HONOLULU — The state has drawn criticism for its handling of Native Hawaiian burials from members of burial councils who called on the Legislature to establish a working group to draw up reforms.
Oahu Island Burial Council Chairwoman Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu laid out several grievances Tuesday against the State Historic Preservation Division.
The division failed to help adequately staff island burial councils and enforce burial site violations and has not provided staff training or developed an inventory of Native Hawaiian burial sites, Wong-Kalu said.
Burial councils oversee whether previously identified Native Hawaiian burial sites will be preserved in place or relocated. Discoveries of ancestral remains deemed “inadvertent” fall to the historic preservation division.
Burial council members are appointed by the governor from recommendations by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the preservation division and must receive state Senate confirmation.
Burial council leaders claim they have not received adequate legal support from the Hawaii Department of the Attorney General to help interpret complicated laws relating to the treatment of burial remains.
A deputy attorney general rarely shows up at monthly meetings and is often unavailable by phone to provide legal advice, they said.
The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Three of the five seats on the Molokai burial council are vacant and the panel has not had enough members to meet for years, said Edward Halealoha Ayau, who was hired to establish and administer the councils at the program’s inception in 1990.
The National Park Service placed the historic preservation division on high-risk status in 2010 and threatened to revoke its federal funding without major reforms.
State Historic Preservation Division Administrator Alan Downer, who assumed his role in 2013, said in a statement he would work with the attorney general’s office to provide burial council training and that his division was committed to increasing communication and support for council staff.
Jurisdictional issues between the burial council and the preservation division have been a source of contention.
Dane Maxwell, chairman of the Maui and Lanai burial council, questioned how more than 180 burials at the Maui Lani real estate development in recent years could be classified as inadvertent, meaning they were unanticipated.
The classifications were an “egregious misinterpretation of the law,” Maxwell said.