Letter: Must we wait for more iwi to be unearthed before common sense prevails?

Letter to the Editor

The following letter is a public call by Oahu resident Kamuela Andrea Kapuananialiiokama Kala’i to Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ (OHA) chief advocate Esther Kiaaina regarding the ongoing construction of the Kawaiahao Church’s multipurpose center. Earlier this year, a Hawaii court ruled that the church had the right to continue construction after finding iwi at the site.

Aloha mai e Esther,

I am formally requesting that staff member(s) from OHA’s advocacy department be assigned to go to Kawaiahao Church on a daily basis and take photos and/or video of the on-going excavations for information and documentation purposes. I am very concerned about all of the recent excavation activities that have been on-going for the past month. I am also requesting that OHA get information on what has been occuring at the construction site.

I am particularly concerned about the elevator shaft that is currently being excavated on the Mission House Lane side of the site. My understanding is that most elevator shafts are dug down to 8 to 12 feet. At that depth, it is almost certain burials will be encountered. I understand this is one of two elevator shafts that will be dug. The current pit that has been dug has been covered since the digging began over a month ago, with a large “easy corners type” tent, multiple pieces of blue tarp and appears to have gotten deeper over the past few weeks. My concern is that the covering of this area with the tent and tarps indicates there are burials in this pit. I would like to know exactly what if anything, has been found in this pit.

Citing past experience when the last two iwi kupuna that were disturbed a couple of months ago, no information was revealed by the church until after the iwi kupuna had been disturbed and the church managed to find their own lineal descendants from their burial plot maps and got permission from these ohana to disinter the burials. My concern is that these burials have no markings and could potentially belong to someone else’s ohana or have other ohana members in this family who do not want their kupuna to be disturbed. There was no attempt made at contacting other familiy members who may have wished to be part of the decision on the disposition of these burials. The first 69 burials were taken out of the ground with no notification to any ohana members as the church clearly stated these were unkown burials. How is it that the church now has a list of known, lineal descendants? These iwi kupuna were sacrificed for the trenching of a sewer line and continue to languish in the basement of the church for over 2 years.

What does this say about the church’s ability to have any kind of aloha or respect for their dearly departed brethren?

If this was my Kupuna, and it could very well be since he is in an unknown, unmarked burial, I would not want him removed. I would insist the building be re-designed or stopped all together so that his resting place would not be disturbed, just as everyone’s final resting place should be respected and honored as their final resting place, just as all of the marked burials of missionary families who lie safely and peacefully in a shaded, hoomalu area in the back of the church grounds.  The entire area of Kawaiahao is a cemetery and contains pre-contact, pre-Christian, and post-contact, Christian burials. The TMK map states this entire area is a cemetary. Burials were marked with headstones at one time in the current construction site. Some were not marked. Some were not known. The map of that Alexander and Baldwin drew in 1912 clearly shows this. It doesn’t make it any less of a crime to desecrate an unmarked burial as it does a marked burial. It’s just not right. It’s not pono. It will never be right.

It doesn’t make it any less of a crime to desecrate an unmarked burial as it does a marked burial.

The option to re-design the Multi-purpose Center has been presented to the church but has never been seriously considered as a viable option to disturbing anymore graves. The option to re-design is a viable one. There is precedence in re-designing projects with other developers as evidenced by the Ritz Carlton in Honokahua, Maui, over 20 years ago when the developer was forced to re-design their hotel to avoid disturbing anymore iwi kupuna. Over 1,000 iwi kupuna had to pay that price before OHA was able to assist then-Gov. John Waihee in stepping in and halting the desecration.

And here we are today, confronting the same situation with our alii church, a Christian church led by people who descend from kupuna who lived, loved, and died in our homeland.

How could this possibly be happening again today? Did we learn nothing from all of the pain, desecration and hewa of the Honokahua burials?

Do we have to wait for more iwi kupuna to be unearthed before aloha, pono, respect for the dead, and common sense prevail? I hope and pray that we do not.

When I asked Dave Shidler, supervising archeologist from Cultural Surveys at Kawiahao, about the backhoe excavations a month ago if any iwi were found, I was told that Cultural Surveys submits a weekly report to the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD). I emailed Kawika McKeague of the Oahu Island Burial Council (OIBC) to request these reports from SHPD. A request to Pua Aiu has also been made for these reports. I continue to wait for a response.

I was hoping the OIBC meeting would be a venue to voice some of these concerns and to seek recognition as a lineal descendant of iwi kupuna at Kawaiahao but the OIBC meeting was cancelled due to a lack of quorum and will not be held again until September 14. and I’ve been told by the director that the OIBC does not have the ability to recognize any descendants since SHPD does not have jurisdiciton over these burials? How is that possible? Regardless of SHPD’s role, and I do believe SHPD does have kuleana with these burials as evidenced by their own conditions to the Department of Health blanket disinterment permit, I believe I have a right to seek recognition as a lineal descendant of iwi kupuna at Kawaiahao as others have done and have received. What’s happening here?

The OIBC is one of the few, if not the only place, the ohana is able to have a voice on the record, about these matters. This is at least the third OIBC meeting this year that has been cancelled. How are we to get help if meetings are not held? Something needs to be done to help the burial councils to function more efficiently. For now we wait until the next meeting.

I pray that no more iwi kupuna are disturbed, desecrated or dug up at Kawaiahao before then.

I would respectfully ask as a lineal descendant of a kupuna who is buried in this area in an unknown, unmarked burial, for OHA’s assistance in helping to monitor, document on-going excavations at Kawiahao and get answers regarding:

1. What kinds of excavation activities have taken place in the last month and are currently happening?

2. Have any iwi kupuna have been dug up?

3. What has been found since excavations resumed a month ago?

I ask for your assistance in getting information and documentation with the on-going excavations for as long as they continue at Kawaiahao as a descendant of kupuna who are buried there and as a beneficiary of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trust.

I would also ask that this information be relayed directly to Trustee Peter Apo, as he has been very helpful and proactive in trying to protect the iwi kupuna at Kawaiahao and Trustee Machado who has been very helpful in trying to resolve this problem.

Please let me know if you are able to accommodate my request. I anxiously await your response with gratitude for any assistance you can provide.

Me ka mahalo nui,

Kamuela Andrea Kapuananialiiokama Kala’i
Ka moopuna o Reverend Moses Mathew Kuaea a me Tamar Maka’ike Kuaea Me’ekapu