Burial councils have staffing problems

The Maui News
Friday, February 18, 2005

Staff Writer

WAILUKU – Responding to a state audit that was critical of the Hawaii Burial Councils Program, agency leaders from Honolulu met with concerned Maui residents Wednesday night to discuss ways to improve the way things are done.

Melanie Chinen, who recently became administrator of the State Historic Preservation Division, promised that a clerical staff position on Oahu has been rerouted to Maui as a cultural historian who will handle such things as minutes of meetings and burial registrations that used to be done in Honolulu. Chinen said she's also committed to improving coordination among employees and catching up on the backlog of work.

Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., chairman of the Maui/Lanai Islands Burial Council, was pleased to hear of the new direction. While the purpose of the meeting was billed as getting input on what qualifications burial council members should have, Maxwell felt the real issue was in the bureaucracy.

"I think the audit focused on the wrong thing," said Maxwell. "I think the problem is the inadequacy of DLNR (state Department of Land and Natural Resources) to take care of the cases before them. The problem isn't new members."

Maxwell and Dana Naone Hall, the Maui council vice chairwoman, said that council members need to be qualified in the preservation and care of the bones of the ancestors.

"No matter if they represent developers or regional districts, they have to have the understanding," said Maxwell. "When some people don't have the knowledge and they speak, it doesn't help."

The 14 people in attendance also felt that a regional representative didn't necessarily need to live in that district. For instance, Hall lives in the Makawao region, but represents Wailuku. Because of her experience with sand dune burials and other features unique to Central Maui, everyone agreed that she was well-qualified. Maui has four regions: Lahaina, Wailuku, Makawao and Hana. Lanai comprises its own region.

Hall also emphasized that rules should make clear that burial council members must live on the island where they serve. Off-island residents would be welcome to attend meetings or testify on burial matters, but not be a voting member of the council.

Since the establishment of the island burial councils in 1990 following the outrage of Hawaiians over the massive excavation of bones at Honokahua for a hotel at Kapalua Hall said much has been improved in public awareness and respect of ancient graves.

"Even though there are problems, this law has enabled us to protect literally hundreds of burial sites on Maui alone," she said. "The awareness with regard to unmarked burials has expanded tremendously, particularly government awareness of the possibility of encountering Native Hawaiian burials.

"As a result, the county, state, burial councils and the Native Hawaiian community have been able to protect far more burials" than before the law creating the councils was enacted.

Chinen said the State Historic Preservation Division must get a list of names by March 7 and then forward recommendations to Gov. Linda Lingle by the middle of March. From there, Lingle will send her nominees to the state Senate for confirmation. Representatives of large landowners as well as members of the community are chosen.

Councils can have between nine and 15 members, but usually have closer to the lower number. Chinen said she would like to change that and increase the numbers, but acknowledged that word needs to get out.

Kalei Tsuha of the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission, agreed.

"We need to tell people what's involved," said Tsuha. "There's only 14 people in this room, which tells me there's a lot of people out there who don't know what's going on. Something's not happening."

Chinen said her office is determined to get the word out via fliers to Native Hawaiian organizations, ads and through the burial council Web site: www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/hpd/councils.htm. Once appointed, training sessions will be arranged so council members know their duties. In the future, orientation sessions will be held for new appointees.

Hearing the frustration from those in attendance, Chinen asked for patience as the agency tries to get its house in order. She said everyone was taking on extra work to catch up. With minutes of council meetings more than a year behind, she said all staffers had been assigned to type up one set of minutes each, including herself.

Valerie Monson can be reached at vmonson@mauinews.com.

Copyright © 2004 The Maui News

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