Wal-Mart archaeologist to fight claim he desecrated remains
A Honolulu archaeologist who oversaw the construction site of the Keeaumoku Street Wal-Mart complex vowed to fight allegations that he violated state laws regarding burials and desecrated human remains.
The state Historic Preservation Commission has recommended $210,000 in fines, the highest possible under law, against Akihiko Sinoto, of Aki Sinoto Consulting, and other archaeologists involved in the Wal-Mart site for allegedly failing to notify "proper authorities" in a timely fashion when a burial site was inadvertently found during construction that began in 2003.
Sinoto said yesterday that he and the other archaeologists "intend to vigorously defend ourselves" in a state administrative process that could begin next month. The other archaeologists, who worked with him or were subcontracted by him, are Paul Tichenal and L.J. Moana Lee of Honolulu-based International Archaeological Research Institute Inc., and J. Stephen Athens and Rona Ikehara-Quebral of Honolulu.
The commission, which oversees inadvertent discoveries of remains older than 50 years, also alleges that the archaeologists conducted unauthorized physical examination of the remains of children, excessive gluing of skeletal remains and failed to examine human remains "in a respectful manner."
Specifically, the commission report said conduct included "writing on a child's skull with indelible red ink, taping a child's (an infant's) teeth to an index card, using duct tape and modeling clay to hold remains together and writing the words 'Handbag Louis Vuitton' on a paper sack that contained a human hand."
The state noted 21 violations consisting of 17 instances of "unauthorized physical examination of the remains of children and probable native Hawaiians."
Yesterday, the board representing the Department of Land and Natural Resources was scheduled to hear testimony on the case in an administrative proceeding brought by the Historic Preservation Division.
But testimony was deferred after Board of Land and Natural Resources Chairman Peter Young said Sinoto had filed a written request for a contested hearing, a quasi-judicial process to be run by the DLNR. After a closed-door session, Young announced that a hearing officer would be appointed and the matter would be deferred, probably until next month.
"We unequivocally deny allegations made by the state Historic Preservation Division," said Sinoto in a statement, adding that the archaeologists "stand by the professionalism and integrity of our work at the Keeaumoku Wal-Mart site."
Sinoto said that the preservation division "has grossly distorted the facts of the case. Every single charge is without foundation."
Sinoto was hired by the project's general contractor, Dick Pacific Construction.
Paulette Kaleikini, a recognized cultural descendant of the remains at the site, was disappointed that a hearing was not held. "We should have been allowed to give oral testimony today. We took time off from our jobs," she said outside the hearing room yesterday, adding, "The board should have heard what we have to say instead of shutting us down. At this point there is nothing for them to contest."
Moses Haia, an attorney with Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. who represents Kaleikini and Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei, an organization that conducts reburials of native Hawaiian remains, said that while he applauds the Historic Preservation Commission "for taking the position it does in the submittal, I am saddened that these remains are now held hostage by the very process that is meant to prevent their disturbance."
The bones are being held at the site, pending reburial.