Delay in reburial of ancestral bones found at Mokuleia causing frustration

WAIALUA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Iwi Kupuna, or ancient Hawaiian skeletal remains, first discovered at Mokuleia Beach last year, are still sitting in a Kapolei storage facility waiting to be reburied.

Alan Downer, the head of DLNR's State Historic Preservation Division, says it's because they haven't located a spot to put them back into the ground.

"We don't have the authority to take a burial and put it wherever we feel is appropriate," said Downer.

According to SHPD, the bones are from a traditional Hawaiian occupational deposit by Camp Erdman.

"Whether it used to be an individual house site or a village, we don't know," said Downer.

Downer says there were two previous reburials at Camp Erdman, one in the early 1990s and one in early 2000, but officials are having trouble identifying their exact locations because there's no documentation.

Disrupting another burial site to reinter the bones found last year is a risk Downer said he's not willing want to take. "In theory, it should've been put on a map," he said.

"I don't believe that's true at all," said Thomas Shirai.

Shirai is a cultural descendant for the Camp Erdman Iwi Kupuna and a former member of the Oahu Island Burial Council.

He believes the state is just making excuses. "How would you feel if that was your own personal family member and they're still in the mortuary and not in a casket ready for reburial?" Shirai said.

In 2007, Shirai said it took two years for the state to return his ancestors bones that were inadvertently removed by a contractor performing work at Dillingham Airfield.

"It was very draining and traumatic," he said.

The DOT apologized to Shirai, but he says the process was a nightmare.

Shirai is afraid of going through it again and just wants the Iwi found near Camp Erdman to go back into the ground instead of sitting on shelves collecting dust.

"Hurry up and get it done," Shirai said. "Get it done."

Downer, however, says it's not that easy. SHPD receives two to three calls a week about Iwi discoveries on Oahu alone.

With a shortage of staff, Downer says it could take months until the Mokuleia bones are reinterred.

"We respond as best we can, but we don't have unlimited resources," said Downer.

Copyright 2017 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.