UH Hilo alumna helps organize collaborative report on protecting ancestral sites

Kelley Lehuakeaopuna Uyeoka helped gather and organize a large hui of cultural and scientific experts to develop new strategies in safeguarding Hawaiʻi’s cultural sites and practices. The newly published Kaliʻuokapaʻakai Collective Report is now released to the public.

Photo of large group of people gathered for photo. Banner: Kaliʻuokapaʻakai Collective, re-invisioning Wahi Kupuna Stewardship in Hawaii.
UH kumu and alumni make up a big portion of the report’s collaborators that crafted strategies at the 2019 Think Tank. Courtesy photo.

By Susan Enright.

An anthropology alumna from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo helped gather and organize a large hui of cultural and scientific experts to develop new strategies in safeguarding Hawaiʻi’s cultural sites and practices. The collective knowledge is now published in a new collaborative report aimed at revamping the protection of wahi kūpuna or ancestral sites across Hawaiʻi.

Kelley Lehuakeaopuna Uyeoka holding baby.
Kelley Lehuakeaopuna Uyeoka

“For decades we have witnessed wahi kūpuna, wahi pana (storied or legendary places) and iwi kūpuna (ancestral remains) impacted and destroyed at an alarming rate,” says UH Hilo and UH Mānoa alumna Kelley Lehuakeaopuna Uyeoka.

Uyeoka is a founder and executive director of Huliauapaʻa, a non-profit organization that currently serves as the backbone organization for the Kali‘uokapaʻakai Collective. In 2019, she helped organize a wahi kūpuna stewardship think tank through Huliauapaʻa, which led to the collective report.

The newly published Kaliʻuokapaʻakai Collective Report is the work of kumu (teachers) from UH Mānoa, UH Hilo, and UH West Oʻahu, from a wide variety of disciplines ranging from anthropology, Hawaiian and American studies, and marine and natural resource management, who participated in developing new strategies to safeguard Hawaiʻi cultural sites and practices.

“Even today, the news is filled with stories on development projects destroying our sacred places and the bones of our ancestors,” says Uyeoka. “Wahi kūpuna are ancestral spaces and places where we maintain relationships to the past, fostering our identity and well-being in the present.”

Uyeoka graduated from Kamehameha Schools, Kapālama, then received her bachelor of arts in anthropology with a focus on cultural anthropology and Pacific island studies from UH Hilo. In 2009, she received her master’s in applied archaeology and a graduate certificate in historic preservation from UH Mānoa.

In addition to Huliauapa‘a, she is also a founding partner of Nohopapa Hawai‘i, LLC, a cultural resource management social enterprise. Nohopapa provides a wide range of Hawaiian cultural resource management services to assist agencies, private land owners, and communities in protecting and restoring important wahi kūpuna in order to re-establish loina kūpuna (cultural traditions).

Kaliʻuokapaʻakai Collective Report

UH System News reports that collaborators of the Kaliʻuokapaʻakai Collective Report are encouraging the public to read the document to understand what can be done to expand the protection of ancestral sites.

On August 17, an endorsement campaign was launched to encourage people to support the Kali‘uokapa‘akai Collective’s vision of empowering communities, professionals and agencies to work collaboratively to protect, restore, reinvigorate and appropriately steward Hawai‘i’s wahi kūpuna.

In April 2019, more than 100 participants from UH and across 15 different sectors attended the two-day Think Tank to discuss a range of challenges, opportunities, and solutions for wahi kūpuna stewardship. Real-time data was compiled through topic area panels, facilitated breakout discussions and live surveys. Participants shared, documented, evaluated and prioritized existing and new information, knowledge and practices. Potential strategies proposed at the event were compiled and published in the report, a first-ever analysis of the current state of cultural resource management and historic preservation in Hawai‘i.

The report highlights four topic areas contributors believe Hawai‘i is facing such as restoration, proper care of burial sites, improvement of consultation with the community and the expansion of ‘ike Hawai‘i (Hawaiian knowledge or thought). The report also lists systemic shortfalls in the current handling of wahi kūpuna which include the lack of digital access to ancestral sites data and severe staffing shortages within the state’s historic preservation division.

Kānaka ʻōiwi (Native Hawaiians) propelled to defend the handling of ancestral lands refer to an array of controversial sites such as the destruction of heiau to make way for the H-3 freeway in Kāneʻohe, construction of a luxury home on top of burials at Naue, Kauaʻi, and the continued push for development on Maunakea.

“This report aims to bring awareness to specific wahi kūpuna stewardship issues and highlight ways that individuals, organizations, professionals and others can take action towards greater stewardship,” Uyeoka says.

Read more about the report and endorsement on the Kali‘uokapa‘akai website.


Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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