Maunaʻala Curator Selection Process Concerns Vetted

Photo: Carmen "Hulu" Lindsey testifies at the Informational Briefing
OHA Board of Trustees Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey testifies at the Informational Briefing on May 28. – Photo: Kelli Soileau

The Department of Land and Natural Resources’ (DLNR) May 13 announcement regarding selection of a new curator for Maunaʻala (the Royal Mausoleum in Nuʻuanu, Oʻahu) was met with an overwhelmingly negative public response by the Native Hawaiian community.

DLNR’s selection of Doni Leināʻala Chong was concerning, not in terms of her as an individual, but in terms of DLNR’s actual selection process – specifically, the exclusion of Native Hawaiian royal societies, civic clubs, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) from that process despite historical precedents and repeated requests.

Indeed, two days after the announcement, KHON2 reporter Lucy Lopez filed a story, “Backlash on announcement of 18th Maunaʻala curator prompts meeting with Hawaiʻi organization leaders.”

On May 28, representatives of the Hawaiʻi State Senate Water and Land (WTL) and Hawaiian Affairs (HWN) committees held an Informational Briefing to hear community concerns regarding the Maunaʻala curator selection process.

Presiding over the briefing was Sen. Lorraine Inouye, WTL committee chair and majority whip. Joining her was Sen. Jarrett Keohokālole, Hawaiian Caucus chair, Sen. Kurt Fevella, Sen. Brandon Elefante, and Sen. Maile Shimabukuro.

About 100 people, representing various Hawaiian organizations and royal societies, attended the gathering at the state Capitol.

Kumu Kawaikapuokalani Hewett, a representative of ʻAha Moku (a state advisory committee for natural resource management under the umbrella of DLNR) and himself a candidate for the curator position, was the first to testify.

He opened with pule, an oli recounting the creation of human beings that sets the precedent for the order and rank of kūpuna in the “tradition of pono connected to our ancient kūpuna and our inherent kuleana.”

Hewett said that, “when we circumvent and cancel out the great roles and responsibilities of kūpuna within the Hawaiian culture we are disconnected, nonexistent. Everything in this world – our culture and our people – are here and exist because of ʻike kūpuna and kūpuna kuleana.”

Kanealiʻi Williams, on behalf of ʻAha Moku, presented on the history of Maunaʻala, and included a timeline of important events and a list of Maunaʻala curators dating back to 1865.

He concluded his presentation noting that the uproar surrounding DLNR’s announcement of the new curator was due to the exclusion of the Hawaiian civic clubs, the Hawaiian royal societies and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs from the process, adding “it also circumvented the appropriate cultural protocols as well as the procedures required by state law.”

Representing Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law, Post JD Legal Fellow Kaulu Luʻuwai referenced Ka Paʻakai o ka ʻĀina v. Land Use Commission saying, “the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court ruled all Hawaiʻi government offices and agencies are obligated under Article 12 Sec. 7 of the Hawaiʻi State Constitution to protect the reasonable exercise of customarily and traditionally exercised rights of Native Hawaiians to the extent feasible, and this extends to all facets of decision-making – including the selection of agency positions that, by nature, require special expertise in Native Hawaiian traditions and customs.”

Luʻuwai went on to note that the selection of a new curator for Maunaʻala “appears to have failed to honor traditional protocols” and said that “addressing how decision-makers can honor Native Hawaiian culture and protocols is an important issue facing our community.”

Testifying on behalf of OHA, Board of Trustees Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey spoke to DLNR’s “disregard of the law” in the selection of the new curator. “Despite Hawaiʻi state law mandating that all state agencies engage with OHA on matters affecting its beneficiaries, DLNR and its chair have disregarded our cultural mores and traditions,” she said.

“Our revered ʻike kuʻuna (traditional knowledge) emphasizes the value of kūkākūkā (discussion) among all stakeholders. Ignoring this tradition in favor of a closed-door hiring process disrespects our heritage and our kūpuna.”

Lindsey remarked that DLNR’s hiring process “lacked fidelity, violated state mandates, and disregarded standing Hawaiian cultural practices and protocols, causing great distress within the Hawaiian community and dishonoring our aliʻi.”

Pauline Namuo, president of ʻAhahui Kaʻahumanu Chapter 1, expressed hope that this decision would result in good discussions within the Hawaiian community that will lead to “significant changes to positions we are especially focused on [and] that we want to be sensitive to our Hawaiian culture.”

Namuo spoke in support of Chong’s selection as curator saying, “Ms. Chong is a member in good standing with ʻAhahui Kaʻahumanu and we are confident in her ability to serve with honor and dignity and cultural excellence…We believe that the selection process was a thorough, thoughtful and culturally respectful process and we honor that.”

Photo: Jacob Aki
Hale O Na Aliʻi Ikū Lani Nui (State Vice President) Jacob Aki expressed his disappointment in the selection process. – Photo: Kelli Soileau

Jacob Aki, ikū lani nui (state vice president) of Hale O Nā Aliʻi, expressed disappointment in the selection process saying it “lacked transparency.” Aki asserted that Hale O Nā Aliʻi is the only Hawaiian royal society with an unbroken link to aliʻi burial practices since the foundation of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

He also noted that since Emily Namauʻu Taylor’s selection as curator in 1956, “the curator’s selection has involved consultation with [the] organizations that are here today…We are deeply troubled that our voices, legacies, connection and kuleana were disregarded, ignored and dishonored by the DLNR and its chair.”

When Kumu Hula Coline Kaualoku Aiu, kuhina nui of the Daughters and Sons of Hawaiian Warriors Māmakakaua testified, she chronicled how her efforts over several months to meet with DLNR Chair Dawn Chang about the selection process were apparently disregarded.

In the aftermath of the selection, Aiu noted that conflicting public statements made by DLNR raised questions and doubt regarding the selection process and “makes it very difficult for [our organization] to affirm and celebrate this choice.”

She added, “The public outcry of our Hawaiian community is deafening. Our organization is obliged to refuse another layer of administration and control over one of the last kuleana our aliʻi expected us to uphold.”

Mamie Lawrence Gallagher, a lineal descendant of Hoʻolulu, one of the chiefs entrusted with hiding the iwi of Kamehameha I, spoke on behalf of her ʻohana saying, “There’s been a hewa breach of protocol at Maunaʻala and it is incumbent upon all of us that this wrong be corrected.”

In response to the public outcry regarding the selection process, on June 4 DLNR announced the creation of a “culturally focused” position at Maunaʻala to work with the new curator. According to a quote attributed to Gov. Josh Green, the kuleana of this new position will be to “focus solely on cultural protocols and practices, and to do outreach and communications with the Native Hawaiian community.”

The press release went on to state that, “Based on feedback from the community, the Royal Mausoleum curator will focus solely on the upkeep of the facility and grounds and of the opening and closing of the grounds. The culturally centered duties of the second position will be more fully developed after meetings and discussions with Native Hawaiian leaders.”

List of all Maunaʻala Kahu

  • 1865 – Nahalau (k)
  • 1873 – Joseph Keaoa (k)
  • 1878 – Haumea (k)
  • 1885 – Lanihau (w)
  • 1886 – Keano (w)
  • 1888 – Naholowaʻa* (w)
  • 189? – C.D. Wiliokai (k)
  • 1893 – Maria Kahaʻawelani Beckley Kahea** (w) & David Kaipeʻelua Kahea (k)
  • 1915 – Fred Malulani Beckley Kahea (k)
  • 1946 – William Bishop Kaiheʻekai Taylor (k)
  • 1956 – Emily Namauʻu Taylor (w)
  • 1961 – ʻIolani Luahine (w)
  • 1966 – Lydia Namahanaikaleleokalani Taylor Maioho (w)
  • 1995 – William John KaiheʻekaiMaioho (k)
  • 2015 – William Bishop Kaiheʻekai Maioho (k)
  • 2024 – Doni Leināʻala Hanuna Pahukoa Chong (w)

*Naholowaʻa served as curator/custodian under Princess Poʻomaikelani from 1888 and briefly under Princess Liliʻuokalani in 1891 until she became queen.

**The selection of Maria Kahaʻawelani Beckley Kahea, is believed to mark the first time that a Kaiheʻekai descendant began serving as kahu of Maunaʻala. The Kaiheʻekai ʻohana are lineal descendants of High Chief Hoʻolulu who, along with his brother, Hoapili, helped conceal the iwi of Kamehameha I.

Caveat: This information was compiled from multiple sources and a comprehensive listing is being actively researched. This list is accurate to the best of our knowledge.