Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Protesters impede Kawaiaha'o Church project

A dispute continues over unmarked burials that have been found at a construction site

By Andrew Gomes


Construction on a $17.5 million multipurpose building at Kawaiaha'o Church resumed briefly yesterday but was halted after a disruption by protesters opposed to disturbing more unmarked burials on the project site.

Excavating ground for the building's foundation using hand tools resumed under an agreement with the State Historic Preservation Division. The church also has approval from the state Department of Health to disinter any remains discovered.

But some native Hawaiians oppose the project.

Construction of the multipurpose center was halted two years ago after the church unearthed 69 sets of human remains while using heavy equipment to make trenches for utility lines.

Church officials said Kawaiaha'o's board of trustees will meet, possibly today, to discuss how to proceed.

New excavation work must be reviewed by the Historic Preservation office before any more intensive construction activity takes place.

Still, some native Hawaiians — including some church members and some who say they have ancestors buried at Kawaiaha'o — feel resumption of any work that disinters iwi, or bones, is wrong.

"It's a total disregard for what they said and for the care and compassion of families (who oppose excavation)," said Claire Steele, a church member who previously served on a committee set up by the church to handle any burials disturbed by construction.

Steele and some others who attended a briefing held by the church last week said church leaders promised them they would hold off on work that might disturb iwi until divergent views could be settled.

Church officials said they made no such commitment.

Under state approval to proceed with construction, the church is required to consult with descendants of those buried on the property.

The church said it has met the consulting requirement by holding public discussions — the most recent of which was last week.

Mitigating differences using the Hawaiian practice of hooponopono has been requested by some, but the Rev. Curtis Kekuna said the church hasn't decided whether to do that.

The church is moving ahead with construction under the notion that Hawaiian culture regarding burials as sacrosanct differs from Christian beliefs. The church said the remains are Christian burials mostly in coffins.

"Their spirit has gone to heaven," Kekuna said of those buried on church grounds. "There's no life in bones."

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