Hui leader calls mediation promising
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
In his first contact with the public since being jailed Dec. 27, the leader of Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei applauded a federal judge's suggestion that the ongoing legal dispute involving 83 priceless cultural objects be taken out of the courtroom and resolved through a Native Hawaiian form of dispute resolution.
But Edward Halealoha Ayau, in a handwritten Letter to the Editor sent to The Advertiser, which appears on today's Letters and Commentary page, asserted that he remains firm in his refusal to disclose the specific location of the objects believed to be buried in two caves on the Big Island.
U.S. District Judge David Ezra, in his court order, said he wants the parties to consider ho'oponopono or some other form of mediation.
"I believe this latest development in the case is the most promising and important because it seeks to return the dispute back to where it rightfully belongs: In the Hawaiian cultural realm and not in the courts," Ayau wrote.
"Having said this, as long as I am ordered to disclose how we conducted the Kawaihae reburial, I am compelled to decline, respectfully."
To disclose the locations of the items would violate the commitment Hui Malama made to the ancestors with which the objects have been buried, he said.
Alan Murakami of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which represents Hui Malama, said he believes Ayau is eager to participate in an alternative form of resolution.
"He wants to be a part of it and he's looking forward to being part of it — if he's allowed," Murakami said.
Murakami noted that the court did not require disclosure of the items as a condition of Hui Malama's participation in the mediation process.
William Aila, Hui Malama spokesman, said he also believes Ayau wants to participate in mediation. "What he's doing is making it clear ... that this (disclosing the location of the items) is what he cannot commit to in the Hawaiian mediation process," he said.
Under the traditional Hawaiian form of dispute resolution, known as ho'oponopono, parties cannot leave the process until a decision is reached, Aila said.
Sherry Broder, attorney for the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts and Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa, said she interprets Ayau's letter to mean that he won't participate in mediation unless the court lifts the order requiring him to disclose the location of the objects.
It was Ayau's refusal to make the disclosure that landed him in the Federal Detention Center after Ezra found him in contempt of court.
"It seems to me that he has declined to participate as long as the court order ordering him to disclose the location of the artifacts is in effect," Broder said.
Murakami acknowledged that the language in Ayau's letter "sounds a little vague as to what he means." But he stressed that his client has told him that his intention is to participate in the process.
Ezra has so far declined Murakami's requests to free Ayau, although the judge said he will consider home confinement if Hui Malama is cooperative in court proceedings.
Murakami said he is hopeful Ayau can be let out of jail, adding that he believes it would be difficult for mediation to work if the group's executive director is not present.
The two Native Hawaiian organizations sued Hui Malama and the Bishop Museum seeking the return of the objects to the museum pending a final disposition to be determined by 14 claimants under federal repatriation laws. 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 looted in 1905 by Westerners. Hui Malama officials consider the items repatriated and oppose their removal on religious and cultural grounds.
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at firstname.lastname@example.org.