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Dispute over land ownership arises following construction, protests in West Maui burial site

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    HI (KITV) — Five consecutive days have passed in a non-violent standoff between protesters and a development company in West Maui. Activists are demanding to halt a construction project that they say is desecrating ancient burials.

“It’s like our burials don’t matter,” said Maui resident Noelani Ahia, who is one of dozens at the ongoing protest encampment near the West Maui Land Co. construction site in Halaka’a, Lahaina.

“Nobody else’s burials are being dug up. We wouldn’t go to Punchbowl and start, you know, bringing in Bulldozers.”

The movement has gained momentum, as about a dozen people from other islands have flown to the Valley Isle to stand in solidarity. A handful of peaceful demonstrators were arrested at the site on Tuesday, an emotional moment for family members.
According to Lahaina police, the five protesters climbed into a trench dug for waterlines and refused to leave. Another arrestee, Consuelo Apolo-Gonsalves, claims ownership interest in the lands as a descendant of burials located there.

“How can people arrest people on their own kuleana when they even have paperwork?” Apolo-Gonsalves said.

The activists, who refer to themselves as kia’i or protectors, called the arrests illegal, claiming that West Maui Land Co. is not the rightful owners of the land.

“The county’s real property tax records are not evidence of ownership,” a press release from the group stated.

“West Maui Land has declined to prove its dubious claims of landownership in court and instead has sought to use politicians and their power over the police force, to enforce their unproven claims.”

A statement from West Maui Land Co. to KITV-4 on Saturday states its “ownership and title to the properties in question is undisputed,” and their installation of water irrigations for agricultural properties in the area is “abiding by all state and county laws.”

Kia’i say the company should have considered input from descendants before construction began.

“I’m still waiting, I’m still optimistic about what’s going to happen, but I’m still waiting to have that dialogue,” one of the descendants, Ke’eaumoku Kapu, said.

Representatives from West Maui Land Co. say the water corridor will avoid known cemeteries and burial sites, adding that they they have retained independent archaeologists to follow proper protocol if they encounter undocumented remains.

While the company plans to move forward with construction, the kia’i say they will not leave until it is stopped.

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