HONOLULU (AP) - The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation is reaching out to Native Hawaiians whose ancestors may be buried along a proposed rail line from the west side of Oahu to downtown.
HART held the first in a series of meetings Thursday to discuss recent discoveries of bones, or iwi kupuna, in the city center area and along Nimitz Highway, according to Hawaii News Now.
Transportation officials are encouraging possible descendant families to file claims and register with the State Historic Preservation Division to have a say in what happens to iwi kupuna that are found.
"It becomes much easier and far more valuable to you as someone coming forward to speak up on behalf of iwi, to say that 'this is my claim,' " said Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, chair of the Oahu Island Burial Council. "If you get your papers and your documents submitted, if you would like recognition as soon as the next meeting comes along, then we can address and serve your needs."
HART has recently sped up the digging of trenches to satisfy a state Supreme Court ruling to complete the archaeological process before any rail construction can resume.
"We had a plan and a schedule that had us completing all the trenching work around the end of February. But it now looks like with the acceleration, we're going to be able to wrap this up, the trenching activity, by the end of the year," said HART CEO Dan Grabauskas.
Grabauskas has said that utilities and pillars for the $5 billion elevated rail line could still be moved to protect the bones, according to Hawaii News Now.
Hawaii has a stringent state law protecting graves. The 1990 law prohibits removing, destroying or altering any burial sites except as permitted by the state and local burial councils. If a construction project encounters bones, the work must stop in the immediate area and authorities must be notified.
It's important in Hawaiian culture to leave bones undisturbed because of the belief that people infuse their life force into the ground once they are buried. Since this process isn't finished until the bones have dissolved, digging them up interrupts a person's journey in the afterlife.