R.I.P Our Kupuna Out of the Ground! A Repatriation in Progress.
By Hale Mawae
Does anybody remember what went wrong at Waipouli? I know I do. I helped repatriate close to 50 kupuna iwi(ancestral bones) who were locked in a metal storage container for almost two years.
I remember making quite a lot of noise about those kupuna being locked up, and digging my nose around in burial council notes back to almost two years prior to the Waipouli development actually starting groundwork to see what kind of repatriation they had in mind. When I asked to see records and minutes from burial council meetings concerning a burial treatment plan for Waipouli at the State building they were not where I thought they’d be.
I thought they'd be housed professionally at the state building for public access, but all the records and minutes were said to be kept with Nancy McMahon at her personal home office in Po'ipu. Nancy McMahon was the current on staff archaeologist for the County of Kaua'i SHPD department and burial council at the time.
Almost 6 months after I started digging for answers to why the bones were still not repatriated, I got a phone call from Kamahalo Ka’uhane who had heard word from another that they were going to finally repatriate the bones at Waipouli that same afternoon. I quickly readied myself to go down to Waipouli to help with the burial of those kupuna who had been dug up almost two years before at the Waipouli Resort, across from the Safeway shopping center.
The repatriation process had been so quickly thrown together that many members of the community, who I knew to be active on the Waipouli kupuna iwi issue were not able make it because it happened on such short notice. The decision to repatriate apparently had come down from the council only a day before under direction of the developer, and they acted hurriedly to get the kupuna iwi back in the ground because there were more people asking questions than me. And apparently the management of the resort wanted to put this matter behind them so people would stop asking. Go figure!
My assumption was Nancy McMahon and the burial council wanted to put an end to anyone questioning what happened with the process that dealt with the kupuna 'iwi at Waipouli. The burial council following up with a speedy repatriation process that lacked regard for Hawaiian protocol, and a correct repatriation burial process.
When we arrived to pay our respects and perform protocol that we had been trained in for burials, Nancy said they had already done a pule(prayer) and the machines were ready to fill in the hole.
Kamahalo Ka'uhane disagreed and said we would be following through with correct burial protocol he and others had been trained, and that no machines would be needed in burying the iwi.
Kamahalo, myself, and almost 20 other men helped to bury the iwi on the back lot of Waipouli by shovel and hand after entering the site with extreme measures of spiritual and cultural protocol to protect ourselves and protect our kupuna as we put them back to rest.
We followed with various groups taking turns of Hawaiian protocol vigils in the evening for almost 3 months after. Vigils that followed through to the end of the Makahiki season to make sure that the kupuna had really been laid to rest after almost 2 years of being in a storage container during development.
The county planning commission even with working in cooperation with what should be an operating SHPD burial council should be making better, well informed decisions regarding the remains of large scale burials. Especially after what went wrong at Waipouli.
Now that some 30 remains of native Hawaiian's on a site in Wainiha are to be dug up and repatriated, I wonder if the burial council is ready to come under scrutiny again for their shallow repatriation process after notorious mistakes in their large scale repatriations.
Here we are again with another situation of moral and ethical regard to Native Hawaiian remains, almost a year and a half after the Waipouli kupuna were repatriated after being dug up by the developer, and still it seems that people are running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
Native Hawaiian human remains that have been on the land for centuries, now being removed because of the land owner's wish to continue building on his lot in Wainiha after only 6 years of trying to get an OK from Burial Council and Kaua'i's planning commission. My question is: Who sold him the lease to the land in the first place and why didn’t the previous leaseholder explain to him that he didn’t really own it to begin with? Why isn’t that owner going after whoever sold him the land and get repatriation with the money he purchased it with?
Because digging up the dead, especially the Native Hawaiian dead is a really touchy issue for a lot of people. In fact I think digging up dead people in general is a pretty touchy issue. And even more so when the owner wants to build because it’s a “nice piece of property and has a beautiful view of Haena”
The overworked burial council has had over 6 large cases of found remains and large archaeological sites this year. All of which have been pushed to the side, or fast tracked to make it easier for the developer to move ahead with their various building projects. The Kealia bike path was one. Kealanani which is another Kealia development planned adjacent to the beach is another. The large development that almost went in at Waipouli. Coco Palms. Most major developments on the South side. One site on the south side which included the possible destruction of heiau walls and the removal of the structure. All of these separate cases on our island unanimously decided by the burial council to dig them up now, ask questions, and bury them later.
When a developer discovers any remains on a project site, the burial council must publish an ad in the newspaper for lineal and cultural descendants to come forward. The lineal descendants then have 30 days from that publishing in the newspaper to contact the burial council. They must prove by direct genealogy to be a lineal descendant as well as be able to generally say who is buried where at a site in question.
Lineal descendants are often not able to prove direct lineage with exact persons buried, but have a general perception that their relatives were buried there years and sometimes centuries prior. Often lineal descendants don't have enough time to make their claims, or aren't aware of the issue because they don't carry knowledge of buried relatives prior to a hundred years. Often exact knowledge of buried persons is lost or not kept within families, and those related persons even if they know they are related to the kupuna iwi in question can not prove it through written genealogy and are deemed as cultural descendants.
Cultural descendants being any of those who are related because they share Hawaiian cultural ties, not necessarily in direct relation to the kupuna iwi. Cultural descendants do not really have a say in the decision making process of interment and repatriation, but they are allowed to give testimony which may or may not be used with the repatriation process and the burial treatment plan that the burial council decides on.
For those of you who are in strongly in support of encouraging development on sites with Native Hawaiian remains buried I often pose this question to them:
If someone wanted beach front property on the side of Kealia Hill, where the Catholic cemetery is because it had a nice view, and had money to put down, would they dig up all the dead people and plop down a million dollar mansion. I know that people would be up in arms if they were told their family or loved one had to be moved and repatriated because someone else paid for the property and has the right to build a home.
After all, it is a nice view and whoever paid for it, paid for it fair and square, and went through the more than fair due process at the planning commission. And everybody knows the planning commission always makes the right decisions, all the time, 100% guaranteed. Right?
The archaeologist they are using yet again is, Nancy McMahon, who has been caught up in a law suit regarding her work with the State Historic Provision Division and the Burial Council.
Nancy McMahon who was running a website advertising a 4x4 tour of ancient cultural sites as a side business, charging passengers of her excursion $150. On the website it says "Turn the clock back a thousand years on our Hummer expedition into Kauai's ancient rain forests. You will see historical sites; experience the unforgettable feel of a rain forest, view spectacular waterfalls and secluded pools. See the lush tropical jungles the way ancient Hawaiians did." (http://kauaihummersafari.com/)
Some of these sites she gives tours on can only be accessed with use of 4x4 Hummer, off road vehicle. Her business venture was exposed through a series of online blogs that began criticizing her work with the burial council and SHPD. Other allegations arose with other defendants including state workers, which the plaintiff says had pushed through reports to speed developments in getting past through the burial council and into the planning commission.
I wonder if the planning commission is aware of Nancy McMahon being implicated in this case as a defendant, and if they have contacted any off island burial council's where there are other archaeologists who can take up the work in this Wainiha case.
It seems with Nancy and SHPD caught up in this suit that someone at the planning department might see her interest in any cases regarding SHPD and the burial council as a conflict of interest being a defendant in a current case regarding her moral work ethic as a state archaeologist.
The burial council does not have notes of their public meetings posted online since October 2007, a clear representation that posting their minutes to keep their public informed have not been a top priority in this case of the Wainiha residential lot.
They have obviously worked speedily in resolving the issue to let the planning commission ok the project. I’d like to know where the minutes from November and December are with this decision to OK the project and move forward.
The meeting's minutes read from Oct. 4th 2007 concerning Wainiha residential lot:
Informational update and presentation by Scientific Consultant Services regarding the burial treatment plan. Council discussion and recommendation on the measures proposed in the burial treatment plan. Council determination to preserve in place or relocate the previously identified Native Hawaiian burials located on this residential lot.
Where is the public access to the Scientific Consultant Services findings and their idea for a burial treatment plan in their minutes? Where are the lineal and cultural descendants that should be having the say before any SCS findings make a final decision regarding what be done with the kupuna iwi and the respective site in Wainiha? And who's really showing concern about such a huge burial site in Wainiha?
Concerned not only for the kupuna iwi at rest, but more so the process that should be in place to help protect those iwi at all cost from being disturbed. And let’s not forget Waipouli and use it as an example for how the process and concern those kupuna should have had.
NEXT WEEK: Part II of R.I.P Our Kupuna Out of the Ground