Campers protest land use and burial rights

WAINIHA — After the last Kaua‘i Island Burial Council meeting on April 3, Kapa‘a resident Ka‘iulani Huff was so upset, she grabbed a tent and headed to the North Shore.

At the meeting, the council voted 4-2 that the 30 burials discovered on Wainiha landowner Joseph Brescia’s property last year must all be left in place in order for him to build a residence. Brescia would also have to change the burial treatment plan for the property.

Huff set up an encampment on the beach fronting Brescia’s property in protest, and she remains there today.

“The burial treatment plan is very flawed,” Huff said. “It is a clear violation of our rights as indigenous people.”

Brescia has been fighting to begin construction on a single-family residence since 2001. His attorney, Walton Hong, said the State Historic Preservation Division subsequently approved an amended burial treatment plan that allows for seven burials to be relocated for the home’s foundation.

Brescia can build on the property so long as he follows the plan approved by the state and obtains proper permits, according to Hong.

Though aware of the encampment near Brescia’s property, Hong had no comment on the campers.

Since Huff arrived, others have joined her. Sandy Herndon of Kapa‘a said she comes to the camp for a few days at a time to stand up for protecting burial rights and Hawaiian culture.

“I’m down here because this is such an important thing that I can do personally,” Herndon said. “I cannot change the world, but I can change my world by standing up for what I believe is right.”

Since the ruling almost six weeks ago, seven tents have joined the encampment at the entrance of Brescia’s property, which features stakes and ti leaves marking iwi, or graves.

“I’m here to protect what belongs to us,” Huff said of the burials and the land.

Brescia’s attorney says his client is the legal owner of the land and will proceed with the construction of the residence.

Work will begin as soon as building plans “meet conditions of approval,” Hong said. “(Brescia is) trying to do everything he can to be respectful.”

Brescia has been held back from building his house for the last seven years.

Most of the delays have been legal in nature, including a shoreline setback case won by local environmentalists in 2005 at the state Supreme Court.

At a burial council meeting in February, Michael Vega, senior archeologist of Scientific Consulting Services, said Brescia has moved the house farther from the beach four times and redesigned the house 15 times.

But Huff won’t be happy until no house is built at all.

“We will be staying until further notice and until the state of Hawai‘i acknowledges the property was fraudulently sold to Brescia,” Huff said.

• Rachel Gehrlein, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or rgehrlein@kauaipubco.com

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