In historic decision, more than 600 iwi to be reburied at Kawaiahao Church

Nearly 600 ancestral bones were unearthed during a construction project at Kawaiahao Church.
Published: Jun. 8, 2022 at 5:34 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 8, 2022 at 10:38 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a historic decision, more than 600 iwi — or ancestral bones — unearthed during a construction project at Kawaiahao Church will be reburied on church grounds.

On Wednesday, the Oahu Burial Council made the decision to approve the burial treatment plan.

Under the plan, the iwi will be reburied about 10 feet from where they were discovered.

“It’s been moved by that the joint burial treatment plan has been accepted by the Oahu Island Burial Council,” said Kamanao Mills, Oahu Island Burial Council chair.

Clapping and tears flowed after the decision, which came after years of pain, controversy and legal limbo in one of the largest discoveries of iwi in state history.

“These kupuna have been waiting for a long time to be reburied,” said descendant Kalehua Kamohaliʽi Caceres. “It’s the utmost importance for the healing of the kupuna, but that also has resounding effects for the living descendants,” she added.

“It’s our people becoming pono again. It’s about rectifying the travesty that happened. It’s about releasing all of the eha, the wrongs and loving each other,” said Kahu Kenneth Makuakane, of Kawaiahao Church.

Construction started in 2006 and a massive pit had been left when the remains were discovered. The iwi are currently being stored beneath the church.

“The kupuna are going to be put back. The pit is going to be back filled and restored to its original condition,” said descendant Edward Halealoha Ayau.

Kawaiahao Church had abandoned its plan to build a multi-purpose center.

There are 84 recognized descendants still living. Others passed away waiting for a resolution. The majority agreed with the burial treatment plan along with the church.

“We have gotten to this point because our beautiful descendants began to trust us again,” said Makuakane.

Church leaders are hopeful the decision leads to resolution on several lawsuits.

Once the State Historic Preservation Division approves the plan, which is likely, Kawaiahao Church will apply for a permit and hopes to have the iwi reburied this fall.

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