Wal-Mart absolved
in bones lawsuit

A circuit judge this week dismissed claims against Wal-Mart for allegedly desecrating human remains during the recent construction of its complex on Keeaumoku Street.

Judge Victoria Marks ruled Monday that Paulette Kaleikini, who claims a cultural tie with ancestors buried at the site, and Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei, an organization that cares for the reburial of native Hawaiian remains, have no right to pursue their monetary claims against the retail giant.

Marks ruled that under state law, the two cannot pursue desecration claims because they have no property interest in the land on which the ancestral bones were found. She said the two cannot seek other claims because the state, rather than Wal-Mart, has custody of the bones.

Marks also ruled the two could not pursue claims alleging infliction of emotional distress for negligently handling of the remains because they could not prove a direct blood tie.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Cynthia Lin was pleased with the decision. She said, "Wal-Mart has made every effort to follow the state's direction, and we remain committed to doing so."

Lin said, "We all recognize that this has been a difficult process for all parties involved, but we do hope that the iwi (bones) will have a final place of rest."

Moses Haia, one of the attorneys representing Kaleikini, was disappointed with the ruling.

Haia said that they will seek existing claims against the state and city governments.

Trial is scheduled for July 18.

Haia said, "Ultimately, we want to make sure a Wal-Mart never happens again," in which bones are desecrated and the city and state do nothing.

Haia said Kaleikini may appeal Marks' ruling on the emotional distress claim.

About 44 sets of bones were found on the Wal-Mart site after construction began in December 2002.

There are lingering questions about the ancestry of the bones. While some groups claim they are the bones of native Hawaiians, there is historic evidence that suggests they were multi-ethnic victims of a smallpox epidemic in 1853. Historic records indicate a hospital operated on the site, and the practice at the time was to quickly bury smallpox victims to contain the disease.

In May 2003, Kaleikini and others visited the construction site and claim they saw the bones exposed to the sun in a trench littered with garbage that lay near portable toilets. Kaleikini claims to have seen a stray cat grab a bone.

The suit alleges that officials with Wal-Mart, the state's Historic Preservation Division and the city violated state laws that protect human remains and grave sites.

In a separate action, the attorney general is investigating claims the remains were desecrated when archaeologists glued remains and marked them with permanent markers.

Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei

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