The allegations are literally bone chilling. Writing with the numbers “1,” “2,” “3” and “4” in red ink on a child’s skull. Taping children’s teeth to an index card. Duct taping bones together. Putting a human hand in a bag marked “Handbag Louis Vuitton.”
Such macabre practices seem torn from a H.P. Lovecraft horror story, yet they come from a recent State Historic Preservation Division report detailing 21 counts of alleged failures and inappropriate activity by Aki Sinoto Consulting, a long-established Honolulu archaeological firm, at the construction site of the new Ke’eaumoku Street Wal-Mart on Oahu. The division has recommended slapping $210,000 in fines on Sinoto’s firm. Needless to say, Sinoto vigorously denies treating any of the site’s antiquities with anything less than proper respect.
“We unequivocally deny allegations made by the state Historic Preservation Division,” Sinoto said in a prepared statement later quoted by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. “[The state] has grossly distorted the facts of the case. Every single charge is without foundation.”
The investigation into Sinoto’s archaeological techniques—if allegedly dumping a hand into a bag marked “Louis Vuitton” can be called a “technique”—has dramatic implications here on Maui. That’s because Sinoto has been Makena Resort’s archaeologist of choice for the last couple of decades.
Since at least 1980, Makena Resort has paid Sinoto and his firm to study the whole Makena Complex. Opponents to the company’s plans to expand the resort have long looked at Sinoto’s reports and said they minimized the number, location and importance of ancient Hawaiian historical sites throughout the complex.
Indeed, when Office of Hawaiian Affairs Administrator Clyde W. Namu’o recently called for a new archaeological survey of Makena by a firm independent of any landowner to clear up considerable inconsistencies with the existing studies, a Makena Resort official and consultant each wrote letters bludgeoning Namu’o with Sinoto’s previous work.
“[T]he Cultural Resource Management Plans (July 2005) prepared by Aki Sinoto Consulting for the Makena Resort holdings addresses the major concerns raised in Paragraphs 1) and 2) of your letter,” Makena Resort Vice President Roy Figueiroa wrote Namu’o on Aug. 4, 2005. He then added that Sinoto’s report “has determined the origins of much of the site designation discrepancies” and made possible a “resolution” to the controversy in the near future.
It didn’t matter. OHA ended up giving a grant to the slow growth group Maui Tomorrow to hire archaeologist Theresa Donham to do a study on the existing Makena survey reports.
While no one has made any allegations of the Wal-Mart type against Sinoto for any of his Makena work, it’s undeniable that convictions there will cast a dark cloud over his numerous insistences that there are no Hawaiian sites in South Maui that preclude a Wailea-sized expansion of the resort.
It’s interesting to note that the other survey report cited by Figueiroa in his response to Namuo—the March 2005 Archaeological Inventory Survey Report by Lisa Rotunno-Hazuka—has itself been thoroughly rejected by everyone concerned, including Dowling, the guy who originally commissioned it. Until it was discredited as sloppy and incomplete in early October, Rotunno-Hazuka’s study provided useful cover for Dowling as he fought to gain approval to build superrich condos on his own 11 Makena acres. Ironically, Dowling then hired Donham to do a new thorough archaeological survey of Makena.
In any case, the state Board of Land of Natural Resources should begin hearing testimony on the Sinoto matter this month. At the same time, the archaeologist Donham is also finishing her fieldwork for Dowling. No word on her final findings, beyond the fact that she’s already found a new burial site Sinoto somehow missed. MTW