By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writers
The state has sent guards to the site of a Kohala burial cave that has been broken into and sealed the cave entry as part of its efforts to secure the area, Hawai'i's top land official said yesterday.
Welders were on site to bar the opening yesterday and the security guards also were sent yesterday, said Peter Young, chairman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, who wouldn't give any additional information on the extent of security measures.
The move is the latest development since it was reported that Hawaiian burial objects from Kanupa Cave have been trafficked for sale on the Big Island. The added security came a day after an announcement by Native Hawaiian organizations that they had found evidence of a break-in at the cave.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources, which owns the property where Kanupa Cave is located, also has asked the state attorney general to "look into this matter and consider what steps we'll be taking independent of the federal investigation," Young said.
State Deputy Attorney General Christopher Young emphasized, however, that the state's role is to offer assistance to federal authorities, not to open its own probe.
The attorney general's office has "been in contact with the feds," he said, but he would not specify what information the state is providing.
Federal laws protecting burials impose a harsher penalty for desecration, he said, with a "far greater chance of jail time."
"We are satisfied with how they are proceeding with the investigation," said Deputy Attorney General Young. "It's not a case where nobody's doing anything. A governmental entity has taken charge, and there is no reason for multiple agencies to investigate."
Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei, a nonprofit group formed for the protection and care of burial sites, announced on Wednesday that its private investigator had found evidence of the burglary. Last November, the group reburied objects at Kanupa after the hui and three other Hawaiian organizations had followed provisions of a federal "repatriation" law to regain title to the objects.
"They (federal agents) haven't contacted us or updated us on the investigation," said Eddie Halealoha Ayau, a member of the hui. "We're in the dark, and that's why we had to bring in our own investigator."
Federal agents involved in the investigation declined comment yesterday.
Lance Foster, native rights director for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and a witness to the reburial, said OHA is still waiting for facts of the investigation to come out before commenting fully on the break-in.
In November, he said, he watched Hui Malama crew members pry boulders from within the Kanupa opening to collapse the cave and then pile on more boulders to obscure the opening and make the area appear indistinguishable from the arid surroundings at Kanupa.
The state land surrounding Kanupa is leased to Ponoholo Ranch. Pono Von Holt, ranch manager, said he gave the private investigator access to the property. He added, however, that federal agents who had been guarding the area previously had not sought permission, perhaps because the land is publicly owned.
Although Hui Malama handled the reburial, it is only one of four organizations given title to the burial objects of Kanupa almost a century after they had been removed by the J.S. Emerson expedition and later transferred to collections at the Bishop Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.
Under a federal repatriation law, title to the Bishop objects went jointly to Hui Malama, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Hawai'i Island Burial Council; the Peabody Essex collection went to the hui, OHA and the Hawaiian sovereignty organization Ka Lahui Hawai'i.
Bishop Museum officials declined to comment on the break-in. But John Grimes, a deputy director at Peabody Essex, said the break-in indicates "an utter disrespect on the part of unscrupulous individuals for the sanctity of human remains and objects."
He also conveyed "our condolences to Hui Malama and other Native Hawaiian organizations that have worked to rectify the abuses of the past."
Reach Vicki Viotti at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8053.
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