playing games with graves

Posted by kahea at Aug 04, 2008 06:58 PM |

From Evan:

Playing Games With Graves: This is what we appears to be happening at every turn here in Hawai`i. Burials are sacred and honoring our Kupuna is our responsibility. By honoring the past, we are connecting to those that have come before, acted as stewards and literally given their life to the land. Yet, the recent events at Naue Point on Kauai have brought our attention, once again, to the fact that some people just don’t get it.

On Kauai, the community members have stood tall in the face of eroding burial laws and corrupt processes for what they know is right. They need to be commended and this story needs telling. The community on Kauai is not alone although it may feel that way sometimes. The ongoing debacle at the Ward Villages construction site is yet another reminder of all that is inept about historic preservation these days.

Detours in the current legal framework allow for developers to take the easy way out with incomplete and ineffective archaeological reports that open the door to the permitting process. The difference between a “previously identified” and an “inadvertently discovered” burial can save developers loads of money, while also being the key that opens the door to development. Regardless of their trickery, it is an abomination of the spirit of the current burial law.

As one colleague recently questioned, “Previously identified by who? Everyone knows there are burials all over the beach in Hawai`i, especially on Kauai and Oahu.” Unfortunately everyone but the decision makers have gotten the message. Disarray at the State Historic Preservation Division and a City and County level permitting processes that, on Oahu has ignored an 18 year old resolution calling for detailed oversight of historical remains, continue to pave the way for gross unfairness in the handling of our most dearly departed. The process that results often resembles little more than a rubber stamp.

The situation on Kauai has brought many of these inequities to the surface and we need to take greater notice in all that is not working. After the developer was forced to preserve the burials in place by the island burial council; a scheme to build on top of the burials somehow got approved. As a result of the ongoing protests, the police stepped in to use criminal desecration statutes but the county prosecutor was unwilling to go along. OHA even took notice and asked SHPD to file a cease and desist order, which has not yet occurred. And now, Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, along with OHA, is stepping up to take legal action. The question that remains: Why is it that we have to bring our Kupuna out of the ground and into court time and time again?

Perhaps it is the the loopholes in the burial laws that keep this mockery ongoing. Less than whole archaeological reports and a general mistrust for the entire historic preservation process are surely among the culprits as well. Making change in the current atmosphere will not be easy. One way to persevere through these challenges is to recognize that we are not isolated communities dealing with these issues, but a people connected by a common purpose. A purpose to keep sacred all that has come before and cherish all that is sacred for those yet to come. This we can do. This we must do. One step at a time, together.

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