comscore Bill designates Kahoolawe as alternative place for iwi | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Bill designates Kahoolawe as alternative place for iwi

  • STAR-ADVERTISER / 2012
    Iwi, or bones of native Hawaiians, are often unburied during construction projects, like at the Waihonua construction site, a half block from Ala Moana Center, where 18 sets of human remains were found in 2012.
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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.

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

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which includes the Historic Preservation Division, supports Senate Bill 320. But several Native Hawaiians have voiced opposition, saying that transplanting bones from the island of their burial is culturally inappropriate.

Alan Downer, administrator of the division, told the Hawaiian Affairs Committee on Friday that the law would affect the rare cases of a museum repatriating unidentifiable bones to Hawaii. More commonly, such as when construction projects disturb old graves, remains would be unlikely to leave their home island, he 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 group’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 were 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 consultation with Native Hawaiian groups. They also express concern about the difficulty of protecting and maintaining burial sites on Kahoolawe.

Sam Eifling / Associated Press

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