On Thursday, April 28, 2011, two Hawaiian activists were arrested for trying to stop contractors from digging into the ground of a sacred burial site in Kaua’i, the oldest of Hawaii’s main Islands.
As reported by the Garden Island Newspaper, the contractors were hired by the state government to dig a leach field for new a septic system in the Kaumuali’i area of Wailua River State Park.
Historical artifacts and human remains were reportedly unearthed in the construction area; but even their discovery, the contractors continued their work unfazed.
Ka’iulani Edens, who was arrested along with James Alalem for trying to stop them, offered some poignant words to the Garden Island, the only news company to report on the arrests: “Again, another septic system/leach field on another Hawaiian graveyard… What are we, the toilet? We kanakas are the toilet. Our sacred sites are toilets.”
In her interview with Garden Island, Edens explains that the state of Hawai‘i started digging for a septic system last August; but she and others were able to stop them because the government lacked an Environmental Assessment.
But then, “They came around the back door and called an emergency Burial Council meeting without notifying any of the lineal and cultural descendants or the community at all,” Edens said.
More recently, on April 25, contractors began “[what’s] called cultural testing, except they were digging with a backhoe, which is really not that groovy if you’re looking for a skull,” she explained.
Work continued throughout the week–and “Sure enough, they found skeletal remains,” said Edens. She also said that an archaeologist from Scientific Cultural Surveys, who was contracted by the government, found ancient artifacts in the area.
“These guys are all over the place,” Edens said of Scientific Cultural Surveys. “They are dirty and they are everywhere bones are desecrated.”
As Garden Island points out, there are specific laws in Hawai‘i concerning the discovery of human remains and artifacts that are more than 50 years old. The contractors appear to be violating those laws. The Garden Island explains,
Title 13, Chapter 300 of the Hawai‘i Administrative Rules (HAR) states that it is “unlawful for any person to remove from the jurisdiction of the state, any human skeletal remains over 50 years old, or any associated burial goods, without prior written authorization” from DLNR.
Under HAR, a written request to DLNR should include specific reasons for removal; a description of lineal relationship, if any, between the person requesting removal and the remains; and a written consent of any known lineal descendants.
If DLNR grants a request for removal, the written notification becomes the permit required under section 6E-12 of the Hawai‘i Revised Statutes.
[…] The fine for a violation is no more than $10,000, according to HAR. But the rules also state that for purposes of calculating a fine, each part of a human skeleton or associated burial goods constitutes “a distinct and separate offense for which the offender may be punished.”
They didn’t have a permit on site, according to Edens. “I asked to see their permit, the police asked to see their permit, the DLNR asked to see their permit, there was no permit.”
Edens said she was told that a permit would be emailed to her on a later date.
The destruction of burial sites and the displacement of ancestral remains has been a constant theme on Kaua’i. If remains and artifacts haven’t being tossed in “beer boxes” and metal storage containers, they’ve been simply plowed over in the name of “development.”
There are, of course, many other examples of such flagrant impudence across the hemisphere: in Vallejo, California, in Toronto, Ontario and wherever sacred sites are threatened by mining, infrastructure and other developments.
It’s also a theme for which too few people speak out against: the destruction of history.
For more on the situation in Kaua’i, please read the Garden Island’s full report & keep an eye on protectglencove.org for further updates.
You may also want to read “Protection of the Iwi Na Kupuna” (Bones of our ancestors) by Uncle Charlie.