Ayau to appear in court over artifacts
The imprisoned leader of a native Hawaiian group is scheduled to appear in federal court this afternoon before a judge who jailed him for contempt last week.
Yesterday, U.S. District Judge David Ezra ordered Edward Halealoha Ayau to appear in his courtroom for a status conference at 2:30 p.m. Ezra's order did not say why he wanted Ayau to appear.
Ezra sentenced Ayau to prison after he violated a court order by refusing to give the specific location of 83 native Hawaiian artifacts that he and other members of his group, Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei, reburied in a Big Island Cave in February 2000. Hui Malama was founded in 1989 to reclaim native Hawaiian remains and burial items from museums and construction sites.
Ayau was sentenced to "an indeterminate amount of time" until either he or other Hui Malama members identify the location of the items.
Ayau has said the court order is demanding that he violate his religious beliefs, which is contrary to his constitutional right to freedom of religion.
In February 2000, museum staff crated the items and gave them as "a one-year loan" to Hui Malama. Ayau said that to honor the wishes of the kupuna who originally buried the items in Kawaihae or Forbes cave, his group reburied them.
Since then a total of 14 native Hawaiian groups have made claims to the items under federal repatriation laws. Two of those groups, the Royal Academy of Traditional Arts and Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa, have sought the retrieval of the items from the cave so that all of the claimants can review them and share in deciding their final resting place.
Hui Malama has refused to return the items. In August the Royal Academy and Kawananakoa filed a lawsuit seeking the return of the items.
Ezra ruled the items needed to be retrieved and held at the Bishop Museum, away from public view, so that all of the claimants can review the items and decide their final disposition.
Hui Malama appealed Ezra's order to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against the organization and sent the case back to Ezra.