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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, October 14, 2004

Iwi reburial delayed until March

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

The archaeologists hired to sort out human remains unearthed in the construction of Wal-Mart's Ke'eaumoku Street complex estimate they won't finish the task until March, and state officials are discussing how to get the bones reburied sooner than that.

At last count, 44 sets of remains were taken from the site of the just-opened Wal-Mart complex. They are stored in a trailer on site and awaiting reburial at the Sheridan-Makaloa corner of the property.

Some of the 60 people whose historical ties to the property qualify them as "cultural descendants" by law were joined by supporters yesterday in picketing store entrances on opening day. They were angry that reburial wasn't done before Wal-Mart opened the store, its first in urban Honolulu.

In the long conflict over burials at the site, this latest clash began when descendant factions submitted two competing burial plans.

One side had hoped at least some of the iwi kupuna (ancestral bones) could be reburied Tuesday night while work on sorting the remains continued, while the other favored a complete inventory first, said Melanie Chinen, newly named administrator of the State Historic Preservation Division. Chinen, who is deputy policy adviser to the governor, will take office tomorrow, while acting administrator Holly McEldowney takes an archaeologist's position.

Chinen said in discussions with descendants this past week, the faction represented by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. favored partial reburial.

Wal-Mart had lined up a contractor to dig a hole at the burial site in case the state approved a plan, said company spokeswoman Cynthia Linn.

But Tuesday afternoon, Chinen and officials at the state Department of Land and Natural Resources decided too much remained in disagreement to approve a partial reburial.

Chinen said she was particularly concerned about reports from archaeology firm Aki Sinoto Consulting saying it would take until March to finish the sorting. She hopes to speed the process. Sinoto did not return a call for comment yesterday.

The remains of four to eight individuals were mingled in previous disturbances at the site, Chinen said. Even the intact sets of remains contain 12 stray bone fragments yet to be sorted.

The state is committed to achieving consensus, she said, but some descendants feel burial should happen as soon as possible, while others are more concerned about the most seriously mixed remains.

"There are animal bones and garbage mixed in," she said. "They don't want to rebury with that in there."

Moses Haia, attorney for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., said the state did not insist on unanimity when the decision was made to dig up the bones rather than leave them in place.

"If you're going to demand consensus now, then you should demand consensus on disinterment," he said. "Otherwise, credibility is lost."

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8053.