Friday, December 31, 2004

State criticized
over burial councils

The state's "disorderly" process of naming candidates to island burial councils needs an overhaul to decrease the number of interim appointments and make participation criteria clear, says a state audit released yesterday.

The audit also criticized the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' burial sites program, saying it is understaffed and has hundreds of cases that need to be closed.

The burial councils advise DLNR on unmarked burial sites -- including native Hawaiian iwi (bones) and funerary objects -- that are more than 50 years old. Earlier this year, the Legislature requested an audit to determine whether "questionable administrative practices" involving council appointments amount to deviation from the state's historic-preservation law.

The audit found DLNR did submit a timely list of candidates to Gov. Linda Lingle in December 2002. But she returned it in April 2003, asking for more than two candidates for each seat so she could have a choice on each appointment. The department did not provide a revised list of 2003 candidates until Jan. 20, 2004.

The audit also charged DLNR has shirked its responsibility as an "administrator" of the burial councils program. "The department has failed to satisfy its statutory responsibility to maintain a current inventory of native Hawaiian burial sites and fallen behind in its workload supporting the councils," the audit says.

In a statement yesterday, DLNR Chairman Peter Young said the audit's "findings and each recommendation will be given serious consideration."

"We were already aware of many of the issues that were raised in the audit, that went beyond burial councils nominations, and the division was already addressing many of these issues prior to the audit," Young said.

The audit criticized the state's historic-preservation law for citing the nonprofit Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei as an example of an "appropriate organization" that reburies remains and sacred items. "It infers authority and places an official imprimatur on the organization's behavior and practices," the audit said.

The auditor's office recommended DLNR seek an amendment to remove Hui Malama from the historic-preservation law. Other reburial organizations accuse Hui Malama of "imposing its own burial protocol on others, despite the fact that Hawaiian burial practices vary from island to island, region to region, and even within families," the audit said.

Edward Ayau, spokesman for Hui Malama, said the group is responsible for the reburial of hundreds of iwi, and the audit should focus "on the work itself, not who does it."

"I'm not sure these are informed opinions," he said, referring to other organizations that have raised concerns about Hui Malama. "If Hui Malama hadn't done what it did, these iwi would still be there. ... I believe our ancestors are thankful for our work."

The audit recommends DLNR meet with native Hawaiian groups and community members to agree on protocols for "reflecting Hawaiian oral traditions" related to burial practices. The protocols would provide the basis for criteria to qualify candidates for seats on burial councils.

The audit is posted at www.state.hi.us/auditor

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