Protests Arise Over Burial Protections on West Maui Construction Site

Oct 15, 2020

Tensions are rising on Maui’s west end over construction that’s begun on known historic burial grounds in Kauaʻula Valley. Lineal descendants of the area have flocked to the site in recent days to halt the project until archeological work can be done to ensure ancestral remains are protected.

Protests at a construction site in Kauaʻula continued for the second day in a row Wednesday. Video circulating on social media show a half a dozen people climbing into dirt trenches to disrupt construction.  

“We get families risking their lives by jumping in the hole. My wife was one of them,” says Keʻeaumoku Kapu, a lineal descendant of Kauaʻula, “The only way to address this was to come and kiaʻi and stand in front and say that they were never given consent to dig this trench.”

But Maui County did give developer, the West Maui Land Company, permission to install a utility pipeline in an area containing known historic burials. The developer could not be reached for comment. A Maui County spokesman says it’s encouraging mediation to resolve the dispute, a move Kapu favors.

The island’s burial council tried to halt the project earlier this month noting its proximity to the Pioneer Mill, Jacobson, and Puʻehuʻehuiki cemeteries. The council recommended the state conduct additional archaeological work to ensure iwi kūpuna or ancestral remains are not disturbed.

The West Maui Land Company has had a complicated relationship with the local community since it bought up thousands of acres of former sugar plantation lands for development.