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Kahikinui Homesteaders Triumph as DHHL Falls Into Disrepair


Faith Chase, a 50-year resident of Maui, is a mother and grandmother who has testified at many Maui County and Hawaii State hearings. Her interest in island agriculture inspired her turn from graphic design to writing.

As if we need any more examples of poor management, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands has fallen upon unarguable disrepair and lives have been in danger. The emotional events of the recent homes that burned in Pu‘ukapu Hawaiian Homestead on Hawai‘i island has everyone in reverence mode and looking to direct action solutions from this disoriented DHHL.

We can’t say we didn’t expect it, the strong 2019 truth-busting testimonies from Kanaka Rangers Kepa, Lakea and Kalaniakea set the record straight on the corruption we are dealing with when talking about DHHL. And true to form, in a dictator style move, DHHL has blown past scientific data and has taken it upon themselves to try and make premature Kahikinui land decisions that are based on a fraction of beneficiary consultation and minimal scientific data.


Some back story to bring newcomers up to speed:

A 24 year game and land management organization Kahikinui Game and Land Management ‘Ohana (KGLMO) was underhandedly denied their long-standing Right Of Entry (ROE) to Kahikinui forest. KGLMO is a forest conscious organization that was inspired by Living Indigenous Forest Ecosystems (LIFE), which is one of thee first and leading Kahikinui homesteader associations in which all others branch. In a foul play move, the DHHL brought in a commercial outfit to eradicate the animals. This was blatant commercializing of resources from a subsistence-based living of Hawai‘i people, rooted and connected to the place. Displacement and criminalization.

Kahikinui Game and Land Management ‘Ohana (KGLMO) meets to discuss how to handle unwanted commercialized hunting in Kahikinui. Direct action steps were taken and the Kahikinui Homestead has successfully returned the upper forest to subsistence based living and watershed management.

In rapid pace, the goals of KGLMO quickly pivoted to defending the forest by flying members to O‘ahu to testify about the crisis to The Hawai‘i State Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee and to DHHL Administrative Hearings. KGLMO Membership monies are normally spent on things like fencing materials, fire mitigation, bird seed, traps and tools. The group received helpful and generous contributions from one Kahikinui leasee who happens to be a criminal attorney. The group has also had the advantage of having retired Judge Shackley Rafetto as a board member and confidant when addressing legal issues.

The testimonies to DHHL have been ignored and a lawsuit has been discussed with Native Hawaiian Legal Affairs. While some may shrug and laugh at the frequency of failures by DHHL, nothing about this is funny. We are talking about Kahikinui, twenty-two thousand acres of a water barren vast landscape that has experienced nine fires in the last ten years. Homesteaders lives depend on many factors that DHHL has chosen to ignore. Homesteaders can’t wait around for the DHHL to come to any rescue, their O‘ahu offices can’t see the landscape for what it is. Fire abatement is a daily chore and there is no room for mistakes. Watershed protection has needed a re-approach for some time now.

Helekunihi Cultural Foundation meeting hale barely escapes Kahikinui fire. Fire mitigation is a constant task across 22,000 acres of Kahikinui Hawaiian Homestead.

The community successfully set a precedence with engaging civic participation. They got the message across and got the job done. The commercial hunting operator is no longer being considered as a viable approach for game management. The boots-on-the-ground are the homesteaders and with the help of the Kahikinui Hawaiian Homestead Association (KHHA), matters of great concern are being addressed. The multitude of issues for this remote area have always been extraordinary but lately, the alarm is high. It has been at the grace of a cooperative arm reach exchange between Homesteader Association’s to equally agree on a Lokahi Team. The work of this group has been productive and weaves the needs of this special and resilient place of Kahikinui.

At last report, there was a premature announcement that Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and its subsequent enforcement body Department Of Forest And Wildlife (DOFAW) have plans to make homestead study via helicopter on September 9th, 2021. Firstly, this type of activity requires a 30 day notice wherein this correspondence failed as having arrived on August 11, 2021. Judging the horrifically distasteful date of September 11th for any aerial shooing, this likely warranted the adjusted scheduled date. Nonetheless, extremely poor form by the DHHL.

An email notice that the DLNR will be conducting aerial observation and may or may not do aerial shooting is what the homesteaders get in return after making it very clear through tireless testimonies, both public and formally, on what they provide as bonafide on the “J Agenda”, more than a dozen times. This failure to conduct “full beneficiary consultation” is just something this Department cannot get right.

The intrinsic intel of the forest, region and mountain remain within the Homesteaders and the Homesteaders alone. When the safety of peoples lives have worsened not improved, outside agency lose all authority of Kahikinui.

To frame for some readers, this is how the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Board of Land and Natural Reosurces and Department of Hawaiian Homelands come to making such skewed decisions. Maui County watershed partnerships were created and are significantly funded through private donations of the same entities who have gained from watershed exploitation. This “watershed partnership” tactic has been green washing for years sorely representing these private water purveyors.

These so-called watershed leaders have been tasked to collect scientific data for both said State Divisions, Wildlife & Forestry and Department of Land and Natural Resources. It has been trusted that decisions are justified and thus made upon this scientist-led organization work. Without insult to the other bruised and broken aspects of all said watershed partnerships, there is a more serious situation when speaking about Leeward and Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership (LHWRP).

At last review, LHWRP organization failed on all county grant funding deliverables. The organization publicly began their decent by supporting the work of commercial hunting and the kill-everything attitude in the fragile eco-system that borders the Kahikinui Homestead community. In this epic fail of arises DHHL with their continued indignant dictatorship literally shooting from the hip with methodologies that have no scientific backing as LHWRP went defunct.

In addition to the Departments “Mad Max” approach to game and land management, DHHL has also continued to ignore pleas for administrative process which has now subjected the Homestead Homeowner’s Association to consider mediation services so that reconsiderations can be made on decisions gone wrong and tighten up issues regarding elections and bylaws.

LHWRP failed to produce data and direction. Without proper forest data, DHHL has no justification for any decision and certainly not a decision that has not had “full beneficiary reach”. This has been on on-going problem that DHHL has openly admitted as needing improvement.

Homesteaders have had no choice but to be empowered to take action after repeated fails of DHHL. They found no choice but to work hard to and get their upper homestead forest back after a disruptive multi-agency attempt at a hostile take-over.

There are vessels of hopefulness filling up across the sacred mountain, homesteaders helping each other has strengthened the willingness to do the collective work that must be done. This is imperative for safety from the threat of fires. Recent testimony by KHHA President Donna Sterling has triggered the attention of local Maui County Council Agriculture and Public Trust Committee and her recommendations well received. The Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Homesteads (SCHAA) who works directly with the Department of Interior vs. Department of Hawaiian Homelands has also supported appropriate Homestead organization growth.

The Working Group that derived out of two homestead committees  settled on a most appropriate name, the Lokahi Team. This group is led by the next generation which nutritiously feeds the energy of the group. Conducting important organized fire break work days that receive generous bodies of volunteers. This body of Kahikinui Homesteaders is a mix of professionals cross pollinating skill sets, from a Fire & Public Safety Commissioner to plumbers, carpenters, farmers and ranchers. Critical fire mitigation is being completed and roofs are raising. The homesteaders have taken upon themselves to navigate and regulate it’s vast and sacred space.

Also taking lead in stewardship is Helekunihi Cultural Foundation celebrating 20 years by unveiling long range plans that supports ahupua‘a watershed school without walls. The na keiki (children) are returning to this 119 acre Native Hawaiian Reforestation project. Resourcefulness is cultural, anything contrary to this suggestion is unwarranted.

Through the fires, roads that eat cars, wild cattle, and imposter bully’s, there is one thing DHHL forgot. Kahikinui Homesteaders are built stronger than most, Kahikinui-living takes a certain kind of tough and this unwavering resiliency regularly repositions difficulties into solution seeking motives.

While Department, Divisions and Agencies spin their wheels with unsolicited ideas, Kahikinui Homesteaders have taken the lead. Working towards best homestead examples of off-the-grid living is not easy and it takes constant cooperation and synchronicity with neighbors to truly build a community, across 22,000 acres, so be it. The ‘ua (rain) fills sacred vessels across the mountain with dew daily and this delicate collection of sacred waters reverberates the wai returning. This is moving much closer to what Prince Kuhio envisioned as he wrote the Hawaiian Homestead Act in 1920. This is what more of Hawai‘i homesteads need, sustaining progress when listening to the people.

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