Settlement reached
in Wal-Mart burial site

The city and state will extend
precautions on digging to sites
across central Honolulu

A tentative settlement has been reached in the suit filed against Wal-Mart and the state and city governments for allegedly desecrating human remains during the construction of the shopping complex on Keeaumoku Street.

The original suit, filed in May 2003 against the state Historic Preservation Commission, the city and Wal-Mart, alleged the three violated state laws that protect human remains and grave sites.

Under the settlement, the state and city now will take precautions for finding human remains in areas that are designated "previously discovered," or areas where construction has previously occurred and based on that experience it is believed bones are not located.

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

The Wal-Mart site has been the scene of several projects, and it was believed that no bones would be found. In areas where development has not been conducted, extra precautions such as extensive surveys are performed to check for bones, and there are strict procedures to follow once bones are located.

These procedures were not followed in the Wal-Mart case, in part because the construction site was deemed "previously discovered" land.

The agreement covers the heart of Honolulu, from the H-1 freeway to the ocean and River Street to Kapahulu Avenue.

There are lingering questions about the ancestry of the bones. While some groups claim they are the bones of native Hawaiians, historic evidence suggests they were multiethnic victims buried quickly to helped confine a major smallpox epidemic in 1853.

The settlement pre-empts a trial scheduled for this week on the lawsuit filed against the state by Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei, a group that oversees the handling of native Hawaiian remains, and Paulette Kaleikini, who claims a cultural tie with ancestors buried at the site.

Kaleikini and others claim to have visited the construction site in May 2003 and witnessed bones exposed to the sun, which is against cultural practices. She said the bones lay in a trench littered with garbage that was located near portable toilets. She said she even saw a cat grab a bone.

Claims arising over bones found in previously discovered areas, as in the Wal-Mart suit, come under the jurisdiction of the Island Burial Councils. Claims arising over "inadvertent" findings at previously undeveloped areas come under the state Historic Preservation Division.

Moses Haia III, an attorney representing Kaleikini and Hui Malama, could not be reached for comment.

The settlement must still be approved in writing by all parties.

In May, Circuit Judge Victoria Marks ruled that Kaleikini and Hui Malama have no right to pursue their monetary claims against Wal-Mart because they have no property interest in the land on which the ancestral bones were found. That decision is pending appeal.

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