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Sacred Ground

National Park Service collects public input for Kalaupapa plan.

By Melissa Kelsey

Most Molokai residents want to keep Kalaupapa the way it is, but preventing change will not happen by accident. The National Park Service (NPS) is creating a General Management Plan (GMP) to describe the path it intends to follow in managing Kalaupapa National Historical Park over the next 15 to 20 years. Pressure from outside groups to provide greater access to the settlement due to the canonization of Father Damien is just one challenge the peninsula faces, according to Steve Prokop, the park’s superintendent. Kalaupapa also faces an aging patient population, and the Molokai community questions how the park will be managed after the patients have passed on.

The Kalaupapa Patient Advisory Council, a formal governing body consisting of patients who live at Kalaupapa, currently plays a significant role in managing the park and providing direction to NPS management.

“We want to make sure that input from the patients is paramount in developing the General Management Plan,” said Prokop.

For the past several weeks, NPS representatives have been collecting input from the public on the future of Kalaupapa settlement as the first step of a multi-phase process to draft the GMP. At public scoping workshops on Molokai, Maui, Oahu and Kauai, the NPS has gathered mana`o from community members. The last few public scoping meetings will take place on Hawaii Island during the end of May.

Keep Kalaupapa, Kalaupapa

The trail to Kalaupapa is sacred from the moment one begins the journey down, shared Molokai resident Lori Buchanan in her mana`o at one of the topside NPS public scoping meetings last Wednesday.

“The essence of the park is the spirit and the `aina,” said Buchanan.

There are no overnight accommodations for tourists who visit Kalaupapa. That’s because Kalaupapa is too spiritual of a place for tourists to spend the night, according to community member Julie Lopez.

“Too much has gone on there and I think it has to stay very special,” she said at the meeting, speaking against bringing hotels or hostels to Kalaupapa, even in the future when patient privacy will no longer be a factor.   

In remembrance of the hardships patients at Kalaupapa endured over the years, the place should be honored, said Annette Pauole-Ahakuelo.

“I really think you cannot get any closer to heaven than Kalaupapa,” she said.     

Throughout the meeting, patients and Molokai community members alike expressed the need for the GMP to address how the patients’ stories will be recorded for future generations.    

In fact, preserving the stories of people who lived in Kalaupapa should be the park’s most important goal, according to Sister Herman Julia Aki, a Sister of the Blessed Damien Catholic Parish on Molokai. Aki said one way to preserve stories is to interview patients who are still living and compile interviews that have already taken place.

“I value the stories, and not only the stories, but the history of those who have passed before us and those who have suffered as we walk the grounds,” said Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa, a patient at Kalaupapa.

Molokai residents added it is also important to preserve the history of the native Hawaiians who lived in Kalaupapa for hundreds of years before the first Hansen’s disease patients arrived.

“There are graveyards in Kalaupapa, but there are also heiau,” said Kalaupapa resident Shannon Crivello. “Father Damien learned the culture and spoke the Hawaiian language.”    

Some of the other topics public scoping meeting attendees discussed in their mana`o were the park’s visitor capacity, protecting native Hawaiian gathering rights and feeding Molokai’s economy.      

A maximum of 100 people are allowed to visit Kalaupapa settlement each day under current park management, and Molokai community members who voiced their opinion at the meeting did not want that number to increase.

Community members affirmed the need to uphold native Hawaiian gathering rights, but disagreed on the specific mechanism to do so, specifically in regards to whether or not permits should be required to gather and fish.

“I believe in permits because you have to control the resources that are there,” said Fern Hamai, daughter of former Kalaupapa patients.

However, Cora Schnackenberg, a topside resident, expressed concern that permits would involve expensive fees that are unaffordable for the average resident.   

The NPS should provide jobs for native Hawaiians and contribute to the economy of Molokai, according to Crivello.

“Kalaupapa is going to be the next place where jobs will be available for Molokai,” he said. “If there are qualified native Hawaiians, they should be getting the jobs.”

Crivello recommended that the NPS post its Kalaupapa job openings for the Molokai community and make connections with students so that Molokai residents can pursue specific qualifications applicants need in order to be hired.  

Government Accountability, Molokai Style

The majority of Kalaupapa patients and residents expressed strong support for the NPS and its mission and presence at the settlement.

“I know and believe that the National Park Service is going to take care of the future of Kalaupapa,” said patient representative Meli Watanuki. “For myself, I would like the National Park Service to stay down there forever.”

Molokai resident Joyce Kainoa views the NPS as a clear ally to prevent development and protect the peninsula.

“Molokai is considered the most activist island in the state, and I find that the National Park Service is one partner we support,” she said.

However, some topside residents wondered what the mechanism will be for the Molokai community to maintain a central role in the NPS decision-making process for Kalaupapa settlement after patients are no longer there to help govern.

The Hawaii State Department of Health, which currently manages essential community functions such as the gas station, guest housing and the peninsula’s only store, plans to leave Kalaupapa settlement when there is no longer a patient population and it plans to transfer those duties to the NPS.  

While the GMP is intended to guide the NPS to make decisions about the park on behalf of the community, park managers will still legally retain flexibility to respond to individual situations. In addition, the NPS cannot implement the GMP without adequate funding, according to NPS documents.

“Where is the quality control to ensure that the management plan will be implemented in the way it is supposed to be?” asked Buchanan.

“I want enforcement for them,” she said, expressing her views that the GMP itself does not provide an adequate mechanism for keeping the NPS accountable for its actions, especially since the Department of Hawaiian Homelands owns a portion of Kalaupapa peninsula land and the NPS only manages it under a lease.

Molokai activist Walter Ritte, representing the cultural land trust Hui Ho`opakele `Aina, recommended that task forces be created to address a variety of concerns held by the Molokai community and create long-term partnerships for making decisions.

“We would like to see an upgrading of what you all have started,” he said, adding that the GMP public scoping process only scratches the surface of how the NPS should handle community input.   

Bureaucratic System

While Kalaupapa National Historical Park has unique needs compared to other national parks in the United States, it is not the only park to develop a GMP. All national parks in the United States that are part of the NPS system are required by law to create a GMP, according to the NPS.

The purpose of the GMP for each national park is to make sure that the values and goals of the NPS are in line with the needs and cultural values of each park’s surrounding community. Managers are supposed to utilize the process of drafting the document to discuss park issues with the public, including how the park’s resources will be preserved, how many visitors will be allowed to the park and how this will be enforced, and explain any development plans or lack thereof and possible changes to park boundaries.


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