At 91-1940 Coral Sea Road, between Ewa Beach and Kapolei on Oʻahu, is Kalaeloa Heritage Park (the Park). The Park is comprised of more than 11 acres containing over 177 recorded cultural sites including a heiau, habitation sites and pre-Western contact burials. The cultural structures are unique, constructed of coral and may have Tahitian origin based on the construction methods used.
For years, the lands were held by the Federal Government as a part of Barber’s Point Naval Air Station. After the station was closed in 1999, the Federal Government returned the park lands to the State, and the lands are now owned by the Hawaiʻi Community Development Authority (HCDA).
As a condition of return, the State agreed to protect and preserve the historic properties on the premises. In 2011, the Kalaeloa Heritage and Legacy Foundation (KHLF) was established by the community to take on that kuleana and preserve and protect the Native Hawaiian cultural and historical sites of Kalaeloa through the operation and maintenance of the Park. Their efforts included constructing a burial vault and reinterring iwi kupuna that were inadvertently discovered in the Park, building a traditional kauhale, reforesting native plants, hosting community workdays and conducting cultural site tours for students.
To enable KHLFʻs efforts, HCDA initially entered a 40-year lease with KHLF to 77-acres that included the Park for their cultural preservation work on the property with the vision that KHLF would develop a multipurpose cultural center. However, HCDA terminated the lease in 2019, citing unresolved stockpiling issues that HCDA deemed a breach of the lease terms. As an all-volunteer, community-based nonprofit, KHLF could not rectify those issues on such a large site alone, and its efforts to negotiate for a resolution with the State were unsuccessful. KHLF then turned to the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (NHLC) for help.
With NHLC’s assistance, KHLF successfully negotiated with HCDA for short-term right of entry permits. The permits allowed KHLF to maintain continuous preservation and maintenance of the archaeological, cultural, and natural resources at the Park. KHLF then turned to negotiations for a longer-term stewardship agreement. In contrast to the original lease’s focus on constructing and operating a multipurpose cultural center, the vision for the stewardship agreement was to concentrate on KHLF’s core mission to preserve and maintain the resources at the Park.
HCDA was initially open to this arrangement but set forth numerous preconditions. KHLF worked tirelessly to address these requirements, including permitting for its kauhale from the City and County of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting and seeking the State Historic Preservation Division’s approval of its iwi kupuna burial vault.
On November 17, 2023, after years of KHLF’s persistent efforts to address HCDA’s requirements, KHLF executed a 5-year lease for the Park premises including a stewardship agreement for the management of the Park and the option to extend the lease for another twenty years. The stewardship agreement formalizes KHLF’s management of the historic properties within the Park and KHLF’s programs and activities for the purposes of education, engagement in Native Hawaiian cultural practices and restoration or maintenance of the natural or cultural resources of the Park.
“Though this has not been an easy negotiation, we are steadfast in our mission to mālama ʻāina at the Kalaeloa Heritage Park, and this lease provides the pathway for that work to continue for the rising generation of stewards over the next 25 years,” said KHLF President Dwight Victor.
NHLC counsel for KHLF included attorney Alan Murakami and, following Alan’s retirement, Senior Staff Attorney Liʻulā Christensen.