September 12, 2008
Open letter by Kanaka Maoli Scholars Against Desecration
As Kanaka Maoli professors and scholars we write to publicly condemn the state-sponsored desecration of a Native Hawaiian burial site at Wainiha, Kaua`i resulting from the construction of a new home at Naue Point by California businessman Joseph Brescia. For years Brescia has been trying to build a home on top of our ancestral graves despite a litany of environmental, legal and community challenges to his construction. In 2007 Brescia unearthed and then covered over the bones of our ancestors when he began clearing the area. The illegal and immoral disturbance and desecration of our ancestors’ remains must stop now.
The Hawai`i revised statute 711-1107 on Desecration specifically states that no one may commit the offense of desecrating "a place of worship or burial," and the statute defines "desecrate" as "defacing, damaging, polluting, or otherwise physically mistreating in a way that the defendant knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the defendant's action." In complete contradiction to their own law, the State Historic Preservation Division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources approved a "burial treatment plan" for Brescia that undermines both the very concept of historic preservation and the reason for the founding of the Hawai`i Burials Council: to protect burials, not "treat" them. This "burial treatment plan" enabled Brescia to secure permits to build as long as the graves remain "in place," which in this case means the burials have been capped with concrete already poured for the footings of his house.
To date, 5th Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe has denied requests for a temporary restraining order and has even refused to grant a temporary injunction to stop further construction until the full civil suit is adjudicated by the state court. State Historic Preservation Division archaeologist and Kaua`i County Council candidate Nancy McMahon testified that the dozens of previously identified burials do not constitute a cemetery, but should be thought of instead as individual grave sites—a distinction that is meaningless in the laws against the desecration of burial sites. An archaeologist hired by Brescia, Mike Dega, told the court that he would not define the site as a cemetery because for "pre-contact" burials, he has no standards by which he can say a burial ground is a cemetery. In other words, in his view there is no such thing as a "pre-contact" (by which he means pre-European or pre-Christian) Native Hawaiian "cemetery." According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a cemetery is defined simply as "a burial ground"; within this standard definition there are no additional historical or cultural qualifications that need to be met. Dega’s assessments and the court's acceptance of them shamelessly evade the entire moral and ethical purpose of the legislation enacted to protect gravesites by playing a deceptive game of words. Let us be clear: a burial is a cemetery and a cemetery is a burial. No matter how they describe the grave sites, they cannot erase the existence of the burials; they cannot turn these graves into a "non-cemetery," and they cannot erase the reality of the ongoing desecration caused by this construction.
Adding further insult to his desecration of Hawaiian graves, Brescia recently lodged a lawsuit against six people—all of whom are Kanaka Maoli—implicated in protecting the burial site from his construction work. He has charged them with trespassing, unspecified damages, and even "terroristic acts." Brescia subsequently filed a motion to identify nearly a dozen more "Doe defendants" and add them to his original lawsuit in an attempt to include cultural and religious practitioners from neighbor
islands that came to bear witness to and defend against the crimes at Naue. We strongly condemn this Orwellian view of who should be defined as trespassing and causing damage.
We call out to all people of conscience to join in our condemnation of the desecration of the ancestral remains; to support an end to the illegal construction supported by the state, and to protest any prosecution of those who have laid their bodies down to prevent the further degradation of the bones of our kūpuna.
Hokulani Aikau, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Political Science, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa
Carlos Andrade, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa
J. Leilani Basham, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Humanities, University of Hawai`i at West O`ahu
Maenette Benham, Ed.D., Dean, Hawai`inuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa
J. Noelani Goodyear- Ka`ōpua, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Political Science, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa
Lisa Kahaleole Hall, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies, Wells College
Kū Kahakalau, Ph.D., founder and director of Kanu o ka ‘Āina New Century Public Charter School
Lilikalā Kame`eleihiwa, Ph.D., Professor, Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa
Val Kalei Kanuha, PhD, M.S.W., Associate Professor of Social Work, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa
J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Anthropology and American Studies, Wesleyan University
Manulani Meyer, Ed.D., Associate Professor, Education, University of Hawai`i at Hilo
Jon Kamakawiwo`ole Osorio, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa
Noenoe K. Silva, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Political Science, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa
Ty Kawika Tengan, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Anthropology and Ethnic Studies, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa
Haunani-Kay Trask, Professor, Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa