Bill seeks transfer of duties relating to Hawaiian Burial Sites

February 10, 2011, 10:56 AM HST · Updated February 10, 10:56 AM
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By Wendy Osher

Members of the Joint House Committees on Hawaiian Affairs voted to defer a measure that sought the transfer of duties relating to Hawaiian Burial Sites.  HB 711 was drafted to shift the functions involving Native burials, currently held by the Historic Preservation Division to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) instead.

Honokahua Native Hawaiian Burial site located in West Maui. Photo by Wendy Osher.

Representative Mele Carroll of Maui who introduced the bill said, the measure is aimed at responsible and respectful treatment of the iwi or bones of Hawaiian ancestors and kupuna.  She said the upside of the deferment is more detailed discussion and an impetus to address cultural traditions with greater sensitivity moving forward.

In testimony offered by the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) officials at the agency said they did not have a position on whether duties relating to the identification of native Hawaiian burials should remain at DLNR or be transferred to OHA.  In the same breath, officials stated,  “We do, however, strongly support efforts to systematically improve a process that should be providing sensitive, timely, and appropriate treatment to the iwi kupuna and burial sites. To this end, we are willing to provide any assistance appropriate to professional expertise and experience that would help implement any major changes should they occur.”

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Officials from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, meantime,  stated that one paramount issue the bill raises would be whether the inherent police powers of the DLNR would transfer to OHA.

OHA officials said, “kuleana of this magnitude requires extreme diligence regarding all legal, economic, cultural and social facets to ensure that such a transfer of responsibilities is truly successful and does not result in more failure and irreparable harm due to hasty implementation.”

The agency vowed to continue advocacy for the proper identification, protection and treatment of iwi kupuna, saying that they “stand ready to not only recommend, but to assist, and where deemed more effective, participate directly in this important kuleana.”

(Supporting information courtesy Rep. Mele Carroll)

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