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OHA: Office of Hawaiian Affairs

OHA CEO statement expresses concern on State protection of iwi kupuna

January 25, 2021

Statement of OHA CEO Sylvia Hussey Concern Regarding the State Historic Preservation Division’s Administration of the Island Burial Councils and the Care, Management and Protection of Our Iwi Kupuna

“On January 19, 2021, in proximity to the sacred ancestral interment site of Pohukaina located on the grounds of ‘Iolani Palace, island burial council leadership announced a “Statewide Protest to Uphold Their Kuleana (Responsibility) to Protect Hawaiian Burial Sites from Systemic Mismanagement by the State Historic Preservation Division.”

“The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) Administration shares similar concerns expressed by the island burial councils, and notes that it has long sought to help the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) better comply with its statutory responsibilities to protect our iwi kupuna and sacred historical sites.  OHA urges state policymakers, including SHPD leadership, to heed the calls of our island burial council leaders, and address issues that have long been raised by Native Hawaiian community members and cultural practitioners, archaeologists, the state auditor and OHA itself.

“As recently as November 11, 2020, OHA expressed in a letter to SHPD Administrator Dr. Alan Downer its ʻserious concerns over repeated inconsistent interpretation and implementation of [SHPD’s] statutory duties;’ ʻthe observable lack of consistent and reliable administrative support of the island burial councils;’ and an apparent ʻrefusal to comply with both Chapter 6E, HRS and Chapter 13-300, HAR in fulfilling [SHPD’s] public trust responsibilities to our beneficiaries.’  OHA also noted SHPD’s continual failure to notify OHA of inadvertent discoveries of human remains, as required by law, and the longstanding need to better support the Maui/Lāna‘i Islands Burial Council, particularly given the Council’s ongoing requests for consistent access to legal counsel and administrative follow-through on their recommendations. OHA has yet to receive a response to its 52-page letter and the numerous recommendations it offered to address its concerns.

“OHA has also highlighted numerous longstanding historic preservation issues in two measures introduced as part of OHA’s 2020 legislative package.  One bill sought to give SHPD more enforcement tools and to lower its administrative burden in ensuring compliance with the law.  The other measure, a resolution, urged an update of SHPD’s decades-old administrative rules, and identified numerous needed changes to amend procedures for the classification and treatment of ‘inadvertent’ burials, provide a certification process for contracted archaeologists and clarify island burial council authorities, among others.

“We appreciate Dr. Alan Downer’s promise to improve communication with island burial council members.  However, the island burial council members’ protest demonstrates that much, much more must be done, to regain the trust of our councils and those who rely upon the State Historic Preservation Division to protect our ancestors, to whom we as Native Hawaiians remain deeply connected.

“Trust is earned, and can be such an easy thing to lose. I hope that SHPD will finally heed these concerns, and take all steps necessary – including by working with community members and OHA – to earn the trust of the Native Hawaiian community lost through years of apparent neglect, failed promises and unanswered concerns.”

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