The sky began to lighten at about 4 a.m., I observed this morning, not that I had any desire to get up and out that early. Just an hour later, when Koko and I did take our walk, the stars were all gone, Venus was dim and the first hint of pink was showing on the horizon.
Clouds were pressing down, stifling some of the sun’s exuberance when it did begin to rise, and the muggy, still air of yesterday had lingered, promising more of the same today.
The same can be said of the latest version of the Burial Treatment Plan (BTP) that addresses some 31 ancient burials on land where Californian Joe Brescia is building a house at Naue. The plan will be considered by the Kauai-Niihau Island Burial Council at its meeting on Thursday, and is the only business item on the agenda.
While it is billed as the “amended Preservation Component” of a BTP, in fact it puts forth the exact same approach — capping in concrete six burials located under the house and one in the driveway — that the Burial Council rejected last Nov. 6.
The cover sheet of the plan references 10 drafts of the document running from May 2, 2007 to May 15, 2009, with the current version marked FINAL. I find it very interesting that the project sat dormant for months, and then on May 13, just before the Burial Council was set to again take up the matter, construction began in earnest.
Considering that the plan was prepared by archaeologist Mike Dega, who works for Brescia, the timing is really not that surprising. It allows the house to be just that much farther along, with the owner having invested just that much more money, which makes it just that much more difficult for the Burial Council to say — again — no, this plan is not cool and we want you to remove those concrete caps that were placed on the burials without our approval.
So considering that it’s the same old-same old, why did it take Dega so long to get the BTP back before the Council? On March 30, in preparation for writing an article, I sent state archaeologist Nancy McMahon an email, in which I inquired:
What is the current status of the BTP, and do you have any idea when the revised plan may be going back to the Burial Council?
Have you been consulting with any Hawaiian groups yet, and if so, which ones? What sort of revisions are being considered?
She replied that all media questions had to go through Debbie Ward, the Department of Land and Natural Resources public information officer, so I made the same request of Debbie on March 30 and again on April 6, when Debbie finally responded:
Aloha Joan. Nancy is working on the responses and I will check on status with her. Since there is litigation we will need responses to be reviewed by the AGs. Thanks for your patience.
On April 15 I followed up with another email, and got this response from Nancy:
I finished my review a long time ago 2/4/09 letter signed by Pua Aiu so I do not have a copy with me. We have no [sic] approved a revised BTP. We are awaiting again revised BTP which addresses our concerns.
OK, so aside from wondering why the big string along, when she could have given me that non-answer in the beginning, I still have no clear idea from either her response or the BTP just what SHPD’s concerns were or how they were addressed.
However, it is quite clear from the BTP itself that no Hawaiian groups — or anyone else, for that matter — were consulted in the preparation of this “revised plan,” even though Judge Kathleen Watanabe ruled last September that SHPD had failed to consult with the Burial Council, Hawaiian groups, lineal descendants of the iwi and even Bresica before approving the last BTP. So in short, both Dega and SHPD are thumbing their noses at the judge’s ruling by failing to consult this time around.
The BTP does provide a rather lengthy justification for capping the burials, including references to similar cappings done elsewhere in the Islands. However, it does not include any information about why the capping was done without the approval of the Burial Council, or what other measures might be taken.
Instead, it makes like this approach, which as I noted previously was rejected by the Burial Council, is actually fulfilling the wishes of the Council to preserve the burials in place, and that there is no other way:
As is presented above, while it is often not the first choice to preserve Native Hawaiian burials beneath proposed structures or residences, the directive of the KNIBC was clear about the present case: preserve the burials in place.
Following the rules for burial plans, the current plan does not address, not is required to address or add opinion on what may or may not be constructed on the subject land parcel. The intent is to follow the wishes of the KNIBC, in concurrence with the SHPD, to protect the burials in place.
So here we are, six months down the road, and what have we got from Dega and SHPD? More of the same.