated at the Federal Detention Center since Dec. 27 after Ezra found him in contempt of court for not disclosing the specific locations of the objects.

Ezra wants an engineer to examine the structural integrity of the Kawaihae Caves complex, which includes both the Forbes Cave and the Mummy Cave, before deciding future matters tied to the recovery of the objects.

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