Dozens of concerned citizens yesterday voiced their displeasure with the construction of a single-family home on a Naue Point Hawaiian burial ground, pleading with Kaua‘i-Ni‘ihau Island Burial Council members to do whatever they could to protect the 30-plus confirmed iwi on the property.
In the first regular council meeting since 5th Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe’s Sept. 15 decree that the State Historic Preservation Division had erred in not properly consulting the council before approving the initial Burial Treatment Plan, cultural practitioners suggested the council reject an amended version of the plan and use its newfound authority to redefine the “preserve in place” decision it first handed down in April.
Alan Murakami, litigation director for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, successfully represented opponents of the construction in that suit and said yesterday that Watanabe’s ruling gave the council the power to pull the building permit.
“The key fact that you may not have appreciated is that the Kaua‘i Planning Commission gave you that power when it conditioned the issuance of a building permit for Mr. (Joseph) Brescia on him meeting your requirements,” Murakami said in his prepared remarks. “Please directly communicate your intentions regarding Naue to the Planning Commission.”
A representative of the landowner did not read the permit the same way.
“I don’t necessarily agree with Mr. Murakami’s interpretation,” said Walton Hong, an attorney who said that he was taking notes to bring back to Brescia but declined to comment further on the testimony.
Burial Council Chair Mark Hubbard, unable to enforce his three-minute per-person limit, was forced to sit in silence as attendees vented their frustrations with the process, occasionally interrupting each other with insults deriding the council and SHPD as desecrators.
“After blowing my stack at you, I realized that you didn’t know your responsibilities,” said Ka‘iulani Edens-Huff, who said she camped out on the beach adjacent to the property for nearly four months after the April decision that effectively allowed construction to commence. “You were brainwashed.”
“If this council cannot preserve the iwi and designate a graveyard … why does it even exist?” said Keone Kealoha, executive director of Malama Kaua‘i, which is spearheading an effort to raise funds to purchase the property from Brescia as a last resort.
Hale Mawae, who wore traditional island garb and carried a large stick, led a tearful rendition of “Hawai‘i Pono‘i” before taking his seat at the microphone, and later pounded the table as he read from a book about Pele, the fire goddess.
“We’re all to blame for what has happened here,” said Council member John Kruse, referring to the council, the state and other entities. “It’s your right to come and vent to us … but we should be heard before the Planning Commission.”
Others offered their support for the council, gently encouraging them to “do the right thing.”
“Do not worry about developers and their money,” said Palikapu Dedman, who traveled from the Big Island to voice his opinion and said that he was involved in the creation of the various islands’ burial councils in the mid-1980s. “The Burial Council is here to protect the burials.”
At least one Burial Council member was sympathetic to the pleas.
“We didn’t know they were going to be cemented. … Encaging them like this does not allow their spirits to flow. … We don’t do that to our kupuna,” Barbara Say said. “I am not comfortable with all of this. Not at all. … It shouldn’t be underneath a house. The building should not be there. Period.”
But the council did not make a new ruling on the burials, a recommendation to the Planning Commission or even have a chance to deliberate on the testimony.
Just before 2 p.m., almost five hours after the meeting began, with multiple council members, including Hubbard, having departed during a recess, the matter was deferred to the Burial Council’s next public meeting, scheduled for November.
• Michael Levine, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or via e-mail at email@example.com