A Native Hawaiian plaintiff known for high-profile litigation protecting Native Hawaiian burial sites has filed a lawsuit asking a state court to stop construction at a Waikiki hotel where bones have been discovered.

The suit, filed by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. on behalf of Paulette Kaleikini, alleges the Pacific Beach Hotel and state and city officials have failed to follow state law governing burial sites.

In traditional Hawaiian culture, human bones are known as iwi or iwi kupuna. The iwi are considered the repository of a person’s spiritual power, or mana. State law protects native burial sites where iwi are located in part by setting up a framework for identifying burial sites and determining what to do if iwi are found.

The law, in part, is designed to make sure that burial sites are identified before the sites are subjected to harm during construction or development projects. The law also sets up a process to follow if iwi are discovered after construction has started.

The Pacific Beach Hotel in the heart of Waikiki Beach and several public agencies are being sued after the discovery of a Native Hawaiian burial site during construction work.

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The suit alleges that the Department of Land and Natural Resources and its State Historic Preservation Division and the Oahu Island Burial Council have not administered the law properly. It asks the court to stop further work until an adequate archaeological survey is commenced and the department and island burial council fulfills its duties under the law.

Named as defendants are the state Department of Land and Natural Resources; the Board of Land and Natural Resources; DLNR’s Historic Preservation Division; the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting; trustees of the Liliuokalani Trust, which owns the property on which the hotel is located; and the operator of the two-tower, 839-room property on Kalakaua Avenue across from Waikiki Beach.

A spokeswoman for DLNR declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the City and County of Honolulu. The person working on the matter for Liliuokalani Trust was not available to comment. The Pacific Beach Hotel referred questions to a spokeswoman, who did not return calls.

Specifically, the suit says that an archaeological monitoring plan produced for the hotel in 2014 showed “the presence of significant archaeological sites and human burials beneath the modern infrastructure and pavement of asphalt and concrete.” The plan concluded that “the potential of unearthing human remains is very high,” the suit says.

The Pacific Beach Hotel is located on land owned by the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, which is named as a defendant in the suit.

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When the hotel operator sought to do work on the property in 2016, the historic preservation division asked the hotel operator to prepare an archaeological inventory survey as a condition of receiving its building permit from the city. But, the suit said, after the historic preservation division met with the hotel operator, the division reversed its decision on the condition that an archaeologist be on site to monitor the project.

On or about April 22, 2017, the complaint says, two unidentified human burials were uncovered at the project site during excavation of an elevator shaft when no archaeologist was on site, contrary to the monitoring plan.

“Defendants’ improper and incomplete historic review process and failure to follow conditions of the existing monitoring plan has caused irreparable injury to burial sites and other historic sites and threatens to cause harm to other sites likely to be encountered in the project area,” the suit says.

Kaleikini, the suit’s plaintiff, asserts standing as a “descendant of Hawaii’s aboriginal people, who, prior to 1778, occupied and exercised sovereignty in what is now the state of Hawaii.”

According to the suit, Kaleikini has been recognized by the Oahu Island Burial Council as a cultural descendant of the iwi kupuna found on the Pacific Beach Hotel property and has a cultural obligation to protect the iwi. As such, the suit says, Kaleikini will be irreparably harmed if the project is allowed to continue.

Construction fence outside the Pacific Beach Hotel in Waikiki.

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Kaleikini “is very concerned that more kūpuna will be impacted should the project continue without a proper survey,” the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. said in a statement. The firm said it “is hopeful that the parties can reach a resolution quickly to avoid further unauthorized disturbance and desecration of iwi kūpuna.”

The Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. previously represented Kaleikini in a successful suit against the City and County of Honolulu and the state challenging approval of the Honolulu rail project corridor. The suit said the project should be stopped until an archaeological survey could be conducted. The state Supreme Court issued its decision in Kaleikini’s favor in August 2012.

 

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