Burial protest dissolves 8 hours after start

HA‘ENA — Eight hours after more than a dozen protesters took over the construction site of a Ha‘ena home, where roughly 30 ancient Hawaiian graves are known to exist, the group left of its own accord.

Yesterday about 15 individuals occupied the triangular beachfront slip owned by Joseph Brescia.

Still in the early stages of development, the site has close to 30 concrete posts positioned around the numerous iwi markers.

Surveyors working onsite gave way to the demonstration, which started at 9:30 a.m. and continued undisturbed until the evening. The more than half dozen police officers, who waited on the street throughout the day, did not make any arrests.

The peaceful conclusion to the demonstration was not the end many had expected. At least eight members of the group, anticipating arrest for trespassing, intended to link themselves together by hooking carabiners to the inside of PVC pipe segments known as “black bears.” The self-releasing lock-down devices are difficult for law enforcement to disassemble, and have been used in high-profile demonstrations on the Mainland.

While protesters have maintained a steady presence near the property for months, it has until recently been a local effort. Yesterday’s demonstration, however, featured representation from all four counties.

Opponents of construction near the sacred site say they want to see activity halted and the iwi honored with a heiau. Building around the graves, or moving them — even with the state’s approval — is still desecration, they say.

“If they can do this here, they can do this on all Hawaiian burial sites throughout the Hawaiian islands,” said Hanalei Colleado, who flew in from Maui.

The protesters expressed disappointment with state and local government for having allowed work to continue at the site.

“They’re not doing the job they’re supposed to do,” Andrew Cabebe, a Kaua‘i resident, said of the Burial Council. “And when they try, they seem to be overruled anyway.”

O‘ahu resident Andre Perez called for Gov. Linda Lingle to intervene. He pledged the group will return “in force” should construction start up again.

“By any standard, by any culture or ethnic group, this is just wrong,” Perez said. “From a human perspective, this is just wrong.”

Kaua‘i resident Ka‘iulani Huff, who camped in front of the home site in protest for months until a restraining order was issued, said the existing laws protecting sacred Native Hawaiian cultural sites “would be OK if they were upheld.”

She and several other residents testified before the Kaua‘i Island Burial Council yesterday morning.

For more on that story, see the accompanying headline “Burial council hears testimony.”

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