wants U.S. to intervene
The attorney general is askedBy Susan Kreifels
to investigate the 'destruction' of
religious shrines by developers
A native Hawaiian group has asked the U.S. attorney general to investigate what it calls "wanton religious destruction" of religious shrines by commercial developers.
The Hawaii Ecumenical Coalition said it was time for the Department of Justice to look at hate crimes against native Hawaiian religion. "For generations many religious shrines, the burial places of our ancestors, have not only been vandalized but have been destroyed by developers with little or no attention given by the U.S. Department of Justice," the letter said.
"For kanaka maoli (native Hawaiians), the destruction of our ancient religious sites, many of which are still utilized by practitioners of Hawaiian religion as it existed prior to Western contact, is as offensive and criminal as the racist burning black churches on the U.S. continent," the letter said.
The Rev. Kaleo Patterson, who wrote the letter, said he is not optimistic that his request to the Justice Department will go far, but he sees a bigger purpose. "The real issue of religious persecution is that we haven't looked at it in a serious way. Hawaii is not even willing to ask about hate crimes. I want the community to think about it in a different way."
Patterson asked the Justice Department to investigate under the Hate Crimes Statistics Act and the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996.
Development of the 1,400-slip Ewa Marina just west of Oneula Beach Park triggered the letter. The coalition believes many native Hawaiian religious sites have been bulldozed in the development and more will be destroyed. Patterson also asked the state attorney general to investigate.
The state Supreme Court recently ordered the Board of Land and Natural Resources to look at Hawaiian rights and practices before granting a conservation district use permit for the marina.
Developer Haseko Inc. has set aside six sites totaling nearly 20 acres of native Hawaiian cultural areas holding "typical kinds of habitational structures," said Haseko spokeswoman Vicki Gaynor. The preserved areas will be open to the public with interpretation of the sites.
Over the past decade, Haseko has held numerous public hearings on the development and worked with the state Historic Preservation Division on archaeological surveys.
Patterson has sent letters and photos of what his group believes to be ancient religious sites, but the Historic Preservation office has disagreed with the group's findings.
In a February letter, administrator Don Hibbard said the office did not find evidence of religious features or disturbed burial sties, but rather "nonreligious architecture." He said officials are open to reviewing new information.
Gaynor said Haseko talked with native Hawaiians familiar with the marina area when determining which sites to protect. Hibbard's office has a History and Culture branch of native Hawaiians who review such reports if there are cultural concerns.
Eric Yamamoto, a professor of law at the University of Hawaii and an expert on racial justice, said the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was created amid more awareness of hate crimes. Yamamoto said any indication of hate crimes "would trigger at least a minimum investigation" for reporting purposes. The act, however, does not require government action.
"Considering past history and that so many Hawaiian religious sites have been lost, it strikes me that it's worth a second look and investigation, not necessarily to say a crime has been committed," Yamamoto said about Patterson's request.