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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Handling of remains at Wal-Mart site provokes complaint

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

The remains of 25 bodies discovered during grading work at the Wal-Mart store construction site on Ke'eaumoku Street are being treated with "great disrespect," according to the Hawaiian group Hui Malama, which wants something done immediately to rectify the situation.

Edward Ayau said the iwi, or bones, are covered with only flimsy plywood that can be easily removed, exposing the grave site, and that trash is blowing into the area and portable toilets are set up next to the site, possibly on top of more remains.

"It's worse than no respect," Ayau said. "The conditions are outrageous."

Ayau and other members of the group toured the site yesterday and immediately contacted Peter Young, chairman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, asking him to cover the bones until a decision is made on what to do with the remains.

The remains were grouped in one area and the land department's State Historic Preservation Division will make a decision on their disposition. An archaeologist has determined that the remains may be from the 1853 smallpox epidemic that struck Honolulu. Some of the remains could be older than that.

Young said he contacted a Wal-Mart representative and asked them to put up a buffer fence around the site, clean up the area and find a better way to protect the open grave. "My impression was they will act on it right away," Young said.

Wal-Mart could not be reached for comment late yesterday.

Ayau said the site was never completely checked for remains before construction started and more could be uncovered.

Young asked Holly McEldowney, acting administrator for the Historic Preservation Division, to get in touch with the archaeologist who originally inspected the site to see if more remains could be on the property.

Wal-Mart purchased the 10.5-acre site in May 2002 and plans to build a Sam's Club and Wal-Mart there.