MAUNA KEA, Hawaii – A man who brought ancestral remains to Mauna Kea last year during the tense standoff over the Thirty Meter Telescope says he was within his rights to do so.
Palikapu Dedman now faces a firestorm of criticism following published reports detailing his placement of the iwi on an ‘ahu on the mountain.
“Especially as a Hawaiian,” Dedman said recently in Hilo, “I believe that I should be grandfathered in on my rights to practice traditions. The state should uphold article 12 section 7, shall protect my traditional practices… I don’t think I need any permit or any permission.”
The incident happened over a year ago, and although unreported by the media at the time, it caused a lot of tension between factions joined in a fight against the TMT project.
Iwi are held sacred in Hawaiian culture. The treatment of bones is a sensitive subject. State law tries to accord burials protection should they be disturbed by development. “If you discover a burial site: stop activity in the immediate area,” reads the State Historic Preservation website. “Leave remains in place; contact the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Division and your County Police Department. Reporting a burial site disturbance is required by law (Hawai’i Revised Statutes, Chapter 6E) and severe penalties could result when SHPD is not notified of such disturbance.”
Dedman says he went up to the mountain again recently with more iwi. He found the remains he previously placed were gone. He says he filed a complaint.
“I have a right to traditional burials,” Dedman said. “There’s lots of Hawaiians up there that’s been buried. There’s people throughout the United States that’s come on this island and scattered their burial ashes or their family bones… there’s lots on Mauna Kea. All over the state, all over the islands. And nobody needs a permit.”
“I think it is wrong,” said Richard Ha, a farmer and supporter of the TMT project. “My gut reaction was that this is just not right.”
Ha is one of a number of Native Hawaiians that have come out condemning Dedman’s actions. “The general feeling is that people cringe,” Ha said, “then they say, what’s going on?”
“From the point-of-view of dealing with iwi; that’s not something you do,” Ha said. “Would I ever consider digging out my tutu lady Meleana Kamahele’s grave and take her bones somewhere? No way in hell!”
Many of those who were on the mountain last year cited their rights to engage in traditional and customary practices. Dedman said his actions were the same.
“The land being used by UH and then subleased to TMT?” Dedman said. “I don’t think there’s any language saying that native practice is cease and desist with this lease agreement. But I can see now they are scrambling to try to look for some language, or create some language, to stop traditional practice. That’s all.”
“I don’t think I did anything more than my ancestors did for hundreds of years,” continued Dedman. “I’m still doing it. And I feel like we’re supposed to.”
“I know Palikapu,” Richard Ha said, “and he’s passionate and everything like that. That’s all good and fine. But you know, he’s speaking for me. And he doesn’t have the right to speak for me. And that’s just how I feel.”
Many other Hawiians are keeping their opinion to themselves on this sensitive matter. On the same day we interviewed Dedman, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees held a rare meeting in Hilo. Off camera, many said they were confused and uncomfortable with the entire situation.
Meanwhile, others are pressing OHA to take action on Mauna Kea in general. That could include a lawsuit against the state and University of Hawaii over alleged mismanagement of the mountain.
Former trustee Moani Akaka just wants to know what’s going on.
“We only see you folks once a year,” Akaka said. “The least you could do is give us a presentation on what the hell is happening on our sacred mauna.”