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Unity March Followed by Gathering in Maunaloa Saturday

Upon learning the island’s largest landowner, Molokai Ranch, put its assets on the market, a handful of community members saw the need to be proactive and come up with a plan to attract a buyer who would align with the community’s vision for Molokai. They held four meetings islandwide earlier this month, and are now organizing a community event this weekend.

This Saturday, the Unity March followed by a gathering is the latest step toward unifying a vision to be presented by the community movement We Are Molokai Pule O‘o to any potential buyers of roughly one-third of the island.

“It wouldn’t be wise for us to wait until a new buyer comes in, not knowing who that buyer is, now knowing if that buyer knows what Molokai is all about, dealing with them after the fact,” said Matt Yamashita. “Whether they are community-friendly or not, we just felt like if we take a reactive stance, there could be a lot of issues and difficulties.”

Keani Rawlins-Fernandez said the movement is about bringing the community together in solidarity to ensure new buyers of the Ranch will be good neighbors and partners.

“If any prospective buyer embraces us a community, our values and our vision for Molokai, then in turn we’ll embrace them. But we will settle for nothing less,” she said.

Malia Akutagawa said participants in the Unity March will gather at Mahana at 5 a.m., with a hula protocol scheduled for 5:30 a.m., and the march starting at 6 a.m. For those who may not wish to do the entire march, she said, the group will meet them at the top of Kaluakoi entrance, and then continue at 10 a.m. to Maunaloa School, where there will be a festival with music, free food and community education until 2 p.m.

The march, Akutagawa said, is basically “to walk the land mindfully and do prayers asking for abundance to return so we can be Molokai ‘aina momona again, so the energy will shift and we will feel this hurt-part of the land healed and unified again.”

Molokai Pule O‘o is capitalizing on the sale of Molokai Ranch lands as an “opportunity of a lifetime for Molokai” if the right buyer comes along, Yamashita said. For that to happen, island residents need to rally to attract the right buyer, but figuring out who is the right buyer isn’t hard, he said.

For more than a decade, the community on Molokai has come up with many different plans addressing several issues, and the plan that stands out among all others is the Molokai Ranch Master Land Use Plan completed some 10 or 11 years ago, according to Yamashita. During that time, in a process lasting a couple years, the Molokai Enterprise Community held more than 100 community meetings to come up with the Ranch’s plan. Various community members broke down into different committees, including economic, cultural, land access, smart development and others, crafting a plan that represented thoughts and ideas from those two years of meetings.

However, at the tail end of those meetings, the Molokai Ranch leadership proposed a 200-acre development at La‘au Point as the only way to support the plan financially. The result was a deep divide in the community, with some supporting the development of Molokai’s pristine southwestern tip, and others wanting to preserve it.

“There were a lot of hard feelings that came up during the Save La‘au campaign,” said Akutagawa, adding it pitted families against each other, and people don’t talk about it so much nowadays.

But everything would be abandoned when in March 2008, Molokai Ranch shut down most of its operations on the island and announced it was laying off more than 120 employees. Akutagawa said many families have suffered since then.

“We realized that part of wanting the best for our island is to heal the land first, to ho‘opono ourselves, to restore our relationships with each other and our families,” Akutagawa said. “In order for us and our island to be strong, we have to unify in one thought and in prayers.”

Following the inclusion of the La‘au Point proposed development into the Molokai Ranch Master Land Use Plan – and the division it created in the community – Yamashita said all the “amazing work” that had been done was forgotten and the plan was shelved. But the plan is still “very relevant and very applicable” to Molokai, he said.

“We know exactly what we want for West Molokai. We’ve done the work as a community. It’s all there (in the plan),” said Yamashita, adding if a buyer embraces the community and what it has to offer, this buyer will have a well-thought “built-in business plan” that would be successful for the land.

“It’s a positive thing, we’re all in this together,” Yamashita said. “The whole island understands whatever happens to Molokai Ranch will affect the entire island.”

The event Saturday is not about protesting or fighting, he said. Rather, it’s an event for the community to come together in solidarity, to honor and walk the land in prayer and in positive thought, and also for people to take notice the community wants its voices to be heard.

When marchers arrive at Maunaloa School, they and others attending the event will be treated to free food and music, including Sashamon, Lono and many others.

“I cannot stress this enough, everything we’re doing is about everybody on this island; it’s about the entire community. We think everybody can stand behind this, we need to reunify and find common ground,” Yamashita said. “We want everybody to come out for this.”

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