Protectors of ancestral remains rail against planned expansion of Maui luxury resort

Tensions surrounding a luxury hotel on Maui are rising.
Published: Apr. 3, 2023 at 6:57 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 3, 2023 at 9:11 PM HST
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WAILEA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tensions surrounding the planned expansion of a luxury hotel on Maui are rising.

The Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, has been wanting to expand for years. But protectors of ancestral bones, or iwi kupuna, say enough already.

“I feel I was really called to do this. Like I was tapped on the shoulder and said, ‘come and help,’” said Clare Apana, head of Malama Kakanilua.

Apana, along with Hooponopono o Makena president Ashford Kaleolani DeLima, are committed to protecting iwi kupuna on Maui.

DeLima’s ancestors are from South Maui, where the Grand Wailea is located.

“You feel this wind? This wind is gentle. That’s because my kupuna knows that I’m here speaking about them and trying to tell the truth,” DeLima said.

DeLima, Apana and others say the Grand Wailea was built on sacred burial grounds.

They are against the resort’s plan for expansion and renovations.

“This is one of the areas where you find concentrations of burials. You don’t find this on any other property. You may find burials … but you don’t find burials in the concentrations that are on this property,” Apana said.

The Grand Wailea wants to add 137 guest rooms, enhance its landscaping, pool amenities and restaurant facilities and improve its infrastructure.

Maui Planning Department recommended approving the project with conditions in 2019.

But last month, a Maui Planning Commission’s appointed hearing officer recommended that the Grand Wailea’s permits be denied until they can make “adjustments in the areas of traditional and customary native Hawaiian practices, traffic and water.”

The permits are needed to complete the expansion.

The resort says the project scope was reduced by nearly 40% to reflect community feedback and avoid ground disturbance in areas of archaeological or cultural sensitivity.

“The hearing officer’s report was a welcome confirmation of Grand Wailea’s enhancement plans and commitment to being a good steward,” said William Meheula, counsel for the resort.

“We agree with almost all of the recommendations, including that the project’s archaeological inventory surveys and monitoring plans that were approved by the state met the legal requirements, and have submitted a response largely supporting the report and demonstrating the project has satisfied the necessary conditions to proceed if approved by the Maui Planning Commission.”

The hotel says its commitment to giving back is reflected in the more than $5 million donated to nonprofits over the last seven years.

The resort’s managing director added that the hotel employs more than 1,200 people, and that the expansion will create hundreds more jobs.

Apana and DeLima said all they want is respect.

“The right thing to do is malama the iwi,” DeLima said. “Show respect and not only make money.”

“Stop any more ground disturbance in this sacred ground,” said Apana.

“Do a comprehensive, complete recording and reporting of all burials who have been disturbed … the burials that are on this property need to have some sense of peace.

The Planning Commission will schedule this matter for a hearing.

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