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Comments heard on Mauna Kea burials

By PETER SUR

Tribune-Herald staff writer

The Mauna Kea Management Board heard from the public on the stacking of rocks and the treatment of Hawaiian burials on Mauna Kea.

The plans were presented on an informational basis only, and the board, which met Tuesday in Hilo, did not take a vote. But they heard impassioned comments by Hawaiians, including a member of the Hawaii Island Burial Council who said that “this whole mountain is a burial ground.”

Edwin Miranda, the burial council member, commended the plan that the Office of Mauna Kea Management presented to the council in June, calling it a good draft.

“Our true agenda is only the protection of the iwi,” Miranda said, using the Hawaiian word for the bones of ancient Hawaiians known and presumed to be buried on Mauna Kea. “Main thing, the protection of the iwi is done.”

OMKM, under the direction of Director Stephanie Nagata, is charged with implementing the recommendations of the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan. One of the subplans of this document calls for the development of a burial treatment plan for areas managed by the University of Hawaii.

There are a number of known burial sites on Mauna Kea, most of them in remote places, and OMKM generally opposes making their locations known because of the extreme cultural sensitivity and sanctity associated with Hawaiian burials.

“You got to have that respect before you step on the land,” Miranda said. “You got to ask permission of all the spirits on the site.”

The draft plan is being developed with input of the State Historical Preservation Division and Miranda’s burial council, which is meeting Thursday in Kona to discuss the latest version of the burial treatment plan.

The details of the plan have not been publicly released, but it’s anticipated that at some point a consultant will take it to members of the Hawaiian community around the island. Nagata said her office is seeking permission to cover up any bones that have been exposed to the elements by erosion.

OMKM will also be seeking lineal and cultural descendants who are certified by the Hawaii Island Burial Council to take care of the remains.

Hanalei Fergerstrom echoed one of Miranda’s concerns.

“That mountain is full of bodies, full of graves,” he said.

The board also heard information on the stacking of rocks and OMKM’s intention to prevent “copycat” rock piles made by tourists from overshadowing ahu, or stone cairns that mark culturally significant sites.

There will be restrictions on bringing rocks from lower elevations and restrictions on seed-bearing plants to Mauna Kea, among other things.

That sparked a discussion from some of the 15 members of the audience about what is culturally appropriate on the mountain.

Tom Chun, a physics and astronomy teacher, asked for uniform enforcement of the policy.

Pua Case, a petitioner in the Thirty Meter Telescope contested case hearing, asked why the University of Hawaii was concerning itself with the stacking of rocks when it’s proposing to build the 180-foot high TMT.

“If I feel an ahu needs to be made up there because I feel the mana, and the mountain is letting me to, I will build an ahu,” Case said.

That prompted MKMB chairman Barry Taniguchi to ask Case how she would feel if a “tourist from Minnesota” felt moved to build a rock pile.

“If Poliahu and Mo‘oinanea (a legendary snow goddess and her guardian) told them to, it’s OK with me,” Case said.

Fergerstrom reminded the board that “there are times when ocean rocks need to go up to the mountain.”

The management plan will likely be amended several more times before it goes out to the public for review.

In other business, the board approved Shane Akoni Palacat-Nelsen, president of the Kuakini Hawaiian Civic Club of Kona, as the newest member of the cultural advisory group Kahu Ku Mauna.

They also approved a geotechnical study of the TMT site using ground-penetrating radar and seismic waves.

Members of the Mauna Kea Management Board are Christian Veillet, Ron Terry, Gregory Mooers, Taniguchi, Lisa Hadway, Patricia Bergin and Herring Kalua.

Email Peter Sur at psur@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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