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A Return to Konohiki

Community-based proposal to manage Hawaii’s resources

Last month in Kalaupapa, the state-mandated Aha Moku Advisory Council presented a plan that could change the way natural resources are managed in Hawaii. The plan calls for a return to the konihiki system, in which those knowledgeable about the ways of the ocean set guidelines for marine food gathering using traditional Hawaiian methods.

“The Aha Moku is set up to look at evolving power back to the communities as far as resource management,” said Sen. Kalani English, who was among a handful of legislators who attended the Kalaupapa gathering. “How do we do that within state law… that’s what we’re figuring out.”

The konohiki were those in ancient Hawaii who continued teaching, assessing and learning generationally in an unbroken line of distinguished performance outcomes, according to the Aha Moku’s konohiki initiative. While some konohiki passed down family traditions, others were appointed by ali`i, said Kamalu Poepoe of Molokai, one of the eight members appointed to the Aha Moku council by the governor. Regardless, the konohiki management system began to shift over the years to today’s government approach to resource management.

“The whole reason for this [initiative is] because the Department of Land and Natural Resources [DLNR] is aware of the fact that their management to date has not saved us from heavy depletion because the focus was more on commercialism and economic growth,” said Poepoe.

The Aka Moku’s initiative to return to konohiki was presented to lawmakers and officials for the first time at the council’s meeting in Kalaupapa, which marked the group’s second official meeting.

The Aha Moku is a newly-formed statewide group created by legislature in July 2012. Not confirmed until March 2013, it officially got started about three months ago, said Poepoe. Its mission is to advise the DLNR and answer to legislature to both perpetuate Native Hawaiian resource management practices and offer a framework for community consultation, according to Act 228 that formed the council.

“Areas that were under state management are all depleted while areas still under traditional management still have resources so there is something to be said for that outcome,” said English.

What Konohiki Would Look Like
Malia Akutagawa, born and raised on Molokai and now a professor of law at University of Hawaii’s Center for Excellence in Hawaiian Law, offered a presentation on the history of konohiki and court precedence regarding Native Hawaiian management rights.

“Hawaiian traditional customary rights does not just include the right to access – it’s the right to malama [the land],” she said. “The rights of indigenous people include the ability to sustain [the resources] in a way that makes sense for them, not the way that makes sense for someone else. That requires the state to really back up a little bit and trust in the process of our traditions….”

That process could take on many forms, as outlined in the konohiki initiative.

“Hawaiian indigenous science is not a one-size-fits-all management,” Akutagawa said.

Poepoe agreed.

“Each community is very different but can still carry principles of konohiki,” she said. “Instead of the state having rules across the board, you make rules based on your own ecosystem and community participation.”

The Aha Moku has identified several proposed pilot communities throughout the state that are already practicing konohiki on various levels.

Molokai’s north shore Mo`omomi area is earmarked as one pilot community. Under the direction of Mac Poepoe, Mo`omomi is already well-established and considered a model in sustainable resource management practices for the rest of the state.

A community group formed by Mac Poeopoe and others called Hui Malama O Mo`omomi, has a goal to designate a 20-mile portion – or more than half — of Molokai’s north shore as a community-based subsistence area, said Poepoe. That proposal – something he’s been trying to push through legislature for four different Hawaii administrations with no luck – is being proposed separately from the Aha Moku’s statewide konokiki proposal. Poepoe said seven landowners and organizations adjacent to Mo`omomi have voiced their support of the designation.

Another proposed pilot area is Hamakualoa on Maui, where a lineal record of caretaker family descendants spans from pre-western contact until today. Other similar communities around the state are also being discussed as proposed pilot konohiki programs.

Adaptive Management
Within the konohiki areas, adaptive management models would be adopted to share responsibility between the community and the state. A set of rules would be established to guide enforcement, boundaries and expectations, taking into account existing DLNR administrative rules and community monitoring. The konohiki manager would train and oversee community members to assist in data gathering of natural resources, assisting in enforcement and educating the public about sustainability using Hawaiian best practices.

Kamalu Poepoe said the Aha Moku’s goal is not to tell communities what to do and how to do it, but rather present various models that offer suggestions for how konohiki could be implemented and tailored for each area.

“The Hawaiian Konohiki Management Area Pilot project is intended to become a designation within the state DLNR as a co-management process with communities that allows participation by local residents and state managers in the better care of nearshore resources,” states the Aha Moku’s initiative.

While last month’s meeting was the first presentation of the plan to state officials, many Hawaii resource managers have already been moving in that direction.

Kitty Simonds, director of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, talked about the evolution of the development of fishing regulations by annual fishermen reports. The data they provide on annual catchment goes into a model that tracks trends. With educational opportunities now in place for students on every island, Simonds said one of the learning destinations is for students to visit Mac Poepoe and his work at Mo`omomi for five days every summer.

“We’re here to continue supporting the Aha Moku,” she said.

Kalaupapa Significance
While the meeting in Kalaupapa was not specific to the peninsula’s community, Kalaupapa was intentionally chosen as a meeting place for the Aha Moku.

“We wanted to go to sacred places first,” said Leimana Damate, executive director the Aha Moku Advisory Council. She said the council first met on Kaho`olawe, and Kalaupapa was the group’s second official meeting, to be followed by Maui. The council will eventually make its way to every island.

Kamalu Poepoe said another reason for the Kalaupapa location was the opportunity to showcase Molokai’s Aha Kiole council. The Aha Kiole is the Molokai council of the statewide Aha Moku, and in comparison to other islands’ councils, Poepoe said Molokai’s is the most advanced in its progress. With several representatives from each moku on Molokai already in place and holding meetings of their own, the Aha Kiole council has already taken a leadership role in solving some of Molokai’s recent disputes, such as last year’s controversy over cruise ships.

Kalaupapa residents also voiced their support of the Aha Moku’s progress.

“I really enjoyed what all you folks brought up,” said Kalaupapa patient resident Gloria Marks.

Kamalu Poepoe said the Aka Moku council will continue meeting and gaining feedback on its konohiki proposal in the coming months.

For more information, contact moku representatives in your area.



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