Photo: Kirsha Durante

I recently learned that my ancestors were among the iwi found many years ago at the Mapulehu Glass House property on Molokaʻi, and I want to provide input on what happens to them. Is there anything I can do?

By Kirsha Durante, NHLC Senior Staff Attorney

Mahalo for your question and your diligence in the mālama of iwi kūpuna after disturbance. Most cultures around the world reverently respect and protect burials. Yet, respect and care for iwi kūpuna has been an enormous challenge for our community requiring continuous advocacy.

When iwi are disturbed by nature or – as in the case of the Mapulehu Glass House – through human activity, the focus shifts to protecting against any further harm.

To participate in the decision-making process for iwi kūpuna, you may start by getting your connection to the iwi recognized. This can be done by submitting a Descedancy Claim Application to the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. You can be recognized as a lineal or cultural descendant. A lineal descendant has a direct or genealogical connection to specific iwi. A cultural descendant has a genealogical connection to Native Hawaiian ancestors who once lived in, or are buried in, the same ahupuaʻa where the iwi are located or came from.

You will need to provide information to establish your descendancy. Examples of records that can be used are: birth certificates, tax records, land conveyance documents and census records. ʻOhana do not always have these documents available. In those cases, family genealogy and oral history (written or recorded) may be provided.

In the application, it is important to provide information regarding the location of your ʻohana burial site such as the address, the Tax Map Key No., the ʻili/moʻo, ahupuaʻa, moku and island. The application also requires you to provide the identities of the individuals buried at the location, including the name, date of death, and your relationship to the individual(s). Understandably, some ʻohana have concerns about sharing family burial and genealogical information. You can request that all information you supply to SHPD in the application be confidential and restricted from public access.

Once submitted, SHPD will review your application and send a letter to the island burial council where the burial is located. There are five island burial councils responsible for determining whether a person has established descendancy to iwi: Hawaiʻi Island, Kauaʻi/Niʻihau, Maui/Lānaʻi, Oʻahu and Molokaʻi.

The letter from SHPD to the burial council will contain SHPD’s recommendation as to whether the burial council should approve your descendancy claim and whether you should be recognized as a lineal or a cultural descendant. Ultimately, the burial council will decide your application, and they are free to agree or disagree with SHPD’s recommendation.

Recognition as a lineal or cultural descendant gives you a role in the state process for the treatment of iwi kūpuna. For burials identified prior to disturbance, the burial council should give preference to the wishes of a recognized lineal descendant regarding the treatment of iwi kūpuna and any related burial goods. The testimony of a cultural descendant should be considered and given appropriate weight by the burial council. Iwi kūpuna not previously identified and inadvertently discovered after a disturbance fall under the jurisdiction of SHPD. For those iwi, SHPD should consult with lineal and cultural descendants about whether to preserve those burials in place or relocate them.

The Descendancy Claim Application can be found online at: dlnr.hawaii.gov/shpd/files/2016/09/08162016-Descendancy-Claim-Application.pdf.

Ola nā iwi.

E Nīnau iā NHLC provides general information about the law, not legal advice. You can contact NHLC about your legal needs by calling NHLC’s office at 808-521-2302. You can also learn more about NHLC at nativehawaiianlegalcorp.org.