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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Hawaiian cemetery proposed at OHA

By Yasmin Anwar
Advertiser Staff Writer

It's not unusual for Charles Ota, the first non-Hawaiian on the governing board of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, to be brimming with entrepreneurial visions to support the "future sovereign Hawaiian nation."

But his proposal to build a first-class cemetery on Hawaiian Home Lands' property, a cemetery "comparable to Punchbowl," is generating more interest than most.

"Maybe it should go in Diamond Head?" he quipped yesterday at a rare joint summit of OHA trustees and Hawaiian Home commissioners.

The joint meeting was the first time many heard of Ota's proposal for OHA and the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to become involved in the Hawaiian cemetery business.

The venture would provide affordable plots to Hawaiians. It could also provide a final resting place for the skeletal remains of hundreds of ancestral Hawaiians who are now being stored in undignified conditions, Ota said.

Unlike his idea for a $10 airport user fee for tourists, the cemetery proposal drew serious consideration.

Rowena Akana called his idea "wonderful," but asked if those buried on Hawaiian Home Lands would have to be half Hawaiian.

Before lawyers could even contemplate the blood-quantum requirement for Hawaiian burials, Akana suggested that OHA circumvent the 50 percent rule by leasing the land, as do commercial enterprises that sit on Hawaiian Home Lands.

By law, Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries must have at least 50 percent Hawaiian blood, but can pass down their homesteads to spouses, children and grandchildren who are one-fourth Hawaiian. OHA, on the other hand, assists anyone of Hawaiian ancestry with public land trust revenues and public funds.

Ray Soon, chairman of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, said Ota's idea is an intriguing one.