Burial council hears testimony

The Kaua‘i Island Burial Council heard testimony from several residents yesterday at the Historic County Building on the status of the burials at the Ha‘ena property owned by Joseph Brescia, said Chair Mark Hubbard.

The item was placed on the agenda at the request of a group called ‘Ohana O Naue, he said.

Aside from communicating a strong message of “don’t mess with our iwi,” the residents who testified requested the council to do several things, Hubbard said.

These included passing a resolution saying the state Historic Preservation Division decision regarding the burial plan was inconsistent, exercising greater authority in the Brescia property burial dispute and demanding a separate attorney from the department’s attorney.

The council declined to act on the residents’ recommendations, Hubbard said.

“The public wants us to join this movement up at Naue,” he said. “So they’re trying to convince us we have additional authority.”

The appointed body is an administrative arm of the historic preservation division. Its primary responsibility is to determine if previously identified Hawaiian burials more than 50 years old should be relocated or preserved in place.

At its April meeting, the council in a split decision determined that the roughly 30 burials discovered during excavation of the Brescia property should remain in place.

Outside of that duty, state law limits the council’s power mostly to recommendations to the Department of Land and Natural Resources, such as on the appropriate management, treatment and protection of Native Hawaiian burial sites.

The council is also authorized “to take any other appropriate actions in furtherance of this chapter,” according to Hawai‘i Revised Statutes.

Hubbard called the Naue situation a Catch-22.

On the one hand, the iwi remain preserved in place by the council’s decision to not have them reinterred. But the council lacks the power to stop construction on the site.

“Yes, it does offend people that there’s going to be iwi under a building,” Hubbard said.

On the other hand, if the council chose to relocate the remains, it would have been a disturbing process digging them up and moving them to another location.

The division currently responds to some two to three inadvertent discoveries each week and is involved in up to 250 burial cases annually.

“Since 1991, approximately 3,000 sets of Native Hawaiian skeletal remains have been reinterred thanks to the collaborative efforts of the division, various Hawaiian organizations and property owners,” the division’s Web site states.

A lawsuit, Joseph Brescia v. Kaiulani Edens-Huff et al., was filed June 5 in 5th Circuit Court, according to online court records. The next hearing is Tuesday before Judge Kathleen Watanabe.

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