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Hawaiian Church Ponders What To Do with 600 Bodies

Court decides state 'violated its own rules' by failing to require archaeological survey during church expansion project.

The historic Kawaiahao Church, locally known as Hawaii's "Westminster Abbey," unintentionally unearthed in August one of the largest native Hawaiian burial sites in state history. Now, though, the church likely will rebury the 600 disinterred bodies after a state court ruled that the church moved forward on its construction project prematurely.

The Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals decided last week that the State Historic Preservation Commission should have required an Archaeological Inventory Survey (AIS), part of Hawaii's historic preservation law. The AIS should have been conducted before Kawaiahao Church was allowed to uncover 69 known sets of Native Hawaiian human remains when it broke ground on construction for its new multi-purpose center in 2010–which may have prevented the church from disinterring 579 additional sets of remains later in the project.

Kawaiahao said all the remains are being stored on the property, but Dana Naone Hall sued the church over its handling of the bodies. The appeals court overturned a lower court's ruling, finding that the church and state both acknowledged the likelihood of uncovering human burial sites in the construction process–justifying that an AIS should have been conducted.

According to Hawaii Civil Beat, "The court ruling raises questions about whether those burials will now have to be reinterred in their original burial sites, where the multipurpose center is supposed to be built, while the church completes an archaeological survey."

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