State should regain role
in burial issues


The state auditor has called for the overhaul of the state's process of naming candidates for island burial councils.

PROTECTION of ancient burial sites is the duty of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, but a private organization has claimed much of the responsibility. A state audit blames the improper transfer of responsibility on staff shortages and a "disorderly" process of naming candidates to advisory councils. Changes are needed to assure proper care of the burial sites and sacred items found at those sites.

The impetus for burial protection came from the 1988 unearthing of more than 1,100 human skeletal remains during the construction of the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua Hotel on Maui. Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei, a private organization, was immediately formed. The 1990 Legislature enacted a law creating island burial councils to advise DLNR's newly created Historic Preservation Program on burials sites that are at least 50 years old.

Meanwhile, Congress enacted the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, which authorizes native Hawaiians to repatriate bones and sacred items, returning them to burial sites when appropriate. Hui Malama became the main organization authorized by NAGPRA to do so.

State Auditor Marion Higa notes in her report that the state historic preservation law names Hui Malama "as the only example of an appropriate Hawaiian organization" for reburial of remains and sacred items. She says the group has been "imposing its own burial protocol on others, despite the fact that Hawaiian burial practices vary from island to island, even within families." The audit recommends Hui Malama be removed from the law.

The report notes that Hui Malama's "involvement and practices have been controversial." Some historians disagree with the organization's premise that ancient Hawaiians intended that sacred items be buried alongside their remains. "Caves were simply the safest places for storage of precious goods," maintains Hawaiian historian Herb Kawainui Kane.

A NAGPRA review committee is scheduled to conduct hearings on the dispute in March. Meanwhile, the state should increase its historic program and fill vacancies in island burial councils to regain its intended authority.


Is bankruptcy needed
to assure air rivalry?


Aloha Airlines has joined Hawaiian Airlines in filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

ALOHA Airlines' joining of Hawaiian Airlines in federal bankruptcy could bring to a close a turbulent year for airlines across the country. Aloha's explanation seems to be that the only way to compete with a bankrupt airline is to be subject to the same protection. It is not alone in that perception.

ATA Airlines and United Airlines, both of which compete with the local airlines on mainland routes, joined U.S. Airways in bankruptcy court in recent months, shielding them from their creditors. The agreement by United's parent, UAL Corp., and the pilots union to terminate their pension plan and increase contributions to a separate plan has Delta Airlines looking on with envy.

David Banmiller, Aloha's president and chief executive officer, said he similarly seeks a level flying field with its bankruptcy-protected competitors. "Aloha expects to align its aircraft lease rates and match its expenses to those of competitors who have already benefited from bankruptcy protection," he said.

Banmiller said staff cuts, wage reductions and renegotiated aircraft leases will be needed to compete evenly. No mention was made of the employees' pension plan. He also plans to revamp Aloha's advertising strategy. Banmiller says he expects the airline to leave bankruptcy court "quickly."

Hawaiian had 17 consecutive months of profits after filing for Chapter 11 two years ago and could depart from bankruptcy this month. However, it has recorded three straight months of losses and its bankruptcy restructuring could be prolonged.

Questions are sure to arise about whether Hawaii can continue to sustain two airlines. Although the airlines were near merging three years ago, neither company talks now about going belly-up. If bankruptcy court is the only way to assure continued competition, let them continue to restructure.

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