An Apology for Kalaupapa Residents

Senator visits the peninsula to deliver an apology for harsh treatment on behalf of the state.

Senator J. Kalani English was present at last week Tuesday’s meeting in Kalaupapa to deliver an apology to former patients and all those who suffered as a result of the government policies exiling and isolating patients of Hansen’s Disease.

By Zalina Alvi

For all those who were exiled to Kalaupapa, and all the friends and `ohana who suffered alongside them, an apology that is long overdue has come at last.

Last Tuesday marked a historic moment when Senator J. Kalani English visited former patients and residents of Kalaupapa, and offered an official apology on behalf of the State of Hawaii to “the people of Kalaupapa and their families for any harsh restrictions that caused them undue pain as the result of government policies surrounding leprosy.”

The apology comes more than 140 years after the first patients of Hansen’s Disease (also known as leprosy) were forcibly exiled to the peninsula.

A Long Overdue Apology
“I’ve come to say thank you, to acknowledge your sacrifices, your sufferings, and the harsh treatment the government may have done to you in the past,” said English during the monthly meeting.

“I’ve also come to offer the apology of the State of Hawaii, and to offer our sincerest apologies to all of you patients here for that harsh treatment. And the entire state is with me today as I say this,” he said.

The apology comes in the form of Senate Concurrent Resolution 208, which was officially adopted on Apr. 11, 2008.

“I’m sorry I’ve come a little bit late; we lost three (patients) since the resolution was passed,” said English. “Let’s think for a moment of all those who passed before us, because this is for them too.”

Paul Harada, a former patient and community leader who was vocal in getting an apology resolution, was one of those people who would have liked to see this day. He died on Jan. 4, 2008 at the age of 81.

Although the apology was created with the help of many former patients and supporters,  English took a moment to highlight the efforts of committee clerk Sharon Lum Ho, who helped write the apology.

“It was her words that became the resolution,” said English.

The apology also recognized that although a cure was found for Hansen’s Disease in 1946, the government did not end the isolation laws until 1969.

“It was government being afraid, and people not understanding that the cure was there,” the senator said. “And for that, for the actions of past governments, let me say, I’m very sorry.”

Near the end of the meeting, the senator read the resolution aloud from beginning to end.

Certified copies of the apology were also promised to all the residents of Kalaupapa, Ka `Ohana O Kalaupapa, the Governor, the Director of Health, and the Superintendent of Kalaupapa National Historical Park.

Future Challenges
Following his presentation of the apology, English asked for help from the community in facing new obstacles, including the oncoming pressures of increasing tourism as a result of Father Damien’s imminent canonization as a saint.

“We want you to be the ones to set the direction for this,” said Senator English.

He went on to promise all the resources needed to cope with the eventual onslaught of visitors, and encouraged the community to decide how they want to proceed during future meetings.

As the agenda moved on to a presentation on the dangers of remaining military ordinance in the area, former patient Makia Malo said he was “outraged” at the situation and treatment of Kalaupapa residents, past and present.

“There should be more than an apology coming to the people of Kalaupapa, and of Hawaii,” he said. “I don’t think you would like it in your neighborhood.”

The remainder of the town meeting was characterized by acknowledgements from the senator on the unreliable airport and phone service in the area.

While admitting there were serious problems, many that he had experienced firsthand, Senator English said the solutions must come from the private companies responsible for the services.

The following Wednesday, a meeting was held in Kalaupapa on fire management in coordinator with topside Molokai. The goal was to plan for the event that a major fire occurs on the peninsula.

Kalaupapa has been without firefighters since July 1 when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determined that the presence of fire personnel at airports serving planes carrying less than 10 people would no longer be required.

The next town meeting will be held on Sept. 9 at 11:30 a.m. in McVeigh Hall.

Share