A decade after it started, Kawaiahao Church halts controversial construction project

After a decade of controversy, Kawaiahao Church has decided to stop plans to build a multi-purpose center on its property.

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) After a decade of controversy, Kawaiahao Church has decided to stop plans to build a multi-purpose center on its property.

The turmoil over the massive pit next to Kawaiahao Church has had a painful history — with 600 iwi unearthed and 44 bone fragments exposed during recent erosion.

The project to build a multi-purpose center has been mired in protests, lawsuits and government bureaucracy.

But on Wednesday, the church’s new kahu — Kenneth Makuakane — read a letter to the state’s Oahu Island Burial Council.

It says the church’s trustees recommend that the congregation “develop a Burial Treatment Plan” and “at this time, not proceed with the plan for the current Multi-Purpose Center.”

Cultural descendant Kamuela Kalai was at that meeting and has fought the project for years.

"It was really surreal for me because it was like I couldn't believe what I was hearing," said Kalai.

Board of Trustees chairman Brickwood Galuteria told Hawaii News Now they met with the congregation two weeks ago to get the plan approved.

“It’s not about a building. We’ve got iwi that we need to take care of," he said.

He added, “The process will be something everyone will be proud of.”

“This is actually a landmark decision that after perhaps almost 10 years of issues surrounding people feeling left out of the process, people hurt, anguish, pain over the removal of burials,” said Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Oahu Island Burial Council chair.

Some congregation members say they are happy to finally be moving forward.

Heiress Abigail Kawananakoa, who sued the church in 2009 “to stop the desecration,” said in a statement: “It is with a sense of great resolve, that I welcome the recent news, long awaited, that the Board of Trustees of Kawaiahao Church has finally accepted accountability to make the remains of our ancestors a priority.”

In its letter, the church also said it has "matured in its understanding of the complexities involved and it will continue to move forward with the guidance of Ke Akua."

"I think this is a chance for everyone to start to start healing because we do need to heal," said Kalai.

Church leadership won’t say what will happen to the construction site that once held the old Likeke Hall and a date for reburial and exact location is still unknown since there’s many legal requirements and consultation with lineal and cultural descendants.

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