Makaweli Poi mill dominates OHA community meetings

HANAMA‘ULU — Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs were on Kaua‘i Wednesday and Thursday to hear from the community, in two forums that were dominated by interest in poi mills and taro farms.

Trustees present included the Chair, Colette Y. Machado, Moloka‘i and Lana‘i, and Vice Chair Peter Apo, of O‘ahu. The others present included Kamana‘opono Crabbe, CEO, Carmen Hulu Lindsey of Maui, Robert K. Lindsey Jr., of Hawai‘i Island, and at-large trustees S. Haunani Apoliona, Oswald K. Stender, and John Waihe‘e IV.

Chief Operating Officer Edward Los Banos was a stand-in for Apoliona, who was said to be on the Mainland and unable to attend.

Kaua‘i trustee Donald Cataluna was not in attendance. Appointed by Gov. Ben Cayetano in 2000, he was said to be in poor health, according to one community member present. The guest asked the trustees to identify a new trustee to represent Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau.

Around 150 people were present for the meeting at King Kaumuali‘i Elementary School cafeteria.

The OHA officials were present to listen to community concerns, answer questions and offer highlights of efforts to improve conditions for Native Hawaiians.

“I am always very pleased to come to Kaua‘i, and every time the crowd gets a little bigger, and that’s good,” Stender said.

As a second-term trustee, Apo said the difference now is that OHA has a budget. The former State Representative for northern Kaua‘i said he is no stranger to Kauaians’ outspokenness.

“You always let people know where you stand,” Apo said to the Kaua‘i audience.

Lindsey is the newest Trustee and was appointed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie just over 10 months ago.

“I am here to do what I can to make your lives a little better,” Lindsey said.

The leading issue was the closing the Makaweli Poi Mill in Waimea. The community and trustee exchanged sentiments that poi and its agricultural source, taro, also known as kalo, is central to the OHA mission to ensure the perpetuation of cultural vitality of Native Hawaiians.

Lindsey said that talks on the state level are ongoing. He said verbal commitments from the Department of Agriculture mean the state is ready to be part of the conversation.

Apo said these are not investments in the typical sense. As trustees, he said the fiduciary responsibility is to maximize assets and operations in perpetuity. Legacy properties lose money, he said, but the intent is not about profit, but to make the cultural investment.

“At some point in time, you have make judgment calls as the coffers are drained,” he said.

Some guests complained that mill management was handled from off-island and that it needs to be on Kaua‘i. One guest called for the immediate replacement of Hi‘ipoi COO Mona Bernadino, but the trustees did not agree.

Lindsey said that a crisis often brings matters to a head and from that comes an opportunity to work together on a transition plan that works for everyone.

“I hope that the state and county are part of that conversation, but only if the community is interested in the branch that is being offered.”

The trustees said that some projects such as this are bigger than dollars-and-cents issues, but that at some point difficult decisions need to be made regarding scarce resources. They are working to transition the poi factory as Hi‘ipoi LLC to a Kaua‘i community organization.

Several mill workers were present, including Bryna Storch, operations supervisor, who said they are working on a plan for a responsible transition into a self-sufficient operation.

“Its about so much more than our jobs or the taro,” Storch said. “Its about the whole community.”

More than six taro farmers were present and spoke of the importance of creating markets for poi so that their livelihood and traditions would stay alive. They said it is more difficult to get youth interested in following in their footsteps and want OHA to help set up a new program to get kids involved.

“Without a supply of taro, the poi factories have nothing,” said one farmer.

Other farmers spoke of changing over to a fully organic system.

“If we have learned anything from this experience, it is that you can’t fool with the poi or your going to get a lot of pissed-off Hawaiians,” said another guest.

Other discussion called for support of programs to help offenders find work and support when they are out of jail. The programs teach work and life skills to thwart recidivism and help people stay on a path.

Staff of the Kanuikapono Hawaiian Language School in Anahola were present to ask for more support. They said the biggest threat to the survival of the culture is the loss of the spoken language.

“Its only as valuable and relevant as we make it,” said the staff member.

Programs include youth language and a Hawaiian science and moon calendar based on traditional epistemology.

They also work with inmates at the Kaua‘i Community Correctional Center, teaching traditional planting and life skills.

An Anahola resident requested for OHA to assist in creating a tribal historical preservation officer position.

It would be through the federal office as are Indian tribes on the mainland.

The Trustees said they would direct it to a staff member and look into the matter.

Another guest was concerned about the loss of Hawaiian homeland that families are losing or selling off. They want a clear lineage history for the sake of preservation before lands are consolidated into subdivisions and eventually lost.

One couple wanted to thank the OHA for their assistance in setting up a community meeting of 400 people with the Department of Defense. The couple said it was a good dialogue and tour of the base. The couple said there were tears when a ranking officer apologized to them for using their lands.

“It was healing for us,” they said.

Another guest expressed concern with Kaua‘i Police Department’s plans to build a substation on ceded lands in Kapa‘a, when so many residents wait their entire life for land. The resident said KPD should move in to the new fire station in Kapa‘a as they did in Hanalei.

One guest said the Hawaiian condition would not improve as long as they keep working within the framework of the State of Hawai‘i and the United States government. He said Hawaiians support the idea of rebuilding their nation, but keep following a different constitution.

“When the state doesn’t follow through on promises then we all suffer, and so I support a Hawaiian nation that makes laws for Hawaiian citizens,” said the guest. “Native Hawaiian is a joke. We should be Hawaiian nationals, the owners of this land.”

Another guest called for the redevelopment of the Coco Palms Hotel to include the legacy of the hotel and an “ethnic center” that celebrates the history and contributions of all the immigrant cultures on Kaua‘i.

• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or tlaventure@thegardenisland.com.

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