Artifacts dispute divides Hawaiians
A dispute about Hawaiian artifacts in a Big Isle cave is before a federal appeals court.
A FEDERAL appeals court appears likely to sustain an order
that Hawaiian artifacts taken a century ago from a Big Island cave be returned temporarily to the Bishop Museum until their eventual destination is decided. Hawaiians disagree about whether the artifacts should remain in the cave. Barring any compromise, which is improbable, that larger issue will be decided in court.
Federal Judge David Ezra ordered the return of the artifacts to the museum in September. In arguments before a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Stephen Trott said Ezra "was simply trying to preserve the subject of the controversy."
The 83 artifacts were taken from the cave by amateur archaeologist David Forbes in 1905 and sold to the museum two years later. They were transferred in 2000 to Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei, a native Hawaiian group, under what was called "a one-year loan."
Edward Halealoha Ayau, a Hui Malama spokesman, has said it was never intended to return the artifacts to the museum. Hui Malama has claimed instead that the loan "was a vehicle for repatriation." That is another way of saying the end justifies the means, hardly a powerful legal argument.
Hawaiians disagree about whether caves were intended as burial sites or as safe places to store precious items before modern locked facilities. Hui Malama is among 13 claimants of the artifacts, and five are Hawaiian groups that want them retrieved. Those include Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa and the Royal Academy of Traditional Arts, plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The 1990 Native American Graves Protection Act established a review committee but it has no power to resolve disputes. The absence of compromise appears to make a lengthy court battle inevitable.
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