The other day I was telling one of my sisters about how the police questioned and nearly arrested me — and did arrest others — all because of a peaceful protest by cultural practitioners at the Naue burial site. Her reaction was one shared by many: “What an incredible waste of police resources.”
It’s not just the cops, but the prosecutor’s office and district court that are wasting precious time and money on a case that arises, ironically, from the state’s own failure to properly care for the iwi kupuna, the ancient bones, it is mandated to protect.
Meanwhile, the original perpetrator of this mess, Kauai district archaeologist Nancy McMahon, continues on in her present state job, undisciplined and unpunished, even though the court found that McMahon failed to meet her professional and legal responsibilities when she approved the final Burial Treatment Plan (BTP) for the project without first consulting the Burial Council, lineal descendants, Hawaiian cultural groups and even landowner Joe Brescia.
Worse, McMahon is obviously unrepentant, as evidenced by the supposedly revised BTP that she will take to the Burial Council for its review at 9 a.m. tomorrow — an action that was ordered by the court.
Although Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe clearly stated in issuing her ruling that the Council might decide to exercise any number of options, including removing and reinterring the burials that are beneath the house and driveway, removing the concrete “jackets” that were placed on the bones and providing access for those who wished to visit the burials, not one of these options is so much as mentioned in the revised BTP.
Instead, it merely recounts what was done to the iwi under McMahon’s previous BTP — the one she adopted unilaterally and illegally, and now expects the Burial Council to merely rubber stamp in typical after-the-fact-permit fashion. OK, problem solved. Next!
As for consulting with Hawaiian groups and lineal descendants, as the court also ordered her to do, last I heard McMahon was trying to pull together a meeting this past Sunday with several local kanaka who have been strongly opposed to building a house atop the burials. She even went so far as to ask one of them to invite someone from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to attend.
Come on! What kind of half-baked, rush job consultation effort is that? It’s obviously the kind you stage when you’re hoping no one will show up and voice objections, or when you’re trying to push something through at the next meeting rather than take the time to do it right.
And then there’s the little matter of deputy attorney general Vince Kanemoto, who still has not explained how he can properly and ethically serve his two masters: the State Historic Preservation Division, which includes McMahon, and the Burial Council. The two parties do not have the same objectives, legal responsibilities or interests, and it became quite clear in the recent court proceedings that Kanemoto, who is supposed to advise the Burial Council on all its legal options and make sure McMahon follows the law, failed in his duties, as well.
It remains to be seen whether the Burial Council will go along with McMahon's charade or impose other conditions on the project. I know one woman has been delivering DVDs of Judge Watanabe's ruling to Council members so they can see for themselves what really went down.
While SHPD continues on, unfazed by the court’s rebuke, citizen groups are taking other steps that may ultimately prove more effective. Malama Kauai and the Kauai Public Land Trust have teamed up to raise money to buy Brescia’s oceanfront cemetery, which has at least 30 burials and concrete foundation pilings that were hurriedly poured so as to make it difficult to stop the project before the lawsuit was heard.
And my North Shore kanaka friends tell me they are planning a Nov. 1 ceremony that will involve people from throughout the Islands in building an ahu, or altar, at both Brescia’s property and Ke`e, similar to what was done at the University of Hawaii to protest GMO taro research.
That sounds like a good idea. The protection of iwi kupuna is, after all, a spiritual and cultural struggle, so it makes sense to emphasize that aspect — especially since it’s become obvious that the law, as currently written and followed, has serious shortcomings and SHPD hasn’t learned anything from all the trauma and drama at Naue these past many months.