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Iwi kūpuna preservation group opposes Green's pick to lead DLNR

Daniel Ramirez
CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

A petition has been started by a group called Hui Iwi Kuamo'o to oppose Gov. Josh Green's nominee, Dawn Chang, to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources. At the center of their disapproval is Chang's past consultation work with Kawaiahaʻo Church regarding iwi kūpuna.

Eddie Halealoha Ayau of Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo spoke to The Conversation about the petition, Dawn Chang, and the 130th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. Ayau said he plans to meet with the Green administration about his concerns later this week.


Why do you feel so passionately that Dawn Chang's name should be withdrawn?

EDDIE AYAU: Because she has made decisions in the past that clearly indicates a lack of respect and understanding of the protective nature of Hawaiʻi HRS Chapter 6E. These were amendments to the historic preservation law that were enacted in 1990, Act 306. And it was intended to memorialize in the law, the value of protecting iwi kūpuna by empowering the island burial councils and giving them the authority to decide whether to preserve in place or relocate an unmarked Hawaiian burial site over 50 years old. The law was passed to ensure that mass disturbances would never happen again, because it came about as a result of what was happening at Honokahua, Maui, and the lead-up to the development and construction of the Ritz Carlton Hotel — 1,100 was the minimum number of individuals identified. So 1,100 people were dug up — ancestral Hawaiians were dug up — to make way for a parking structure. So the message that sends the Hawaiian people is that the larger society views Hawaiians as being so insignificant that we prioritize a place to park a car over the burial sites of your ancestors.

On Chang's involvement with Kawaiahaʻo Church when they were planning a new building

AYAU: There was an existing building there, but they had disinterred most of the remains that were in that building footprint. And then they took that building down and expanded the footprint and disinterred, according to their archaeological consultant, an estimated 700 to 900 individuals. So Act 306 was intended to prevent such events from happening where you couldn't disinter large amounts of people but Kawaiahaʻo did so under the direct advice of Dawn Chang.

On sharing his concerns about Chang with Gov. Josh Green's office

AYAU: We shared the concerns that we had, and asked very respectfully that they consider someone else. And to our shock, they ignored us. And we made it clear that if we proceed, the information we're disclosing, some people might consider horrific. But that is the legacy that this person has done, and all we're doing is reporting it and asking the governor that when you choose a nominee, especially one to head the department that has kuleana for ʻāina, wai and kai, that that person, whoever it is, have integrity. And when I say integrity, I don't use that word lightly. I mean respect for the law, respect for values. The head of the Department of Land and Natural Resources should be someone like Suzanne Case, who had a background of protecting the land. And Dawn's record, as we point out in our petition, has several instances where she did just the opposite.

On Chang's statement that she did not try to be an advocate for the developers, and that she was trying to lay out options for Kawaiahaʻo Church

DAWN CHANG ON JAN. 6: I will share with you that I, the attorney general that was advising SHPD (State Historic Preservation Division), as well as Kawaiahaʻo's lawyer, we all believed that Kawaiahaʻo was a cemetery. And under the laws, Chapter 6E, cemeteries are exempt from 6E. But we were proven wrong. The court said, "Nope, this is a Native Hawaiian burial site." I do not recall at any time that I had advised them not to do an archaeological inventory survey. That wasn't my call.

AYAU: With the decision of the Intermediate Court of Appeals, which rebuked all of those arguments and said it held William Aila, as chairmain of DLNR, liable for violating DLNR's own rules on the treatment of burials. The court also held, or indicated, that the director of the Department of Health had also violated her rules with regard to the treatment because the church got a blanket disinterment permit from the Department of Health to dig up all the burials. But the most, clearest rebuke of Dawn's advice to the board of trustees of Kawaiahaʻo Church is the Intermediate Court of Appeals said that HRS Chapter 6E applies at Kawaiahaʻo and that the advice to circumvent the authority of the Oʻahu Island Burial Council under HRS Chapter 6E was wrong as a matter of law. So the important part is that the legal advice she gave was rebuked. I mean, she arranged for a private meeting with SHPD officials to discuss the idea of not having to do an archaeological inventory survey. The court said that was the violation of their own rules — that, before SHPD issued the permit for that project, they should have had an EIS completed and approved. They did it, so the court ordered the EIS to be approved. And then they ordered the matter to go to the Oʻahu Island Burial Council to be considered by the council for a determination. Now, mind you that the church already dug out all the iwi, but the court is saying start anew and one of the options that the council has is the option to say, to determine to preserve in place, which means you got to put them all back exactly where you took them from, which is ultimately what the court determined. And then in June of 2022, the Oʻahu Island Burial Council approved the joint burial treatment plan that was submitted by the church and the descendants. And that plan called for preservation in place of most of the remains. There were a few that was asked to be relocated back into the original burial area. But the point is the Oʻahu Island Burial Council determined to preserve in place, which means that if they had followed the law originally, those kūpuna need not have been dug up. But they were. They're still in the basement at Kawaiahaʻo Church and they've not been reburied. This is 13 years later.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Jan. 17, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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