Hui Malama accused of breach of contract
A native Hawaiian organization breached its contractual duty when it failed to return cultural artifacts taken from Forbes Cave to Bishop Museum and improperly repatriated them in 2000, the museum alleges.
Hui Malama I Na Kupuna 'O Hawaii Nei and Bishop Museum are co-defendants in a federal lawsuit filed last year by Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa and the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts seeking return of the 83 burial items.
In a cross claim filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Bishop Museum maintains that it loaned Hui Malama the items for one year pending completion of the repatriation under the Native American Graves Protection Recovery Act.
The plaintiffs alleged that the repatriation of the artifacts to the Kawaihae Cave deprived them and 11 other claimants of a say in what should happen to them.
Bishop Museum maintains it released the artifacts to Hui Malama as a loan beginning Feb. 26, 2000, and ending on Feb. 26, 2001.
But after learning that the other claimants had not given Hui Malama authority to act on their behalf, the museum recalled the loan. Despite repeated requests, Hui Malama has refused to return the items, saying it never had any intention of returning them. Hui Malama maintains that to unearth the burial items amounts to stealing from their dead kupuna and would result in severe spiritual consequences.
Attorney Alan Murakami of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., who represents Hui Malama, said he is puzzled by Bishop Museum's allegations that the repatriation was incomplete when the museum confirmed it was completed in numerous letters.
He cited a May 10, 2001, letter from Bishop Museum's then-director, W. Donald Duckworth, noting that the funerary objects were repatriated to 13 claimants on April 12, 2001. A letter dated on the same day the items were repatriated was sent to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands by Duckworth confirming that the repatriation was published in the Federal Register on March 9, 2001.
"We satisfied all the statutory requirements, and in essence it ended our role," Murakami said. "So how can we breach something that doesn't exist?"
While the museum did publish notices in the Federal Register and took the position at one point that repatriation was complete, it has since determined that it was in error, and the items "need to be returned to let the process to continue," said LindaLee Farm, counsel to Bishop Museum.
Trial in the matter has been set for Sept. 26.