Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Hawaiian Lands Protected:

The struggle for this rainforest dramatically brings together Native cultural rights and environmental issues; the need to protect sacred, unspoiled areas for Native peoples gives Wao Kele o Puna national importance. (John Echohawk, Executive Director, Native American Rights Fund)
In 1993, the United States Congress enacted the Hawaiian Apology Joint Resolution, Public Law 103-150, admitting that the role of the United States military in removing the Hawaiian monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, from power and installing a provisional government was illegal under American and international law. Prior to the overthrow, Hawaii was regarded internationally as one of the family of nations which had concluded numerous treaties of trade, commerce and friendship with several countries, including the United States. The Apology was a watershed event in American history, seen by many Hawaiian people as the first step in making reparations for the illegal overthrow. The overthrow has been viewed by Native Hawaiians as the ultimate atrocity committed against their sovereign Nation, the culmination of the enormous political, social, cultural, economic and spiritual changes wrought on the Hawaiian people since the 1778 arrival of Captain Cook.

The United States admission that the overthrow was illegal, immoral, and unjust was seen as but a first step in the long process of establishing hooponopono the Hawaiian traditional system for making things right.

In another step towards hooponopono,on September 12, 2005, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), and the Trust For Public Land (TPL) announced the purchase of 25,856 acres more than 40 square milesof Native Hawaiian rainforest known as Wao Kele o Puna that is strategically located near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The property has had a history of controversy, litigation, and civil protest, but is now on a path to permanent protection thanks to the partnership. Under the plan, the private non-profit Trust for Public Land will acquire the property next year from current landowner Campbell Estate and later convey the culturally important lands to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. DLNR is working closely with OHA to protect and properly manage the vast forest area when the transfer occurs. Together, the partnership will ensure that that Wao Kele o Puna will no longer be threatened with geothermal energy production or converted to non-forest uses.

The Pele Defense Fund, organized in the 1980s to protect native gathering and religious rights in the forest, was instrumental in focusing attention on the need for permanent protection for the forest. We took a stand for this land two decades ago in the courts, and have never given up the fight to find a permanent way to protect this forest, said Palikapu Dedman, President of PDF. We are looking forward to working with OHA and DLNR to keep this forest healthy and thrivingit is our responsibility as much as it is our right to malama this place that means so much to our community.

For twenty years, the Native American Rights Fund has co-counseled with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (NHLC) and private counsel Yuklon Aluli and Jim Dombrowski in representing the Pele Defense Fund in efforts to prevent large-scale geothermal development in the Wao KeleO Puna rainforest on the Big Island, and to regain Native Hawaiian access rights to Wao Kele lands. These efforts culminated with the entry in August 2002 of a stipulated judgment and order by the state court in Hilo, Hawaii recognizing the rights of Native Hawaiians to hunt, gather, and worship on the Wao Kele lands as part of the bundle of traditional and customary rights protected, preserved and enforced under Article XII, Section 7 of the Hawaii Constitution. With NARFs assistance, the Trust for Public Lands (Hawaii Office) secured an appraisal of the property and efforts to purchase the land began.

The property is valuable on multiple levels. Wao Kele o Puna is extremely important to Native Hawaiians, who for centuries have consistently used the property for traditional hunting, gathering, and religious purposes. In addition, the vast rainforest provides essential wildlife habitat for more than 200 native Hawaiian plant and animal species, including several that are listed as threatened or endangered. The vast forest will serve as a protected corridor for native birds traversing from mauka to makai. Wao Kele o Puna is also critical to protecting drinking water quality in Hawaii County, covering over twenty percent of the Pahoa aquifer, the single largest drinking water source on the island.

On August 26th, the Board of Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs unanimously committed to providing the necessary $250,000 in gap funding towards the purchase, as well as ongoing funding for planning and management. OHA is acquiring the area to protect the natural and cultural resources on the land, to guarantee that Native Hawaiians can continue to exercise traditional and customary activities on the land, and to ensure that OHA can pass it on to a sovereign governing entity.

The aina is the foundation of our culture, stated Haunani Apoliona, Chair of the OHA Board of Trustees. Our ability to protect such a rich and symbolic resource in partnership with TPL and DLNR means that future generations in Hawaii will benefit from our collective vision and foresight in protecting traditional lands and resources.

The U.S. Congress, thanks to the leadership of U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, approved $3.4 million in August from the U.S. Forest Services Forest Legacy Program towards the purchase of the property.

The nearby Hawaii Volcanoes National Park also depends on the vast forest as a seed bank to provide new growth on fresh lava flows that have devastated the Parks own native forests. The biological future of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is tied directly to the conservation of native forests at Wao Kele o Puna, said Cindy Orlando, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Superintendent.