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Excerpted from:

Hawaiian Sovereignty and Environmental Protection:
The Protect Kohanaiki Ohana

by Karen Eoff

The Protect Kohanaiki Ohana is a non-profit,incorporated citizen's group centered in the district ofNorth Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. Our members andsupporters are adults and young people whose particular aimis to protect the exceptional Kohanaiki area of Kona fromlarge scale resort development.

This is a favorite coastal area where, for generations,families have come together to gather food and enjoy thenatural bounties. It is a prime cultural and recreationalspot on an otherwise rugged coastline. Its outstandinghistoric and environmental resources include one of the lastand most extensive anchaline pond systems left in Hawai'i.For hundreds of years, these important ponds and ancientsystems of aquaculture have been used by local fishermen.They have provided a unique habitat for now-endangered plantand animal species, such as the Ae'o, the Hawaiian black-neck stilt.

Significant archeological sites abound at Kohanaiki,which is a natural extension of the adjacent Kaloko-Honokohau National Park. Studies are on-going determiningthe magnitude of these important sites. In addition, themarine environment is of superior quality, rivaling any inthe Hawaiian chain for its clarity and its reef eco-system.

In our attempt to help preserve and protect this areafor all future generations, we set the following goals:

These goals were adopted in 1990 by the core group of theProtect Kohanaiki Ohana (P.K.O.), who, to this day are stillcommitted and continue to work together to fulfill a sharedvision. Along the way we have gathered support from not onlythe Kona community but other groups and individuals whoshare many of the same values and hopes for the future.


In Hawaii, as in many other places on Earth, thestruggles to protect the land are on-going. What makes thestruggle unique here is that we have Hawaiian traditions toguide us in order to balance human needs with theenvironment. For over 2,000 years these island supported agrowing, thriving, self-sufficient population based onsharing, respect, and ecological harmony. We can learn fromthis heritage and move into the future by applying theknowledge and wisdom of the past to present day situations. We now must look at what it is we love about Hawaii, aboutour community, and then work to protect and restore thatbalance. A healthy environment is vital to the continuationof the Hawaiian culture and lifestyle. The P.K.O. has foundthat by combining environmental activism with culturalawareness, we will be able to reach our goals, to preventresort development from dominating our coastal resources,and to preserve those resources in a context that hasrelevance to island living.

The issues and conflicts we face at Kohanaiki mirrorthose of other places and other times, in every district andevery community. In a broad sense, what we have learnedapplies to many situations. Grassroots efforts takeorganizing and activism. People must take action. We mustidentify what it is we love, why we want to protect it andhow we can work together to make changes. How can we helpprotect the land and resources and at the same time therights of all people to continue their cultural practices,and the lifestyles they choose? How can we work together toassure better planning for the future?


As the Kohanaiki case moved throught the legal system,what began as a county denial of "standing" (the right tosue or be heard) to parties requesting a Contested CaseHearing, developed into a landmark State Supreme Court case.This case has brought new light to the ongoing problemsassociated with the impacts of over-development on thepeople and the natural resources so precious to Hawai'i nei. With overlapping issues ranging from "standing" to theextent our government agencies are obligated to protect thetraditional gathering rights of native Hawaiians, it buildson a series of landmark decisions, settling conflictsbetween large private interests and the public trust.

We have been very fortunate to have the legalrepresentation of Skip Spaulding of the Sierra Club LegalDefense Fund. Even more important is that, because of thenature of the questions raised by this court action, thecase has drawn the support of a coalition of lawyers andinterested groups from all over Hawaii. Joining in our caseby submitting Amicus briefs to the court, the followinggroups and agencies have provided much needed clarificationof constitutional laws and their original intent. Theirviews and opinions all contribute to a balanced progressionof awareness.

The Kona Hawaiian Civic Club, Ka Lahui Hawai'i, the'Ohana Council, Pele Defense Fund, the Office of HawaiianAffairs, and even the State Attorney General's Office allagreed that the state and county agencies do have theobligation of protecting, preserving and enforcing thetraditional and customary practices of native Hawaiians inall land use decision processes -- and that by doing so, itdoes not constitute a "taking" from the developer. (We findthis whole idea of "takings" by environmental and culturalprotection a paradox. Who is really "taking" from whom?) Theassertion of these rights reaffirms the traditional respectand sanctity the Hawaiians held for the natural resources.And while these laws are founded in "Hawaiian Usage," non-Hawaiians enjoy these rights as well. We are allbeneficiaries of these rights and the laws provide us withtools to protect them.

It took community pressure, elected officials' support,and many hours of core-group organizing strategy to reachthis level of recognition for this issue. We cannot allowour government to be out of tune with the voice and spiritof the people they should represent. Present day systems ofgovernment must evolve further if they are to fullyrepresent the spirit of the people. Laws must be tested. Theactual and legal protection of human rights is still beingestablished.

As we look to the future, what lies ahead? Will we havean open coastline that future generations can enjoy, wherethe land is alive and renews the spirit? We envision acoastline with low-level, low impact projects that have adirect benefit to the community. We see an environment wherepeople learn the value of fish ponds, aquaculture,hydroponics, medicinal plants, self-reliance, andsustainability; and where traditional uses of the land aretied to the present and the future. We envision a coastlinewhere our community can continue to gather in an area openfor fishing, surfing, camping, and other recreational andcultural resources, educational programs that combineenvironmental and cultural awareness, marine science, andHawaiian studies, that will connect the coastline to theplanned university. And when we look to the sea, we see afleet of Hawaiian canoes traversing the coastline linkingthe past to the present through hands-on interaction withthe community.


With all the support from the various groups andinformation supplied to the court, justice can proceed withwisdom. Our communities can work together to protect what itis we love about Hawaii and perpetuate those values that rundeep, that are cross-cultural, timeless, and univerallytrue. Joining with like-minded groups and individuals,supporting and respecting one another, finding the commonthreads and exploring the shared vision builds strength,gives the community a voice, and makes the goals reachable.

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