Sunday, June 22, 2008

Musings: The Right Thing

Today was one of the most lovely mornings Koko and I have experienced in a while, which is saying something, given the enduring loveliness of the Kauai dawn.

It’s just that this particular one arrived softly, with a hint of gold in the eastern sky that gradually grew bolder until it was replaced, all at once and briefly, by a solid splash of red, and then the sun arrived, sparkly through pukas in the vegetation and imbuing everything with a rosy luster.

And on top of that, the air smelled good, perfumed with plumeria, mock orange and other unidentified blossoms wafting on a very brisk breeze.

On days like this, it’s hard to imagine that everything isn’t right with the world — until I look at a newspaper or check my email, where I’d already been sent several messages with links to an article in today’s The Garden Island about the burial grounds up at Naue.

The article states that police met with Kaiulani Huff, who claims ownership to the land that contains the burials. She and others have been camping on the adjacent beach for the past three months to protect the bones from further disturbance.

Apparently, according to the article, the police feel that Joe Brescia has provided sufficient proof of his ownership that they must protect his right to begin construction on the site. Attempts to begin construction were derailed on June 3 when Kaiulani called the police to report that the contractor, Ted Burkhardt, and his crew were trespassing. The blessing was also derailed after the minister, who claimed she didn’t know about the burials, left in tears after being apprised of the situation.

It’s unclear whether Burkhardt, who had reportedly walked off the project, will continue to head up the job. At least one other company was approached to do the work, but declined.

The article quotes Chief Perry as saying:

We agreed as a department that we needed to meet with Ms. Huff and the rest of the demonstrators to get on the same page and make sure we respect their right to protest, but also to make sure they keep it peaceful.

Meanwhile, Brescia, who has built other homes in the subdivision previously, including at least one where a burial was found, is playing the “poor me” routine. The paper quotes him as saying:

I’m not a developer, I’m just a regular guy in a very unfortunate, uncomfortable situation. I’ve done everything I can to make this sensitive and respectful, and I don’t know what else can be changed.

It’s difficult to understand how Bresica — or anyone — could turn a decision to build a spec house on top of more than 30 ancient burials into something “sensitive and respectful.” But even if he had managed to achieve that, and he hasn’t, there’s still the question of what else can be changed.

Here are a few ideas: dedicate or sell the property to the Kauai Trust for Public Land or another organization in return for the tax write off; redesign the house plans; sit down with Kaiulani and others and get their manao on ways to proceed; back off for a while and see what can be worked out. It's not like he's going to be able to spin the place quickly, anyway, now that real estate sales have tanked.

The Chief, meanwhile, is appealing to higher forces for a resolution, according to his response to a question about the burials in his weekly Q&A column:

I truly hope and pray that there will be a peaceful resolution to this issue.

It appears that some additional guidance can also be found in Honolulu, according to an article in today’s Honolulu Advertiser that reports there’s a “high potential” the city’s proposed rail project will impact burial sites.

The article states:

Moses Aiai, an attorney for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, agreed the city could encounter iwi in urban Honolulu. That makes it critical that the city conduct archaeological surveys at each location where digging will occur, he said.

"I would expect some kind of an impact on burial sites or other historic sites in that area," Aiai said. "That's what's so important about doing this sort of analysis up front before you begin digging, because you want to still have the flexibility ... and you're able to look at design alternatives."

At Naue, the burials were discovered when they were disturbed during site work — even though it seems archaeologists would have suspected they’d be present, since iwi have been found at many points along that stretch of sandy shoreline.

Still, as the Advertiser reports, the discovery of burials has not deterred development in Honolulu where 42 burials were unearthed for a Wal-Mart, which is now open. Another 60 were found at General Growth's Ward Villages project, which includes a Whole Foods market and luxury apartment complex and shops. However, the apartment project is currently on hold because 30 burials at that site must be left in place.

The article states:

The Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation unsuccessfully sought to temporarily halt construction at both the Wal-Mart and Ward Villages sites after iwi were discovered there. The group, which represents people it says are descendants of those remains, contends that developers and the state don't conduct adequate research into the potential for disturbing iwi prior to construction projects.

The Advertiser story includes a quote from Jan Yokota, General Growth's vice president of development, that might prove helpful to Brescia:

One thing that's important for all developers is to know, as best as they can, (is) to do as much proactive research initially and to continue to work with the families (if iwi are found).

It also quoted Thomas Dye, president of the Society for Hawaiian Archaeology, as saying that design changes "happen very typically now in Hawai'i, where people will redesign something so that human burials can be avoided. That's becoming more and more common."

That’s what First Hawaiian bank did after three sets of burials were found at the site where it was preparing to build a new bank in Kailua. The article ends by quoting bank spokesman Brandt Farias, who said he did not know if the redesign had increased the project’s price tag.

If there was additional cost, we're happy to do it, because it was the right thing to do for the families and the community.

It seems, then, that those who understand the ethics and cultural sensitivity of such issues are willing to make changes. And those who do not, claim there’s nothing that can be done.


Anonymous said...

He's not building on top of 30 burials. He's building on top of like 6 or 7. His mitigation plan proposed moving those but the Burial Council refused.

Andy Parx said...

Whatever happens it good to know that the Chief is listening to concerns of overreactions and strong-arm tactics and to met with Ka`iu and is trying to keep anyone from getting hurt. He may be wrong about the ownership issue which really should be adjudicated but at least he’s being transparent open and talking. Kudos on that Darryl.

Anonymous said...

Has she done anything to have it adjudicated?

Anonymous said...

What do you call a dead Hawaiian buried under your house?


Anonymous said...

If I had a dollar for every new house with a forsale sign, just in the Homesteads alone...

And it's not just new houses, it's the ones under construction too. I once heard that people should be allowed to build their dream home in "paradise," fair enough, but they should be taxed heavily if they sell within 4 years (average lifespan of a romance), and also if they don't live in it.

Anonymous said...

Those who think no remains should be built over ever need to lobby the legislature to pass such a law. Otherwise they are merely asking eveyone to voluntarily adopt their assumptions about the ethical or cultural proprieties, about which there is quite a bit of disagreement.

Andy Parx said...

"they should be taxed heavily if they sell within 4 years (average lifespan of a romance), and also if they don't live in it."

Actually they do- there a 10 year dedication for a tax reduction and a 2% cap for owner occupants

Anonymous said...

Natives have as broad a spectrum of beliefs about their culture as white Americans have about their own. White activists latch on to those Natives whose beliefs conform to those of the white activists at the exclusion of other Natives. White activists then try to present the beliefs of those few Natives as the truly "authentic" beliefs and build up around those beliefs a moral mythology by which white activists arbitrarily conflate conformity to those beliefs with "doing the right thing."