LIHU‘E — After hearing nearly four hours of emotional testimony, the Kaua‘i/Ni‘ihau Island Burial Council on Thursday unanimously rejected the 16th draft of the burial treatment for Naue landowner Joseph Brescia’s controversial single-family home.
Several graves were found on the property where an under-construction house is located, and many Native Hawaiians and others are continuing to call for the home to be torn down.
Under state law, when Native Hawaiian remains are discovered, construction is supposed to cease until a burial treatment plan has been approved by the island burial council.
Meeting in the Council Chambers of the Historic County Building during their first meeting of 2010, the members apparently shared the sentiment of most of the dozens of speakers, saying at the rejection point they still had concerns over cement caps placed over some of the known graves, proposed vertical buffers, portions of the home built over known burial sites, and the planned septic system and its impact on burial sites.
“Oh, man, we won one for a change,” Hawaiian cultural practitioner Puanani Rogers said after the unanimous vote.
The unanimous vote came after a lengthy executive session, wherein council members asked the state deputy attorney general about their legal options, said Clisson Kunane Aipoalani, council chair.
The proposed burial treatment plan doesn’t address long-range maintenance and access issues adequately enough, council members said.
Before the decision, voices of the Kaua‘i public — Native Hawaiian and otherwise — were loud, clear and unanimous, as articulated by Nathan Kalama of Wailua Houselots: “You have no choice but to deny.”
A Hawaiian problem can only have a Hawaiian solution, Kalama said, recalling something told to him during a ho‘oponopono (Hawaiian problem-solving) workshop. “And that answer is ‘a‘ole,’ (Hawaiian for “no”),” he said.
Desecration of Hawaiian graves has been going on for 100 years, and there is mana (miraculous power) in Hawaiian bones, which is why so many remains are hidden even from relatives, said Sharon Pomroy.
“I do not agree to any compromise,” said Pomroy, saying she has been asked to join the burial council on repeated occasions, and has always turned people down “because I won’t compromise.”
“This thing gotta stop,” said Pomroy. “You guys no like do ‘em, I will. I’ll fight. I would bleed to make this thing happen,” she said.
“We did it to fight this” at Keoneloa on the South Shore, site of the Grand Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa, Po‘ipu Bay Golf Course and Embassy Suites at Po‘ipu Point. “We need to fight this” at Ha‘ena, she said.
Pomroy also implored members of the council to continue battling. “Fight. It’s all I can tell you guys. Fight. Resist, resist, resist.”
John Zapala said he remembers when the U.S. flag on the wall of the council chambers signified “justice for all. As far as I can see, there has been no justice for Native Hawaiians since 1863.”
Further, he accused governments of perpetrating hate crimes against Native Hawaiians.
Kamo‘iokalani Sausen, who lives near the Brescia property in Ha‘ena, said the burial council should “bulldoze that house. You represent na iwi kupuna. You represent the Hawaiian people.”
“Stop the desecration of the burials,” Sausen said. “My heart is broken to feel and to see what has happened, is happening” across the street from where she lives.
“The bones have mana, and we are spiritually connected to them. They have the right to rest there,” she said. “They were there before you and I. Stop this desecration. Reject this burial treatment plan. Remove this hale from this cemetery,” and urge the county to revoke the building permit, said Sausen.
“This case has helped us a lot as Hawaiians. This case has empowered you,” said Louise Sausen. “You have a big job. Government has thrown us under the bus. This is a precedent case,” she said. “‘Naue’ is the buzzword.”
“I personally believe that this house should be removed,” said Ken Taylor. But he said he is unsure whether or not the burial council has the power to do that.
The council does have the power to stop construction on the home until a burial treatment plan is approved, and that could set the stage for the removal of the home, he said. Anything short of that and council members aren’t doing their jobs, he said.
“What hurts me” is the lack of a strong voice in the process, said Rupert Rowe. “We have a process, but not a voice.” Brescia took a gamble putting up his house when warned by a state judge he was doing it at his own risk, said Rowe.
Culturally, the hale should be removed, he said.
Caren Diamond said Brescia reminds her of a cat she once owned that, despite being told not to come into the house, would still find a way into the home.
Brescia’s home went up with “complicity” of the county and state, even after she and others successfully brought a lawsuit to make Brescia build his home further from the ocean than he originally planned, said Diamond.
“I don’t think there is any Good Housekeeping seal of approval” that can be given to this house. None of this is OK, she said.
“This is a Hawaiian issue. It needs a Hawaiian solution,” said Kehaulani Kekua, advocating what’s best for the iwi kupuna, not what’s best for government or the land owner.
Native Hawaiians have an obligation and responsibility to malama the kupuna, because without them there would be no current generations of Native Hawaiians, she said.
Aikane Alapa, like Kekua and Kalama first-time testifiers before the council, said he is “kanaka o na iwi,” or one of the “people of the bones,” and won’t be satisfied until the house is gone and only the ‘aina (land) is left. The desecration “stings,” he said.
“It’s a graveyard. We should have respect for people who died before us,” said Justin Turner.
“Please make the house go away. Just leave the bones alone,” said another speaker. “Leave them alone already.”
“What are we teaching our children when these things happen?” asked Leslie Lang of Wailua Homesteads. “I would like to see the bones rest in peace. It’s what’s right. It’s what’s pono,” she said.
“This is a house built on top of bones. It doesn’t belong there. The bones should be left alone, and respected,” said Lang.
“You need to correct the wrong. Leave the bones alone,” said Jeff Chandler.
The members of the burial council include Chair Clisson Kunane Aipoalani, Vice Chair Keith Yap, and members Dee M. Crowell, James W. Fujita, Michael Loo, Debra U. Ruiz, Sandra P. Quinsaat, Leiana P. Robinson and Barbara J. Say.
Missing Thursday were Crowell, Quinsaat and Robinson. Aipoalani was sick, but if he had missed the meeting there would not have been a quorum, so he attended and presided.
The 70-plus-page, 16th draft of the Brescia burial treatment plan, is available at www.state.hi.us/dlnr/hpd. Click on “BRESCIA BURIAL TREATMENT PLAN.”