More OHA News


Source: September 2009 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column


Despite the serious concerns voiced by our administrator regarding the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) Observatory Project, on July 2, 2009, the board of trustees voted in favor of an OHA resolution supporting the selection of Mauna Kea as the site for the proposed project.  Trustees Cataluna, Waihee, and I were excused from the meeting and did not vote for the measure.

On July 22, 2009, Advertiser Staff Writer Mary Vorsino reported that Mauna Kea was selected for the TMT project despite the strong opposition from Native Hawaiian and environmental groups.  While Mauna Kea is considered sacred to us, the environmentalists are concerned about how the project will impact rare native plant and insect species at the top of the mountain.

The planning and permitting stage will begin in 2010.  Construction is scheduled to begin in 2011 and completed in 2018.  While this may seem like a done deal, the opposition posed by potential lawsuits could delay work on the new telescope. 


According to a July 16, 2009 Honolulu Advertiser article, the Kahana Valley living cultural park was established 30 years ago to preserve one of the few surviving ahupua’a.  Residents who were living there at the time received 50-year leases in exchange for 25 hours of work a month on cultural activities.  Last year, the state attorney general discovered that the leases had expired and six families without leases were told to leave.

During this past legislative session, Rep. Jessica Wooley introduced HB 1552 which authorizes the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to issue long-term residential leases to qualified persons in state living parks. The bill also establishes living park planning councils to develop state living park master plans to ensure the living park achieves its purpose and goals.  Mostly importantly the bill establishes a 2-year moratorium on evictions of residents of Kahana valley state park.

On July 8, 2009, Governor Linda Lingle said she intended to veto the bill and this forced residents to schedule a protest rally the very same day.  After the bill was vetoed on July 15, 2009 by the Governor, the veto was quickly overridden and passed into law by the legislature, much to the relief of Kahana Valley residents.  Those residents who faced eviction last October will be allowed to remain in their homes and the way is now paved for more leases.


According to a July 17, 2009 Advertiser article by Rick Daysog, a lawsuit was filed in state Circuit Court on Wednesday, July 15, 2009 by Princess Abigail Kawananakoa against the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), the Department of Health, the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) and Kawaiaha’o Church.

Princess Kawananakoa believes that Kawaiaha’o church officials and construction workers dug up and disturbed the burial plot of her ancestor Queen Kapi’olani and those of other Hawaiian families.  She also alleged that the church skirted state burial laws, with the help of state officials, to fast-track the construction of the project.  “This project is about greed, not God,” Princess Kawananakoa said in an e-mail to The Advertiser. “I must take this to court because I cannot allow the desecration of Hawaiian graves to continue.”

In April, church officials denied that the Kapi’olani plot had been impacted.  However, a month later, they said they were unsure whether construction work had dug into the Kapi’olani plot.

George Van Buren, an attorney for Princess Kawananakoa, wrote in the lawsuit that the church and DLNR officials should have known it would find human remains because the property used to be part of the cemetery.  Van Buren also stated that church officials and the DLNR disregarded the advice of the church’s archaeological consultants, who recommended a “subsurface archaeological study for iwi, or bones, and other cultural artifacts” before beginning construction.  “Kawaiaha’o Church was concerned that any archaeological inventory survey would discover a concentration of human burial remains in the graveyard that could hinder and/or perhaps halt construction of the multipurpose center,” Van Buren said.

DLNR officials would not comment, saying they have not yet reviewed Kawananakoa’s lawsuit. 


The Advertiser also reported that Dana Naone Hall, former chairwoman of the Maui-Lana’i Island Burial Council, also plans to sue DLNR and church officials over their handling of the matter.  Naone Hall, who has relatives buried within the church’s cemetery ground, said that state law requires Kawaiaha’o officials to do an environmental assessment of the property since the church is a “designated historic site.” 

In her July 2, 2009 letter to DLNR, the Department of Health, and the Oahu Island Burial Council, Naone Hall has brought up the following serious concerns:

(1) The necessity to be clear about burial sites and cemeteries on Kawaiaha’o Church properties;

(2) The history of repeated disinterment of Native Hawaiian burials should not continue without any standards;

(3) DLNR has not conducted the Historic Preservation Review required by its own rules;

(4) Kawaiaha’o is not a cemetery as defined in HRS Chapter 441 and HRS 6E-41;

(5) The burials that were identified during construction were known about beforehand not “inadvertent discoveries.”

(6) DLNR and DOH do not possess the legal authority to disinter burials at Kawaiaha’o Church in the manner suggested in DLNR’s June 11, 2009 letter to Kawaiaha’o Church; and

(7) The agencies cannot permit any further construction on the Kawaiaha’o Church property until the Environmental Assessment is lawfully concluded.

Until the next time.  Aloha pumehana.