3 new groups seek inclusion on burial lawsuit
The native Hawaiian organizations claim to have a clear stake
Three native Hawaiian organizations, including two led by sovereignty activist Dennis "Bumpy" Kanahele, filed papers in federal court yesterday seeking to intervene in a lawsuit over 83 native Hawaiian artifacts that were reburied in a Big Island cave in 2001.
Kanahele's groups -- the Nation of Hawaii and Pu'uhonua I Waimanalo -- joined with the Native Hawaiian Advisory Council in asking that U.S. District Judge David Ezra include them as federally recognized claimants to the artifacts in negotiations to decide their disposition.
Kanahele, a longtime sovereignty and Hawaiian rights' activist, could not be reached for comment.
In court papers, the three groups argued that they are recognized claimants to the artifacts and have rights "on equal footing" with claimants involved in the lawsuit and therefore should not be excluded from the ongoing court-ordered mediation process.
They said their "ongoing exclusion is inappropriate" because the native Hawaiian organizations involved in the suit will not protect the rights of other claimants. Their filing says that the claimants have "myriad differences" and "motivations," implying that makes groups less likely to guard the legal rights of others.
The filing said that without the inclusion of Kanahele's groups "as indispensable parties to these proceedings," any agreement or court order arising from the current negotiations would be "incomplete, nonbinding, unenforceable and/or subject to challenge."
In an order filed Monday on another matter in the case, Ezra found that the claimants currently not involved in the lawsuit "were not necessary" because the case will only decide whether the items are retrieved from the cave. His order said the suit will not determine anyone's specific rights to the items or their final disposition. Those questions will be taken up by all of the claimants going through the consultation process conducted under federal repatriation law.
The 83 artifacts at the center of the dispute were stolen from several caves in 1905 and later sold or given to the Bishop Museum. The items, considered funerary objects by many of the claimants, came under the authority of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, a federal law designed to repatriate the human remains and certain artifacts from native Hawaiian and American Indian groups from museums.
Under NAGPRA guidelines, the Bishop Museum recognized 14 competing claimants to the items from Kawaihae cave. NAGPRA intends for native Hawaiian groups to consult with each other to determine who has cultural or familial ties to the objects and decide on their disposition.
In February 2000, museum staff crated the items and handed them over to one of the claimants, Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O'Hawaii Nei, a native Hawaiian group founded in the late 1980s to repatriate native Hawaiian remains and artifacts from museums and construction sites. The items were identified on the inventory documents as "a one-year-loan."
Hui Malama, in accordance with its religious beliefs, reburied the items in two Big Island caves so they could be spiritually reunited with ancestral bones.
In August, two groups at odds with Hui Malama over its reburial filed the federal lawsuit alleging Hui Malama violated NAGPRA and by reburying the items denied other claimants their right to have a say in the disposition.
The two groups that sued Hui Malama are the Royal Academy of Traditional Arts and Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa, which is headed by Abigail Kawananakoa, a wealthy Campbell Estate heiress and the great-granddaughter of Queen Kapiolani and King Kalakaua.
La'akea Suganuma of the Royal Academy said last night the intervention of the three groups "really doesn't change anything. The law is still broken."