WAINIHA — A day after four men were arrested for trespassing, Wainiha community members and county officials met Wednesday to discuss community safety, kuleana lands and Native Hawaiian rights.
“I feel now we’re getting to where we need to be. We’re collectively coming together as ohana and finding the resolutions,” said Ka‘imi Hermosura, a Wainiha resident and one of the four men detained Tuesday. “We are trying to do something peacefully to do the right thing to preserve, to protect and to honor our families.”
Hermosura was designated by kupuna as a konohiki (headman of land in an ahupa‘a) in Wainiha and addressed his concerns to Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr. and county attorney Mauna Kea Trask, as crowd of about 50 people listened on kuleana land Hermosura says is his birthright via royal patent.
“Somebody owns this property, but there’s also cultural significance to this property. How do we work it legally, so I don’t go to jail, you don’t go to jail,” Carvalho said. “We all can work together and set the example for the future.”
The parcel in Wainiha has been cultivated for 12 different species of banana, kalo, Hawaiian chili peppers and is designated as a lo‘i, Hermosura said. Kupuna are also buried at the site.
“It’s so important to work on the burial issue,” said Trask, who has roots in Wainiha. “Right now (the State Historical Preservation Division) will not recognize any burial site until they’re discovered, which is bad policy.”
Following a demonstration to protect the site from desecration Tuesday, Hermosura and three others were arrested for reportedly blocking entrance to the private property, according to a KPD release.
“We are continuing to gather more information on this incident, but I am confident that our officers conducted themselves professionally and respectfully to ensure the safety of all involved,” KPD Chief Darryl Perry said in a statement following the arrests.
Contractors hired by the property owner were reportedly attempting to access the property to remove an illegal wooden structure that was erected on the property without the owner’s permission.
Parties associated with the contractors and property owner did not respond to requests for comment.
“We tried to reach out in the past to the owners. We’ve been growing kalo for six years now,” said Jesse Steel, a Wainiha man who was detained for trespassing and disorderly conduct on Tuesday. “This is our food source, too. We’ve been coming and planting and eating. We feed ohana from all over.”
Local resident Liko Martin said the situation on Tuesday could have been much worse.
“It could have been people fighting people. This is the level throughout Hawaii nei,” he said. “We could be on the edge of lapsing on the edge of conflict here. What are we missing is the question.”
Witnesses said dozens of KPD officers were present and the arrests were unwarranted.
“KPD is supposed to serve and protect,” said Kamuela Hepa Kapule O Kamehameha, who witnessed the arrests. “They’re not the law. They’re job is to uphold the law.”
The mayor said he did not order the police presence.
“If anyone has complaints about interaction with the police, go to the police commission and file a complaint,” Trask said. “The chief directs the cops and the commission oversees the department.”
Keola Alalem Worthington, who has kuleana land on Oahu and Kauai, said Hawaiians need to find a resolution that enforces the protection of their birthright.
“All these people who purchased kuleana lands — it’s illegal,” he said. “We need to stop the excavators for a while; let it become a civil matter.”
The Hawaiians’ power in the future is not ownership in the land, Trask said, but rather the rights of the people.
“We need to fundamentally change our perspective what it means to be Hawaiian,” he said. “It’s not holding the paper. It’s access. It’s water. That’s what’s important. That’s what’s going to carry us in the future for now.”
Trask said the county is not here to take anybody off the land.
“We’re not stepping in to evict anybody. We’re not getting involved in any civil cases,” he said. “The mayor is willing to work with the ohana who are rightfully here in Wainiha to a stewardship agreement to do what you want.”
An unmaintained park in Wainiha — about five acres — was given to the county, Trask said.
“Who’s willing to work with county to go talk to the state about addressing previously unidentified burials?” Trask said. “Who’s willing to work with us to do stewardship agreements? Who’s willing to work with county to go talk to OHA and get this rule for kuleana land escheat to Oha?”
Trask continued: “This is a park that no one’s taking care of. You guys want to express yourselves. You want to grow, put your canoe, you want to do hale. That’s where it belongs.”
The mayor suggested filing a complaint with the police commission on Tuesday’s arrests.
“Bottomline, the police has the responsibility to protect the people,” he said, “and to figure out what happened and work together.”
It’s about safety, Hermosura said.
“For our people, for our children, for our family — please find a solution and make sure nothing’s going to happen. Make sure nobody gets hurt,” he said. “We’re attacking the safety issue of our people. That alone is a big relief doing what we have to do to our aina.”
The mayor attended the discussion Wednesday as ohana first and mayor second, he said.
“I have just as much right in this land as anybody else,” he said. “Let’s figure it out together. We have an opportunity now to take it to the next level. I’m trying to listen and understand and be able to respond in a way that going make it pono.”