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Iwi reburial bill riles Native Hawaiians

  • DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Contractors recently unearthed 19 sets of human remains
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Dug-up bones and unidentified remains of Native Hawaiians may be reburied on an uninhabited island if a proposed law passes.

Hawaii’s Senate is considering a bill that would designate the island of Kahoolawe as the resting place for unknown or "inadvertently discovered" Hawaiian bones when those remains can’t be reburied nearby.

The state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, which includes the Historic Preservation Division, supports the bill. Meanwhile several Native Hawaiians have voiced opposition, saying that transplanting bones from their island of their burial is culturally inappropriate.

The department’s chairman, William Aila Jr., has submitted testimony in support of the bill. He was not immediately available for comment Friday, a department spokeswoman said.

The transfer of bones desecrated by a disinterment would upset the spiritual harmony of Kahoolawe, considered a sacred island, said Davianna McGregor, a spokeswoman for Protect Kahoolawe Ohana, a heritage organization for the island.

"You won’t want to bring that kind of mana (spiritual energy) to the island," she said. "It’s already borne enough abuse."

The organization’s testimony to the Senate urged amendments that would compel the state to move human remains as little as possible.

"Under no circumstances should the iwi kupuna (ancestors’ bones) be taken to another island, especially Kanaloa Kahoolawe," the letter reads.

McGregor said Kahoolawe would be a suitable site for remains returned to Hawaii from abroad, if their island of origin was unknown. The small island off the west coast of Maui is being held in trust by the state for a future Native Hawaiian sovereign entity.

Other critics of the bill tell lawmakers that they don’t believe the state is qualified to make decisions about such burials without thorough consultation with Native Hawaiian groups. They also express concern about the difficulty of protecting and maintaining burial sites on Kahoolawe.

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