Judge orders disputed cave artifacts retrieved

Advertiser reports:
Efforts to enter the Big Island's Forbes Cave complex and retrieve 83 priceless Hawaiian cultural objects will resume in the wake of a failed mediation of the dispute, U.S. District Judge David Ezra said yesterday.

Abigail K. Kawananakoa — a descendant of Hawaiian royalty and one of those seeking the return of the objects to the Bishop Museum — dismissed the four-month mediation as a "farce." She said Edward Halealoha Ayau, the leader of the group Hui Malama I Na Kupuna o Hawai'i Nei, should be sent back to federal prison for failing to disclose where the objects are buried.

Ayau said that Hui Malama is willing to assist in a return to the cave complex to ensure that the objects have not been disturbed, but only if the caves are found to be structurally sound, and if the court and the group's opponents agree to leave the items there. Formed in the 1980s, Hui Malama is dedicated to the repatriation of Native Hawaiian remains and the objects that accompanied them.
Ezra yesterday said that the "Hawaiian mediation process" had been worthwhile.

"I am, of course, disappointed that the matter was not resolved to a conclusion," Ezra said. "But that doesn't mean I think the process was a failure."

Noting that the opposing parties were able to agree on some issues, he added, "I do not believe that all chances for a resolution have been lost."

Kawananakoa claims to have papers proving the objects are not funerary items (moepu), but Ayau says he "has yet to see documentation to back up the argument that the cultural objects are not funerary."

And the Star-Bulletin reports:
A federal court judge ruled yesterday that four months of Hawaiian mediation have not resolved the heated differences among competing claimants for native Hawaiian artifacts buried in a Big Island cave.

Judge David Ezra will proceed under federal law to reclaim the items from the cave.

Once the items are retrieved, the groups will have a chance to examine the objects and ultimately decide their disposition.

Ezra said engineers will study the cave to determine whether entry is safe. Ezra said he would not provide a time line as to when the cave would be opened. He said he wished to proceed in a confidential fashion to thwart anyone from stealing the items, which some say are worth more than $10 million.

Update 4/3: Advertiser has an editorial noting that judge Ezra expressed his wish that the exercise "set a precedent in the United States courts" for the use of traditional Hawaiian settlement methods in cases like this, but the editorial also says mediation "makes sense only as a precursor to litigation, not a courthouse tool."

Posted: Sat - April 29, 2006 at 08:58 AM    
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Published On: May 03, 2006 09:25 AM
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