Reburial bill angers Native Hawaiians


HONOLULU — Dug-up bones and unidentified remains of Native Hawaiians may be reburied on an uninhabited island if a proposed law passes.

Hawaii’s Senate is considering a bill that would designate the island of Kahoolawe as the resting place for unknown or “inadvertently discovered” Hawaiian bones when those remains can’t be reburied nearby.

The state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, which includes the Historic Preservation Division, supports bill SB320. But several Native Hawaiians have voiced opposition, saying that transplanting bones from their island of their burial is culturally inappropriate.

Alan Downer, administrator of the division, told the Hawaiian Affairs Committee on Friday that the law would affect the rare cases of a museum repatriating unidentifiable bones to Hawaii. More commonly, such as when construction projects disturb old graves, remains would be unlikely to leave their home island, he said.

The transfer of bones desecrated by a disinterment would upset the spiritual harmony of Kahoolawe, considered a sacred island, said Davianna McGregor, a spokeswoman for Protect Kahoolawe Ohana, a heritage organization for the island.

“You won’t want to bring that kind of mana (spiritual energy) to the island,” she said. “It’s already borne enough abuse.”

The organization’s testimony to the Senate urged amendments that would compel the state to move human remains as little as possible.

“Under no circumstances should the iwi kupuna (ancestors’ bones) be taken to another island, especially Kanaloa Kahoolawe,” the letter reads.

McGregor said Kahoolawe would be a suitable site for remains returned to Hawaii from abroad, if their island of origin was unknown. The small island off the west coast of Maui is being held in trust by the state for a future Native Hawaiian sovereign entity.

Other critics of the bill tell lawmakers they don’t believe the state is qualified to make decisions about such burials without thorough consultation with Native Hawaiian groups. They also express concern about the difficulty of protecting and maintaining burial sites on Kahoolawe.