Hawaiian Woman Sues Church, State Over Desecrated Graves

A descendant of a Hawaiian queen has sued the state and a historic Honolulu church after construction unearthed dozens of human remains.

Abigail Kawananakoa alleges Kawaiahao Church, with the help of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, circumvented state burial laws to fast-track the construction of a $17.5 million, 30,000-square-foot multipurpose center.

Construction was halted in March after workers came upon 69 graves. The discovery was one of the largest on Oahu.

Kawananakoa — whose ancestors, including Queen Kapiolani, are among those buried there — filed her lawsuit Wednesday.

"I must take this to court because I cannot allow the desecration of Hawaiian graves to continue," Kawananakoa said in an e-mail to The Honolulu Advertiser.

The church denied the allegations, saying it "scrupulously followed" state laws. State officials declined to comment, saying they had not yet reviewed the lawsuit.

George Van Buren, an attorney for Kawananakoa, said the lawsuit asks the court to make sure the law is being followed.

The lawsuit alleged the church and state officials should have known human remains would be unearthed because the property had once been a cemetery.

Van Buren said they disregarded the advice of the church's archaeological consultants, who had recommended in 2005 that a subsurface archaeological study be conducted for remains before building.

However, Dawn Chang, a cultural consultant for the church, said in May that the recommendation wasn't applicable any more because it contemplated a large underground parking lot. The project has since been scaled back significantly and includes no parking lot, she said.

The church anticipated unearthing remains but not in such great numbers, she had added.

"I don't think anybody today is going to say we didn't expect to find bones," Chang said. "We just didn't expect to find this many."