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Demonstration prevents eviction at Hawaiian cultural site in Wainiha

WAINIHA — A spontaneous demonstration put the brakes on an attempted eviction taking place at a Native Hawaiian cultural site in Wainiha on Thursday morning.

Most demonstrators were affiliated with the Konohiki Restoration Project, which had been using the contested land to grow traditional food, provide cultural education and construct Hawaiian canoes. They claim a legal right to the land — which also contains ancient burials (iwi kupuna) — by right of royal patent and their interpretation of federal and international law.

The attempted eviction was led by private contractors hired by landowners Eugene and Ekaterina Mironer, with support of law enforcement from the state Department of Public Safety. They were enforcing a writ of possession established in Lihu‘e Circuit Court earlier this year, which was initiated because of an illegal structure that put owners at risk of fines, contractors said.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, a crew of state law enforcement officers arrived at the site on Ananalu Road, and found the property vacant. Most left shortly thereafter, leaving the operation in the hands of private contractor Marshall Allen, who laid out his plan for the eviction early Thursday morning.

“Now we have to start securing the perimeter, make sure there’s nobody on premises,” he said. “Put up no trespassing signs. If anybody violates those, they’ll be arrested. We’ll be removing all personal items and putting them in storage, and tearing down the structure.”

That plan did not come to fruition.

As contractors begin roping off the area and placing items in a U-Haul truck, neighbors Juan Gomez and Louise Sauson took note of the operation and alerted other members of the group.

“We are taking care of this ‘aina,” said Sauson, a vocal leader of the group, who also filmed the event.

A steady stream of neighbors began to arrive, until there were about 20 people on-site protesting the eviction. The morning air was alive of long notes blown from a conch shell and choruses of “All Hawai‘i Stand Together,” and other anthems.

Lifelong Kaua‘i resident Vicente “Vito” Hermosura was among the demonstrators.

“Just hurt, just hurt,” said Hermosura, when asked his feelings on watching the eviction. “You got something trying to preserve your culture and our local way of life. A place you can pick taro — there’s not too much place like that, yeah?”

Ka‘imi Hermosura arrived and began leading the group, delivering fiery speeches to officers as protesters faced off with Allen and the two remaining sheriffs.

“What can I do to help you?” Allen asked repeatedly.

“Cancel the job,” a man replied.

“I can’t do that,” said Allen.

Law enforcement personnel said they had only been told about the operation on Wednesday.

“I’m not educated on this stuff. I’m not going to pretend I am,” said Sheriff Myron Widrig. “We’re just doing what we’re told to do. People are allowed to state their opinions.”

At around 10 a.m., a man drove past the scene and shouted “officer, we’re on your side,” sparking a flurry of anger from the protesters.

He got out of his car and squared off with several protesters before returning to his vehicle.

At this moment, the crowd began to stream past the no trespassing signs and entered the property, taking some of their items out of the U-Haul open truck where contractors had placed them. Law enforcement did not make an attempt to initiate arrests.

Around this time, the decision was made to call the eviction off.

Demonstrators, who repeatedly asserted that the operation was illegal, blocked the path of the U-Haul and waited for the Kaua‘i Police Department to arrive to file a police report.

Sauson set up a folding chair in front of the U-Haul truck, which still held some of the group’s items. Later, several people laid out a blanket in front of the truck and began preparing ti leaves.

Police officers arrived and took reports, and the contractors and sheriff’s division personnel left the scene. After the failed attempt, Allen was unsure if the eviction operation would continue, and said he would know more after further communication with the landowners.

The land has been used by the Konohiki Restoration Project for about 10 years, members said.

The group faced a similar situation in 2017, when multiple members were arrested on trespassing and disorderly conduct charges during another attempted eviction.

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Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-0329 or gscrimgeour@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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