Manataka American Indian Council









Desecration of Hawaiian Gravesite


A state historic preservation agency recommends that $210,000 in fines be
levied against an archaeological firm and others for tampering with human
remains at the construction site of the Ke'eaumoku Street Wal-Mart complex.

Among the infractions cited in an agency report were "writing on a child's skull with indelible red ink, taping a child's teeth to an index card, using duct tape and modeling clay to hold remains together, and writing the words 'Handbag Louis Vuitton' on a paper sack that contained a human hand."

The recommendation is part of a report filed by the State Historic Preservation Division to the Board of Land and Natural Resources, and comes on the heels of an investigation by state attorneys. The board will consider the recommendation at its Nov. 18 meeting.

Besides unauthorized examination and tampering of the iwi, or bones, the report also accuses Aki Sinoto Consulting, the archaeological firm, and others of failing to notify the proper authorities about the inadvertent find of human remains in a timely fashion, moving human remains without permission and failing to examine human skeletal remains in a respectful manner.

Messages left at Sinoto's home and cell phones were not returned.

According to the report, the remains examined in 2003 and 2004 were presumed to be "Native Hawaiians, juvenile remains, including the remains of infants, and remains for which requests for examination had been specifically denied by the state."

Besides the Sinoto firm and principal archaeologist Aki Sinoto, others cited within the 21 counts were Sinoto employees L.J. Moana Lee and Paul Titchenal, the firm of International Archaeological Research Institute Inc., and two of its employees, J. Stephen Athens and Rona Ikehara-Quebral.

Besides the fines, the report recommends that the Sinoto firm's permit to conduct archaeological activities in the state be revoked for the remainder of the year.

Ikehara-Quebral, lead osteologist for the International Archaeological Research Institute, which had been hired as a subcontractor by Sinoto, said she would reserve comment on the specifics of the allegations until she could thoroughly review Historic Preservation's report.

"A quick review reveals it's full of inaccuracies," Ikehara-Quebral said. "And the State Historic Preservation Division, DLNR, continues to misrepresent our work to the public."

She added: "We were instructed by SHPD to inventory every set of human remains from the Wal-Mart site, separate commingled burial remains into individuals and to determine their ethnicity, as required by law, which we did using standards of the profession. We always handled the remains in a respectful manner."

Melanie Chinen, SHPD administrator, said the recommendation was based in large part on a report given to her by the state attorney general's office.

Chinen said the $210,000 in fines recommended by her office is the maximum
amount allowed under the law.

"There was total disregard for the laws, for the rules, for our warnings that unnecessary handling and examination is considered desecration by many Native Hawaiians," Chinen said. "We're talking about human beings."

Partly in reaction to the Wal-Mart case, Chinen said, state lawmakers last session passed legislation increasing the maximum fine for violating burial laws and rules from $10,000 a day to $25,000 daily.

Regina Keana'aina, whose family was recognized by the O'ahu Island Burial Council as a lineal descendant to iwi in the area, opposes the fines.

"The archaeologists were doing the right thing," she said. "They did not desecrate any of our iwi kupuna at the Wal-Mart site."

Keana'aina, who helped Sinoto and the other archaeologists on a voluntary basis, said some of the personnel at Historic Preservation are unqualified to deal with finds. "I think the state needs to be hiring more qualified people to be running Historic Preservation."

But Paulette Kaleikini, whose family was one of several designated cultural descendants to bones on the site, said she was pleased with Historic Preservation's recommendation.

"It's very disturbing what they did, how they desecrated the iwi," Kaleikini said. "They shouldn't be let off the hook so easily."

Kaleikini said both Wal-Mart and contractor Dick Pacific Construction, which hired Sinoto, also should bear some responsibility for what happened to the bones.

A lawsuit filed by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. on behalf of Kaleikini's family and the nonprofit Hui Malama I Na Kupuna 'O Hawai'i Nei named Wal-Mart, the city and the state as responsible for the mishandling of the iwi.

Wal-Mart, however, was dismissed by a Circuit Court judge from that suit. The claim against the state was settled while a judgment in favor of the city is expected to be appealed.

Moses Haia, an attorney with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., said proper action by the city planning officials and Historic Preservation also could have prevented the desecration.

"This could have been avoided," Haia said.

At least 61 sets of remains have been found on the site. After taking possession of the remains, state officials initially were prepared to rebury them on the site in February. That date was postponed indefinitely after state attorneys began their investigation.

The remains continue to be housed in a trailer on the Wal-Mart site that is secured 24 hours a day. Chinen said when they are reburied could depend on what the Land Board chooses to do with her division's report, and whether one of the sides will appeal that decision.


Honolulu Advertiser

Submitted by Tony Castanha

November 2008






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