This is not going to be an easy story to tell. Not easy because I might seem to be targeting our dearest friends, our most heart-felt supporters: the uniformly educated, caring progressive, environmentalists on our Island.

These are Americans; many who moved here years ago. They love these Hawaiian Islands, and they feel the pain inherent in the glaringly apparent destruction all around us.

These are Americans who care that the reef fish are now toxic and inedible, the rivers are poisoned with the run-off from cattle feces, the fields and hence the ocean around us are full of pesticides. These are not Native Hawaiians, but they are the very best of the malihini (guests) who’ve arrived and settled these sacred islands of my husband’s people.

Kingdom of Hawaii flag

For many who seek sovereignty, treatment of the environment is a core issue, but one that remains under the umbrella of sovereignty.

The Back Story

These East Coast and West Coast-born activists wear their hearts on their sleeves, and their politics on their Prius bumper stickers: “Stop GMOs” or “GMOs Are Killing Us.”

GMO is the now recognizable acronym for genetically modified organisms — and our Island, Kauai, has become the ground zero for Dow, Dupont and Syngenta’s experimental farms.

Huge swaths on the island’s west side — planted for 100 years with sugar cane — are now the agricultural home of America’s experiments in genetically modified corn.

The alleged results of these billowing fields of corporate America’s experimentation have been school closings due to respiratory ailments and floods of skin eruptions from folks who’ve never before suffered.

And, most typically, this Russian roulette with the health of the neighboring communities has been located only in the most impoverished parts of our island — the Native Hawaiian neighborhoods.

The Conundrum

My husband, Iokepa Hanalei Imaikalani, and his people have not in any significant numbers taken part in the petitions, the demonstrations, the county council showdowns in opposition to these fields of GMO corn that we are convinced are harmful to ocean, land, and humans.

They have not — and, most likely, they will not.

Our progressive American friends scratch their heads: “The Native Hawaiians care about their ‘aina (land), and yet they are not active in this.”

“If you love this island, why wouldn’t you support Native Hawaiian sovereignty? Why wouldn’t you be lending your time, your energy, your passion to restoring the stolen Native Hawaiian nation?” — Iokepa Hanalei Imaikalani

It is time to explain the facts of this matter to our friends, who are wise to the micro issue of GMO incursion, and of other American intrusions that they consider harmful to the environment, but are blind to the macro and much more pervasive historic violation of these islands and their people.

The answers will never come when the target is so small, and the activism is limited to the guests who have come.

And so Iokepa has said to our friends: “There is one big fight that would end all these little fights — and it is over Hawaiian sovereignty, the return of the nation to the stewardship of the native people.

“This GMO fight is small. You focus on the micro; you ignore the macro: the destruction inherent in the ubiquitous American military presence, the culturally annihilating tourism, the cruise ships. If the Hawaiian nation returns to sovereignty then these issues would not exist.

“If you love this island, why wouldn’t you support Native Hawaiian sovereignty? Why wouldn’t you be lending your time, your energy, your passion to restoring the stolen Native Hawaiian nation?”

Iokepa says: “I don’t disparage what our American friends are doing. But I want to explain to them what appears to be Native Hawaiian disinterest in their micro issues; they are just too small.

“The Native Hawaiians trust in Americans is destroyed — that’s why we don’t rally to your call. American liberals speak to American liberals. Native Hawaiians speak to Native Hawaiians.

“The GMO issue is just a tributary. The stewardship is cultural and it belongs to the Kanaka Maoli (original people). But the Native Hawaiians can’t accomplish this by themselves; we will sorely need the support of Americans on this island and in the United States. The good people who support all these disparate ‘environmental’ issues — if they just supported the one, Native Hawaiian sovereignty, it would take care of all of it.”

He adds: “If you love and identify with the beauty of this land and this ocean, and you see it diminishing every day, then you feel the pain of that disappearance. There really is just one way back — and that’s through the Native Hawaiian people and the restoration of their nation.”

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About the Author

  • Inette Miller
    Inette Miller was a national and international journalist for 16 years — a war correspondent for Time magazine in Vietnam and Cambodia. She is the author of "Grandmothers Whisper," which was awarded the Visionary Award for memoir. She is currently writing her Vietnam memoir, "Girls Don’t!" The website that she runs with her husband is www.ReturnVoyage.com.