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Monday, July 26, 2004



State opens inquiry
into bone finds
at Wal-Mart

Work resumes at the Keeaumoku
site after remains were found


Construction at the Wal-Mart complex on Keeaumoku Street is back on track after being halted at sites near where two sets of native Hawaiian remains were unearthed last week, a spokeswoman said.

Wal-Mart representative Cynthia Lin said the store gave its contractors the go-ahead to resume work around the areas over the weekend.

A set of remains unearthed Thursday is still at the construction site, and work has resumed around the find, Lin said. Construction has also started up again at the site of another set of remains that was found and removed July 17.

State Department of Land and Natural Resources spokeswoman Deborah Ward said the July 17 find by an archaeologist working for Wal-Mart contractor Dick Pacific Construction Co. was reported to her agency two days after it was unearthed, an apparent violation of state law that has spurred a criminal and civil investigation by the state attorney general's office.

Ward said the remains were "removed without permission, and the attorney general's investigation is (looking) into possible criminal and civil penalties."

It is too early to determine what the state Historic Preservation Division's "disposition" on the issue will be, she said.

Lin said Wal-Mart officials are also investigating, but she could not provide details during an interview over the weekend.

There have been 44 sets of remains found at the Wal-Mart site since construction began in December 2002, most of which are believed to have been buried after a smallpox epidemic in 1853. But some of the remains might predate the outbreak, as they were buried in a technique sometimes used by ancient Hawaiians, state historic preservation officials have said.

Some activists contend the latest finds at the future Wal-Mart and Sam's Club complex show the need for more archaeological surveying and oversight at the construction area.

Before Wal-Mart began work at the superblock, officials conducted an "archaeological assessment" and determined there to be no remains at the site, Lin said.

But Paulette Kaleikini, a Nanakuli woman who failed earlier this year in a lawsuit to stop Wal-Mart from relocating bones from the site, said the state should be doing more to ensure remains unearthed during construction are properly handled.

"We're hoping that for the duration of the construction that they will put up a cultural monitor there," said Kaleikini, adding that some of the remains include her ancestors.

"It's been very emotionally disturbing for me and for other members of my ohana ... to think that they are disinterring our kupunas," she said. "It's outrageous. Where do they come off, deciding that they're going to uproot our kupunas just for another Wal-Mart store?"

Edward Ayau, who has been working alongside Kaleikini and is a member of native Hawaiian group Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei, said that if Wal-Mart had done a more extensive study of the site before construction began, "they would have discovered the cemetery."

Lin said Wal-Mart officials have been "working very closely with" the Historic Preservation Division and are "committed to doing the right thing."

"From the time that we first discovered these remains, we ... have made every effort to make sure that the remains are treated with care," she said.

DLNR plans to test the area near the sites of the two most recent finds "to try to determine whether any individuals" are nearby, Ward said.

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