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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 14, 2006

Board votes to move iwi at Ward site

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Developers of Ward Villages will be allowed to move 11 sets of Hawaiian iwi, or burial remains, although relocation details still need to be worked out.

The O'ahu Island Burial Council voted 6-4 in favor of relocation, averting a serious setback for the landowner/developer building a Whole Foods Market, a 17-story rental apartment building and assorted retail shops on a site incorporating the existing Pier 1 Imports outlet.

The vote disappointed some Hawaiian families and burial council members who believe it is wrong to disturb the iwi. Others at the meeting maintained that moving them away from a construction area was the proper course.

General Growth Properties' work on the site halted when the remains were found in March.

General Growth, the State Historic Preservation Division and eight families or individuals recognized as cultural descendants of the area will now spend up to 90 days deciding the best place to relocate the remains.

General Growth submitted a detailed burial plan that relocates the iwi to a location on-site. One of the descendant families is offering to store the remains until construction is completed and the parties can agree where they should be placed.

Dwight Yoshimura, General Growth senior vice president, said the iwi would be better protected if relocated because construction plans for the project's foundation require driving 1,200 piles into the ground at the parcel, which is just under five acres.

Recognized cultural descendants were divided on what to do.

Carolyn Norman of the Keawemahi family urged burial council members to leave the iwi where they are. Norman said she recognizes that asking General Growth to redesign its project would mean incurring additional costs. "But you cannot put a value on Hawaiian culture, Hawaiian culture cannot be bought," she said.

Kealoha Keohokalole, who is a leader of a union that represents pile drivers, countered that it would make no sense for the iwi to stay where it would be subjected to heavy construction work all around it. "Twelve hundred piles? That's a whole lot of rockin' and rollin'," Keohokalole said.

Burial council members spoke passionately about how they came to a decision.

Linda Paik said she views her job as a simple one. "For me, desecration is to take them out," she said before voting for keeping the iwi in place.

Alice Greenwood, who voted for relocation, said decisions about the iwi need to be done on a case-by-case basis. She said it pained her to vote in favor of a relocation at another project, but ultimately determined it was the best thing in the long run. And in deciding to relocate the iwi, she said, those involved in the decision asked their ancestors "to please forgive us."

Yoshimura said that if required to leave the iwi in place, "the plan as it is today would not be able to proceed."

Media representatives at Whole Foods' headquarters in Austin, Texas, could not be reached after hours yesterday.

An underlying issue throughout the hearing was whether six new cultural descendants should have been recognized yesterday. Previously, only the Keawemahi family was recognized.

Paulette Kaleikini, a member of the Keawemahi family, said she thought the arrival of the other descendants had an outcome in the vote. Kaleikini said she does not believe most of the families who came forward after her can trace their lineage back to the Ward area.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com.