Hawaiian groups should seek resolution
Federal Judge David Ezra has instructed parties in a lawsuit to come up with a way to settle their differences.
A FEDERAL judge's order that claimants of Hawaiian artifacts seek resolution outside the courtroom
might be the best course of action in the bitter dispute.
That some members of the groups appear willing to settle disagreements among themselves is a big step forward in the conflict, one that could evolve into a model for reconciling other claims.
U.S. District Judge David Ezra has given parties in a lawsuit until Monday to come up with a way to work out their differences. At issue is the final disposition of 83 Hawaiian artifacts, removed from their original sites 100 years ago, which were reburied in caves on the Big Island by Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei.
Two other Hawaiian organizations filed suit against Hui Malama, wanting the artifacts retrieved so that they and other claimants could examine them and decide on proper disposition. Despite the court ruling in their favor, however, Hui Malama has refused to disclose specifically the location of the artifacts, resulting in the jailing of one of its leaders for contempt of court.
Ezra has been especially accommodating of Hui Malama, but correctly notes that he cannot allow the group to defy the court. His order for the groups to find a compromise is fitting and would allow them to work within the framework of Hawaiian traditions.
The dispute amplifies the fact that there is no established Hawaiian entity through which claims under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act can be resolved other than the federal court.
Passage of the Akaka bill, which would recognize a legal and political governing unit for Hawaiians, could move Hawaiians toward a policy for repatriation. However, the bill has stalled in Congress, and even though Hawaii's leaders in the U.S. Senate are optimistic about its approval this year, the conflict about the artifacts could raise concerns in Washington.
One of the claimants challenging Hui Malama says the suit was a last resort, filed because Hui Malama would not compromise. Now, all parties should take this opportunity to find common ground.
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