The Awakening of Honokahua: Part III

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Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

At the signing ceremony for Act 306. – Photo: Courtesy

While the Honokahua disturbance issue was being resolved, a bill was introduced during the 1989 legislative session to amend Hawai‘i Revised Statutes Chapter 6E to establish greater protection for unmarked Hawaiian burial sites over fifty years old. The intent was to create a legally binding process that would prevent a situation similar to Honokahua from happening again. However, the legislature did not approve the bill that session. Nonetheless, the Chairman of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, William Paty, announced that DLNR would administratively establish five island burial councils to assist the State in its decision-making regarding unmarked burial sites. Interim councils were established for (1) Hawai‘i, (2) Maui/Lāna‘i, (3) Moloka‘i, (4) O‘ahu, and (5) Kaua‘i/Ni‘ihau in an advisory capacity to assist the newly established State Historic Preservation Division. The councils were comprised of Hawaiian and large landowner representatives. This was a significant development forward in the march toward legal empowerment of Hawaiians to speak on behalf of their ancestors in matters involving the proper treatment of unmarked burial sites over fifty years old.

In the summer of 1989, efforts were undertaken to consult with Hawaiian stakeholders and large landowner/developers to work out contentious issues contained in the previous legislation. It was no secret that large landowners and developers opposed the bill and unless their concerns were effectively addressed, the fate of the legislation during the next session would be no different. Having graduated from law school at the University of Colorado and just taken the State Bar Exam, I joined the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation. My caseload included representation of a Hawaiian named Kalāho‘ohie Mossman on whose behalf amendments to the historic preservation law would be undertaken. Work on re-drafting the legislation was also led by Dr. Don Hibbard, Administrator of the State Historic Preservation Division, and Dr. Davianna McGregor, a professor from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. A critical issue was the identification of the State agency that would house the program which would administer the island burial councils and support the management of Hawaiian burial sites. At that time, there was a lack of faith in the ability of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to do so, given Honokahua. As a result, the revised legislation named DLNR as the appropriate agency through its State Historic Preservation Division. Perhaps, after 30 years, the time has come to transfer the burial sites program to OHA?