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Ancient Land-Caring Councils Make a Comeback

When state legislators passed a law three years ago calling for the creation of regional `Aha Moku councils to help manage Hawaii’s natural resources, many questioned the logistics of the plan. How would it work? Who would be in involved? And would the councils have any real impact on state polices?

Finally, some of those questions are being answered. Last Wednesday, Molokai community members again met to continue organizing efforts of an `Aha Moku council on Molokai. The group discussed possible mission statements and objectives for the council and formed a subcommittee to finalize those documents.

`Aha Moku council organizing has been underway for years with mixed results, but with the 2007 law due to be reauthorized in January, the push is on to have councils in place before then.

Last week’s meeting was open to the public and sponsored by Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WesPac), a federal agency that has played a supporting role in organizing efforts statewide.

Representatives for each of the six moku on Molokai were elected last year, but at last week’s meeting the group decided that each moku, or section of the island, would have alternate representatives to ensure stability in the process.

“Everybody is invited and we encourage them to participate,” said Mac Poepoe, who was contracted by WesPac in June to help lead the organizing effort on Molokai. “The things that we’re going be deciding on are island-wide things.”

A date for the next planning meeting has not yet been set. An island-wide puwalu, or meeting of leaders, is planned for the fall.

The Ancient Way
`Aha Moku councils were part of ancient Hawaiians’ land management system. Islands were divided into sections of land called moku, starting at the mountains and running down to the sea. Boundaries were drawn based on the distribution of resources, allowing for self-sufficient communities.

Reinstating the council system is meant to help integrate traditional resource management practices into current Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) policy, according to the 2007 legislation.

Councils will monitor resources on their island and draft regulations and policies to better manage these resources, drawing on community involvement and traditional practices passed down by their kupuna.

Within each moku are subsections called ahupua`a. Moku representatives will go to each ahupua`a to hear the concerns of people there and report back to the council.

Each island will also have one representative in the `Aha Kiole, a statewide council. It remains unclear how policies drafted by `Aha Moku councils and the `Aha Kiole will work their way into state policy, either by reporting to DLNR or another agency.

The state has also set out to determine moku boundaries using historical maps and Google Earth. Jackie Burke, a project manager with WesPac, said all moku boundaries will be mapped by November and eventually published on the `Aha Moku council system’s website, www.ahamoku.org.

A Helping Hand
WesPac has played a major part in helping islands organize `Aha Moku councils, offering itself as a model of how to incorporate traditional practices in current regulatory policy. It is sponsoring meetings similar to the one here last week on all the islands leading up to a statewide puwalu, or meeting of leaders, planned for November.

WesPac was created in 1976 by an act of Congress. It manages offshore fisheries in Hawaii, working to prevent overfishing, protecting stocks and habitats and limiting by-catch, while incorporating traditional practices and community involvement in the process.

Charles Kaaiai, WesPac’s indigenous program coordinator, said its goal is to protect both natural resources and traditional practices. “We don’t want them to be lost because they’ve been so successful in the past.”

Interested in joining the `Aha Moku organizing effort? Call Mac Poepoe at 567-6150 (home) or 646-0548 (cell), or email karenpoepoe@yahoo.

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