Kawaiaha'o Church asks that lawsuit be dropped


POSTED: Saturday, August 08, 2009

An attorney for Kawaiaha'o Church has filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Abigail Kawananakoa for disturbing the remains of her ancestors, the family of Queen Kapiolani.

Kawananakoa, 83, filed suit against the church in state Circuit Court last month alleging that it invaded the queen's burial plot, disturbing the human remains during construction at the start of this year.

The suit seeks to prevent further harm to remains at the cemetery.

The church is building a new, $17.5 million multipurpose center next door to its sanctuary at the site of the former Likeke Hall.

It is one of the largest undertakings for the historic church since 1940, when Likeke Hall was built, but one that the congregation voted to move forward on after years of deliberation.

Church officials have said they believed that the area under Likeke Hall was clear of human remains, or iwi, since 117 were found and removed when it was built, but later they discovered two sets. Sixty-nine sets have since been reported to the state.

Construction came to a halt in March.

The state Department of Health must issue a disinterment permit before any more work can be done, but even more important is a resolution to the lawsuit.

Leaders of the church said they would prefer to settle the matter, Hawaiian style, outside of the courts.

Kahu Curt Kekuna expressed sadness at Kawananakoa's lawsuit.

“;It's unfortunate that we have to file this motion,”; said Kekuna. “;Since we first became aware of (Abigail) Kekaulike Kawananakoa's concerns, we have tried to meet with her repeatedly, using every channel of communication, including her attorneys. ... All of our efforts thus far have been rebuffed, much to our regret.”;

While admitting that the number of iwi was more than expected, Dawn Chang, a consultant for the church, said it has held eight meetings since 2006 to reach out to descendants of the burials. To date, she said, 150 families have been supportive of the church's redevelopment plans.

The church's motion says the lawsuit should be dismissed in part because the church is already used as a cemetery and is not subject to burial laws relating specifically to prehistoric and historic burial sites.

Also, it says that Kawananakoa has not legally established herself as a lineal descendant of the remains.

Kawananakoa is popularly recognized as the great-grandniece of Queen Kapiolani and King Kalakaua, as well as an heiress to the James Campbell estate.

Frank Pestana, chair of Kawaiaha'o's board of trustees, said the multipurpose center is a step forward in reviving the church's membership, which is at about 300.

It is designed to connect the sanctuary to new offices, classrooms, a kitchen and a gathering space for the youth ministry. It also would help in growing the church.

“;We have taken care of the past,”; said Pestana. “;The multipurpose center is to create a place for future generations and to continue ministry of the church.”;

Originally, the church had envisioned a three-story center with underground parking. But that was pared to two stories without the parking.

The 1820s church, built of coral and designated as a national historic landmark, sits on about seven acres and includes a small wedding center, two schools, a lawn cemetery and the tomb of King Lunalilo.

In her suit, Kawananakoa alleges that the church knew or should have known it would disturb human remains in the cemetery.

The state agencies in charge also should have required an archaeological inventory survey—a complete study of all possible burials and their location—before starting construction, says the suit. But they did not do so, allegedly to avoid the scrutiny of the Oahu Island Burial Council.

An environmental assessment also should have been completed, says the suit.

The church says since its redesign, the state Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) informed it that a survey was not necessary and that a monitoring plan was enough.

SHPD provided Kawaiaha'o with a five-phase process, and the church complied, according to Chang.

“;Whatever they required us to do, we complied, and that's what we will continue to do,”; she said.

The church even had its own Na Iwi committee that established protocols on how the remains should be handled. Since January the church has been providing the council with updates.

Kekuna said while the church is open to meeting with Kawananakoa, it is also committed to fulfilling its mission by finishing the center.


Kawaiaha'o Church construction time line

» 2002: Planning for the center begins.

» September 2006: State says monitoring plan is OK.

» November 2007: Demolition of Likeke Hall/office building.

» January 2009: Construction begins.

» March 2009: Construction halted after 69 sets of iwi found.

» July 15, 2009: Abigail Kawananakoa files suit.

» Aug. 4, 2009: Kawaiaha'o Church files motion to dismiss Kawananakoa's suit.

» Spring 2010: Target completion date for the center.