Kaua’i: Burial council rejects treatment plan for Haena home built over iwi

The Kaua’i Burial council rejected the state’s burial treatment plan for iwi kupuna (Native Hawaiian burials) on a lot in Naue, where wealthy California developer Joseph Brescia is building a multimillion dollar home.  The burial treatment plan is supposed to be approved before permits are issued and construction can begin. But the Kaua’i county has issued a building permit without the treatment plan.  Kanaka Maoli protested the construction for years. The State Historic Preservation Division which is charged with protection of cultural resources and burials colluded in the development by minimizing the significance of the burials.   Kanaka Maoli have maintained that the site is a cemetery subject to greater protections than isolated burials, but the State’s head archaeologist Nancy McMahon overrode these concerns.  When activists blockaded the construction site, Joseph Brescia sued them for alleged losses he incurred.   The lawsuit lacked merit. It is actually a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), used to incapacitate activists with crushing legal expenses.

While this is not directly a military issue, it  is an important case for protection of Hawaiian iwi kupuna in general. And it affects the many burial issues on military bases in Hawai’i, the biggest of which is in Mokapu (Marine Corps Base Hawaii – Kaneohe), where more than 2000 iwi kupuna were evicted from their resting places to build a runway and where iwi kupuna were crushed and mixed with sand and concrete to pour the foundations for buildings on base.

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Updated at 6:20 a.m., Friday, February 12, 2010

Burial council rejects treatment plan for Haena home built over iwi

By Paul Curtis
The Garden Island

LIHUE — After hearing nearly four hours of emotional testimony, the Kaua’i/Niihau Island Burial Council yesterday unanimously rejected the 16th draft of the burial treatment for Naue landowner Joseph Brescia’s controversial single-family home.

Several graves were found on the property where an under-construction house is located, and many Native Hawaiians and others are continuing to call for the home to be torn down.

Under state law, when Native Hawaiian remains are discovered, construction is supposed to cease until a burial treatment plan has been approved by the island burial council.

Meeting in the Council Chambers of the Historic County Building during their first meeting of 2010, the members apparently shared the sentiment of most of the dozens of speakers, saying at the rejection point they still had concerns over cement caps placed over some of the known graves, proposed vertical buffers, portions of the home built over known burial sites, and the planned septic system and its impact on burial sites.

“Oh, man, we won one for a change,” Hawaiian cultural practitioner Puanani Rogers said after the unanimous vote.

The unanimous vote came after a lengthy executive session, wherein council members asked the state deputy attorney general about their legal options, said Clisson Kunane Aipoalani, council chair.

The proposed burial treatment plan doesn’t address long-range maintenance and access issues adequately enough, council members said.

Before the decision, voices of the Kauai public — Native Hawaiian and otherwise — were loud, clear and unanimous, as articulated by Nathan Kalama of Wailua Houselots: “You have no choice but to deny.”

Desecration of Hawaiian graves has been going on for 100 years, and there is mana in Hawaiian bones, which is why so many remains are hidden even from relatives, said Sharon Pomroy.

“I do not agree to any compromise,” said Pomroy, saying she has been asked to join the burial council on repeated occasions, and has always turned people down “because I won’t compromise.”

“This thing gotta stop,” said Pomroy. “You guys no like do ‘em, I will. I’ll fight. I would bleed to make this thing happen,” she said.

John Zapala said he remembers when the U.S. flag on the wall of the council chambers signified “justice for all. As far as I can see, there has been no justice for Native Hawaiians since 1863.”

Kamoiokalani Sausen, who lives near the Brescia property in Haena, said the burial council should “bulldoze that house. You represent na iwi kupuna. You represent the Hawaiian people.”

“Stop the desecration of the burials,” Sausen said. “My heart is broken to feel and to see what has happened, is happening” across the street from where she lives.

“The bones have mana, and we are spiritually connected to them. They have the right to rest there,” she said. “They were there before you and I. Stop this desecration. Reject this burial treatment plan. Remove this hale from this cemetery,” and urge the county to revoke the building permit.”

“I personally believe that this house should be removed,” said Ken Taylor. But he said he is unsure whether the burial council has the power to do that.

The council does have the power to stop construction on the home until a burial treatment plan is approved, and that could set the stage for the removal of the home, he said. Anything short of that and council members aren’t doing their jobs, he said.

“What hurts me” is the lack of a strong voice in the process, said Rupert Rowe. “We have a process, but not a voice.” Brescia took a gamble putting up his house when warned by a state judge he was doing it at his own risk, said Rowe.

“What are we teaching our children when these things happen?” asked Leslie Lang of Wailua Homesteads. “I would like to see the bones rest in peace. It’s what’s right. It’s what’s pono,” she said.

“This is a house built on top of bones. It doesn’t belong there. The bones should be left alone, and respected,” said Lang.

Members of the burial council include Chair Clisson Kunane Aipoalani, Vice Chair Keith Yap, and members Dee M. Crowell, James W. Fujita, Michael Loo, Debra U. Ruiz, Sandra P. Quinsaat, Leiana P. Robinson and Barbara J. Say.

Absent yesterday were Crowell, Quinsaat and Robinson. Aipoalani was sick, but if he had missed the meeting there would not have been a quorum, so he attended and presided.

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The 70-plus-page, 16th draft of the Brescia burial treatment plan can be viewed at: www.state.hi.us/dlnr/hpd

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