R.I.P. Our Kupuna Out of the Ground! A Repatriation in Progress: Part II

Aloha mai kakou,

I recently ran into Halealoha Ayau and his wife Kainani Kahaunaele-Ayau on O'ahu after my grandmother's funeral services. Both are notable Hawaiian cultural practitioners, activists, educators, and now proud parents. As we shared casual conversation we began to open the controversial can of worms of the diverse issues taking a toll on Kaua'i. There seemed to be deep concern of the issues happening on Kaua'i as we spoke of the island we are privileged to call home.

Our conversation finally leading to the subject of the iwi kupuna at Wainiha.

I had been following the iwi kupuna issue since I sat in a panel discussion with Halealoha at the 2006 Aha Kane Conference. A panel discussion which fueled me to then read about multiple controversies over the burial council's decisions in multiple iwi kupuna cases around the state.

One of the largest desecration's of iwi kupuna in the state here on Kaua'i at the construction site of the Waipouli Resort in 2004. A development that only graced the papers with article headlines concerned about increased Kapa'a traffic, sewage treatment, and excited Time-share buyers, but rarely went into the 1990-1991 findings of archaeological burial sites at Waipouli by Okamoto.

Ten years later the burial council allowed some 20 plus remains with artifacts to be "inadvertently discovered" as the county's arm was twisted into a bind by the threat of potential law suits yet again if they didn't push forward with permits. Hal Hammat, explaining in the burial council minutes dated July 6th 2006, stating that "all the burials found(at Waipouli) were inadvertent discoveries because they were found during construction of the sewer lines. The burials have already been disinterred and they are ready to be reburied once the project is completed. There will be landscaping in the reburial area such as naupaka and various trees."

Hammat's statement of the iwi being inadvertent discoveries contradicting Okamoto's 1990-1991 finding's in a 2002 article published by the Garden Island.

More and more surprises are presenting themselves to the table in yesterdays edition of the Garden Island, discussing the issue of the iwi kupuna at Wainiha. The burial council has motioned to defer its decision of how the historic remains should be handled.

Surprise! The planning commission knowingly went against the burial council and o.k.'d the development project in Wainiha without any decision or ruling by the burial council prior to the burial councils decision to defer the issue. Now we all get to sit and wait for 45 days while the burial council bites their fingernails as they figure out the politically correct thing to do. Do we listen to the developer and the planning commission? Or! Do we listen to members of the community trying to take a stand for the protection of their cultural ancestors and leave the bones alone?

What seems like the obvious right thing to do isn't being said, but nobody in the burial council or in the county seems to want to pull the political trigger and put an end to this outrageous controversy. But there have been a few outspoken activists who have shared their own mana'o. Mahalo for their voices in speaking out on this issue.

I can't seem to understand why a burial council was set up in the first place if they don't know how to protect Native Hawaiian buried remains and artifacts. Past incidents clearly show that maybe the burial council isn't working as hard as they should with other county, state, and federal departments to preserve and protect burial sites.

These burial travesties continue amongst the burial council, but maybe it's because some of the members who sit on the council don't truly represent Hawaiian's wanting to keep their cultural ancestors from being dug up. Maybe its because they work for the Department of Land and Natural Resources, another branch of our wonderful state government that also hasn't done too much in taking a stand on the misuse of land and natural resources; i.e. Kaua'i Springs, Superferry, Cruiseships, Koke'e Development Issue.

Maybe it's the planning commission directing them to do what they should or shouldn't do. The planning commission seem to have their minds made up on the matter, but maybe we'll see a turn around as things start to heat up on this sensitive issue. Maybe its the developer whining to get their way around the bones so they can have their nice beach front view.

But maybe we should sit and listen to the people who are laying there in the ground, and then listen to our own na'au second. It seems that ancestral remains don't have a comment on the matter.

They aren't saying anything.

Or are they? If their dead silence isn't an answer enough, than what is? What it comes down to is that those people, those kupuna on that land, are still there. They have been there longer than any of us arguing and shouting about what should be done on either side, so why should we have a say at all when the iwi can not speak for themselves. They are, or I should say were resting, and now here we are battling over them when the burial council should be able to give a simple answer to the developer for the iwi themselves, 'A'OLE!

Who cares if a land developer comes crying his sob story to the planning commission and is threatening to throw a civil lawsuit in the face of the county and state prosecutors if they don't get the permit they want? 'A'ole pono, they don't have the right to issue you a permit in this matter.

Do you really think a judge will rule in favor of a developer on the basis that disturbing human remains constitutes development when its the realtors fault for illegally selling the land in the first place knowing that he should have shared the details of the land first? 'A'ole, he won't!

Is it because the county and state are so afraid of their own jurisdiction shadow that they aren't willing to step into their own courtroom? I would love to see this go to court and see what the lawyer's argument is going to be for his client.

I'm sure there are plenty of Hawaiian's on this island who are already outraged by the disturbance of the remains that have taken a stand on this issue, and I am sure there are a lot more who are going to start stepping forward to take a stand on it for themselves.

I know for myself, it shouldn't even have to be an issue whether or not to dig up the iwi. It should be common sense that you shouldn't mess with any buried remains. Especially sacred Hawaiian remains. I've stated it before and I am going to state it again: sue the realtor for selling the land, repatriate the bones to their original state, wash your hands clean, and bury this before the political, cultural, and ethical debate gets any more dirty.

The iwi should be allowed to stay exactly where they are without the threat of anyone building over them. Period! None of us truly have a say in the matter, because it was the wishes of their loved ones to put them there centuries ago. Building a million dollar home for an ex-heroin addict rock star on an adjacent lot that probably has iwi as well, is not worth disturbing the sacred remains that predates their disappearing record sales. 'A'OLE'!

Californication of our 'aina is not how we do things here in Hawai'i, and if that's a harsh reality that some of us are having to face, than save it for fuel for a new album that no one will buy. Because when it comes to our culture we don't give it away, give it away, give it away now do we! I don't want you to "give it" to any of my ancestors including my mother, my father, my brother, or my sister!

We need to learn how to tell developer's the word 'a'ole, and developer's need to start learning how to better understand that word when we say it to them. Especially when they are talking about tearing our kupuna out of the 'aina that they deserve more than anyone else still alive today.

Na wai e hoʻola i na kupuna iwi? Who will save the ancestral bones?

Mahalo again Nathan Eagle for the coverage of an important issue.

Hale Mawae
Eo Lono!

Burial Council Defers Decision

by Nathan Eagle - THE GARDEN ISLAND

The Kaua‘i Island Burial Council yesterday deferred its decision on how a Wainiha landowner should handle historic remains discovered during excavation last year at the site of his proposed home.

Three hours of discussion at the Historic County Building exposed deep-rooted concerns over the lack of protection for sacred ground, deficient disclosure of known encumbrances and uncertainty over what documents are public records.

Concerned community members from Kealia to Ha‘ena asked the council to stop Joseph Brescia from building a house where archaeologists have found 30 burials and scattered remains — believed to be part of a Polynesian cemetery some eight centuries old.

“When you squat on their bones, you squat on my head,” Kapa‘a resident Ka‘iulani Edens-Huff said.

The California-based contractor is in the county Planning Department’s design review stage. He needs the council to OK his proposed burial treatment plan before a building permit will be issued.

The county Planning Commission on Dec. 11 approved plans subject to certain conditions for Brescia and Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis to build homes on adjacent lots in the Wainiha subdivision.

Brescia, represented by Lihu‘e-based attorney Walton Hong, has fought since 2001 to start construction.

Some of the delays have been due to legal challenges, such as a shoreline setback case that local environmentalists eventually won in 2005 at the state Supreme Court.

For this and other reasons, Brescia has moved the house farther from the coast four times and redesigned the house 15 times, Scientific Consulting Services senior archaeologist Michael Dega said.

Brescia hired SCS Archaeology to survey the property at the county Planning Department’s instruction. The first of four phases began in March. Excavation work was completed in December, Dega said.

All 30 burials discovered during that time have been preserved in place while the council makes its decision, he added.

Brescia’s burial treatment plan recommends relocating six burials that fall directly under the proposed house site to other locations on the property and keeping the other 24 burials in place.

Councilmembers said they were uncomfortable in making a decision on how the burials should be treated. Their role is limited to whether the remains should be kept in place or relocated.

“This man has spent a lot of money ... but being pono, being right, I don’t think this house should be built yet,” Councilwoman Barbara Say said. “I’m sorry, I just can’t approve with all good feeling ... I need to sleep at night. It could be my family. When you have 30, God knows how much more there is.”

She likened Brescia’s situation to buying a new car that turns out to be a bad choice and having to cut your losses and trade it in.

“Maybe the gentleman that owns this property could get a nice tax write-off,” Say said. “Give it back to the state ... give it back to Hawaiians.”

Brescia sat quietly next to Hong during the meeting. He did not voice any public comments.

In the past, he has accused environmentalists of using “stall tactics” to prevent him from building the home on his land.

Residents voiced their dismay over the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Historic Preservation Division’s refusal to release the burial treatment plan to the public.

Local attorney Harold Bronstein said when he requested a copy of the plan last week, officials said it was a confidential document.

“It’s impossible,” he said, to provide intelligent comments without having seen the plan.

Similarly, Bronstein said he had tried since May to obtain a copy of the inventory survey which was not provided to him until yesterday at the meeting.

Nancy McMahon, the state acting archaeology branch chief, said the council is in charge of releasing these records.

The council effectively decided it would make the plan available to the public by not voting to declare the material “sensitive,” which would have allowed the state department to keep the documents private.

The division’s concerns in part stem from alleged instances on Neighbor Islands where individuals have disturbed remains after learning the specific whereabouts of certain burials.

Council Chair Mark Hubbard said he empathized with the residents, urging the public to use its discretion with the material.

“Every grave is sacred. Every grave is put in a certain place for a purpose,” said Jeff Chandler, a native Hawaiian who sought the burial plan to “make a better decision.”

Hong did not return a call seeking comment.

McMahon noted that efforts are ongoing to develop a system where encumbrances, such as human remains on a property, are more effectively disclosed to prospective buyers.

“There will be no more ignorance that there are burials on the property,” she said.

But regardless of whether such information appears on title searches, councilmembers and residents said it is a well-known fact that sandy areas were common burial grounds.

“It’s abominable for this gentleman to want to build a house on burials,” Puanani Rogers said. “Whatever you do with burials ... it must be respectful.”

The council has 45 days from the meeting yesterday to make its decision on what to do with the remains. The council plans to vote on the burial treatment plan, which could include further recommendations, at its March 6 meeting, Hubbard said.

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