Environmental Justice in Hawai‘i
A Hawaiian Issue

    Rev. Kaleo Patterson is a Native Hawaiian and Director of the Hawaii Ecumenical Coalition (HEC).  In February, [1993] he led a protest demonstration against the firing of the first Star Wars missiles on Kaua‘i in which 23 activitists, including himself, were arrested.  For more information about Hawai‘i or the HEC write:   HEC, 4504 Kukui Street, Suite 16, Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i, HI 96746.

    There are two major problems that have and continue to adversely impact the land and sea here in Hawai‘i. These problems have to do with two major employers of people, two dominant industries, in Hawai‘i, namely:  Tourism and Militarism.

    In both Tourism and Militarism the greatest opposition to development and land use comes from Native Hawaiian groups and people. For Hawaiians the issue is not just about environmental justice, it is about culture, identity, connectedness to the aina (land), and sovereignty. Hawaiians today continue the struggle to regain a foothold in the land again.

    On January 17, 1993, thousands of Hawaiians gathered on the grounds of the Iolani Palace to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the illegal invasion and overthrow of the Hawaiian government. The President of the United Church of Christ, descendent denomination of the first Christian missionaries to Hawaii, gave a public apology during the commemoration events. Yes, there was a terrible wrong, and that wrong must be made right!

    Both Tourism development and Militarism have played a major role in the destruction of ancient Hawaiian burial grounds, significant archeological historic sites and sacred places. Almost every major resort development has been built on some culturally significant site. And community opposition is usually based on cultural values. The same is true of military facilities and occupied land that is used for weapons testing and training.

    Tourism and Militarism desecration of lands is usually followed by destruction of natural resources. Pollution to land and coastal areas by golf courses, missile testings, artillery training and waste management are many.

    In all of this, environmental justice in Hawai‘i must be understood and defined in the context of cultural invasion and exploitation. Because the character of the Hawaiian culture is one in which:

  1. The relationship to the land is one based on a high level of environmental awareness and ecological conservatism.
  2. The relationship of people to land, and people to sea, is spiritual and religious.
  3. Land is the base around which a culture evolves.
    When Tourism or Militarism takes away the land, takes away the access to the fishing grounds, or the right to gather food or medicine the Hawaiian loses a primary means of livelihood, and more important, meaning in life.

    Environmental justice must come to include the concerns of the unique relationship of indigenous people to the land. This is a relationship that the whole world would do well to respect and practice as a way of making right the wrongs upon mother earth.

[published in the summer of 1993]

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