Thursday, June 09, 2022












Honolulu Star-Advertiser - June 9, 2022

It’s been over a decade since hundreds of Native Hawaiian burials were unearthed during a construction project at Kawaiaha‘o Church, setting off a storm of controversy and legal dispute that went all the way to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

On Wednesday the fate of those skeletal remains was finally determined by the Oahu Island Burial Council, which approved a plan to allow interment of iwi kupuna as close as possible to their original burial places at Honolulu’s oldest church.

When the council approved the Kawaiaha‘o Joint Burial Treatment Plan on a 5-0 vote, the crowd filling the state Department of Land and Natural Resources board room broke into applause. Afterward, hugs and tears were seen in the breezeway outside the board room.

“Indescribable joy and relief” is how Edward Hale­aloha Ayau described his feelings. Ayau is a burial and iwi kupuna repatriation expert who has been helping to work toward a resolution of the dispute for years.

“It took so long,” he said.

Following the vote, the descendants walked down Punchbowl Street to the historic church, where they prayed with Kahu Kenneth Makuakane and then paid their respects to the remains of their ancestors, which have been stored in the Mark A. Robinson Chapel beneath the main sanctuary since the bones were unearthed more than 10 years ago.

Among the descendants were council members Mana Caceres of Ewa and Diane Fitzsimmons of Waialua, each of whom recused themselves from Wednesday’s vote and then excused themselves from the rest of the meeting to join the procession to Kawaiaha‘o. Council member Brickwood Galuteria, a member of the Kawaiaha‘o congregation, also recused himself from the vote.

The approved burial plan, jointly written and supported by the church and the majority of recognized descendants, affects the remains of more than 600 individuals.

“The hard work starts now,” Suzanne Boatman, chairwoman of the Kawaiaha‘o board of trustees, said outside of the church.

“It’s about meeting their needs,” she added, pointing to the 18 or so descendants inside the sanctuary. There are 84 living recognized descendants.

There are also government permits needed to get the reinterment going and several lawsuits that require resolution, she said.