About the Author

Naka Nathaniel

Naka Nathaniel has returned to regular journalism after being the primary parent for his son. In those 13 years, his child has only been to the ER five times (three due to animal attacks.)

Before parenting, Naka was known as an innovative journalist. He was part of the team that launched NYTimes.com in 1996 and he led a multimedia team that pioneered many new approaches to storytelling.

On 9/11, he filmed the second plane hitting the South Tower. His footage aired on the television networks and a sequence was the dominant image on NYTimes.com.

While based in Paris for The New York Times, he developed a style of mobile journalism that gave him the ability to report from anywhere on the planet. He covered the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and was detained while working in Iran, Sudan, Gaza and China. He is one of a handful of Americans who has been in North Korea, but not South Korea. He worked in 60 countries and made The Times’s audience care about sex trafficking, climate change and the plight of women and children in the developing world.

Besides conflict, The Times also had Naka covering fashion shows, car shows and Olympics. He did all three of those events in the same week (Paris, Geneva and Turin) before going to Darfur to continue reporting on the genocide (it was the fifth of sixth trips to the region.)

Naka lives in Waimea on the Big Island and his writing for Civil Beat will initially focus on his reflections on moving home.


A deadline is looming for many fire survivors but right now letʻs take a collective moment of grace and aloha.

Derek Kawakami went to act on his instinct, but he hesitated and didn’t step forward. 

Kauai’s mayor is like so many of us: Unsure of what to do when it comes to Maui.

In this instance, Kawakami was on stage at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center last Thursday at the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s convention panel with the state’s four mayors. Maui’s mayor, Richard Bissen, had stood up and delivered a halting testimonial. 

Gesturing to the mayors and Micah Kane, the CEO of the Hawaii Community Foundation, Bissen said, “These are the first four people who called me individually. They’re also the first to send help. So this was my chance to thank them in front of all of you. Can you help me thank them?”

As the audience applauded, Kawakami, the mayor seated furthest away from Bissen, placed his hand on the arm of the couch ready to stand, but he stayed seated. 

But then, he followed through on his instinct and rose, walked across the stage and gave the much larger Bissen a hug. 

Kawakami then told the story of when he first met Bissen. They were next to each in the men’s restroom in the Honolulu airport.

“Are you Judge Bissen? He said, ‘Hey you’re Mayor Kawakami.’ I said, ‘You’re a lot bigger in real life.’”

The four mayors make for a compelling stage show and it’s nice to see politicians getting along with each other after all the infighting we’ve seen on the national stage.

Lahaina resident Archie Kalepaʻs address to convention attendees said “we have one chance to get it right.” (Christie Wilson/Civil Beat/2023)

There’s a swirl about what we can do for Maui 15 weeks after the fire. This is an in-between period when a lot of the difficult work is being done, and many of the hard questions don’t yet have clear answers. 

Maui has gotten a lot of money, offers of assistance and an influx of ideas. But you know what else Maui really needs?

Maui needs a hug, an embrace of support. Kawakami did the right thing. Maui also needs some peace and rest. 

There’s a feeling of weariness on the island. Everyone is wiped out. I wish they could ease into the holidays, with plenty of opportunities for rest, but there’s no chance of doing that right now. There’s too much work to be done.

You can see the burden being heavily borne by those who dreamt of a better Maui for their grandchildren, and their grandchildren’s grandchildren. 

They are bearing the brunt of that now as their community faces housing deadlines, but they are also shouldering the weight of what Maui should be in the future.

“We have one chance to get it right,” said Lahaina resident and waterman Archie Kalepa. “We want to make sure we hear from people, so our community can change this place for the better.”

Many families on Maui are facing end of November temporary housing deadlines. Bissen has a serious decision to make and the owners and operators of short-term rentals on Maui are feeling the pressure.

“What the county is seeking is voluntary compliance from the industry to donate the rooms and the homes that we need,” said Bissen. “Now if they say no, then we have the option that has been talked about (taking over short-term rentals.) It’s not that we don’t understand the option or we’re not aware of the option. The question is when do you make that call? When do you do it?”

Maui doesn’t have the time to wait around and let things work themselves out. 

Matt Jachowski estimates that converting around 15% of Mauiʻs short-term rentals and second homes into longer-term housing would help keep Maui families on the island. Jachowski now works for CNHA. (Matthew Leonard/Civil Beat/2023)

Just before the mayors spoke, Matt Jachowski, a software programmer and Maui native, talked through the math based on property tax records. 

“We have approximately 12,000 short-term rentals and 12,000 second homes for a total of 24,000 housing units not being used for long-term housing,” Jachowski wrote in an email later. He figures there are about 3,500 families that need long-term housing solutions. 

Jachowkski says that converting roughly 15% of Maui’s short-term rentals and second homes to long-term housing would keep Maui families on Maui. 

I have just as many questions as the biggest of skeptics about what happened in the recent past that contributed to the fires, what is happening now and what will happen in the future. 

All of those questions, all that despair and hope, all the ideas from so many comers and corners, is a lot for the people of Maui to bear. 

There were a lot of mistakes and bad activity on Maui, and leaders need to be held accountable, but for a moment I want to follow Kawakami’s lead and ask if we can have a collective moment of grace and aloha for Maui.

Maui is strong. Its people are tough. They will be resilient. But sometimes, even the toughest, mightiest and strongest of us simply need a hug or other show of aloha, and time for rest and peace.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.


Read this next:

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About the Author

Naka Nathaniel

Naka Nathaniel has returned to regular journalism after being the primary parent for his son. In those 13 years, his child has only been to the ER five times (three due to animal attacks.)

Before parenting, Naka was known as an innovative journalist. He was part of the team that launched NYTimes.com in 1996 and he led a multimedia team that pioneered many new approaches to storytelling.

On 9/11, he filmed the second plane hitting the South Tower. His footage aired on the television networks and a sequence was the dominant image on NYTimes.com.

While based in Paris for The New York Times, he developed a style of mobile journalism that gave him the ability to report from anywhere on the planet. He covered the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and was detained while working in Iran, Sudan, Gaza and China. He is one of a handful of Americans who has been in North Korea, but not South Korea. He worked in 60 countries and made The Times’s audience care about sex trafficking, climate change and the plight of women and children in the developing world.

Besides conflict, The Times also had Naka covering fashion shows, car shows and Olympics. He did all three of those events in the same week (Paris, Geneva and Turin) before going to Darfur to continue reporting on the genocide (it was the fifth of sixth trips to the region.)

Naka lives in Waimea on the Big Island and his writing for Civil Beat will initially focus on his reflections on moving home.


Latest Comments (0)

I like Mayor Kawakami respect for the Maui people who are still in needs. He's a real person who have compassion for the people.Maybe if people think about the future of their families it can be more simple to settle in getting things done faster.Attorneys are seeking huge payments and it's costing extra unnecessary payments.Too much greed are being charged for them.Maybe eliminate the attorneys and make settlement directly to the families that have lost their families and property would ease the pain.When attorneys are involved unlimited $$$$ are involved.Stop the greed and Start Providing the families.Being realistic if The cost of the stress and burdens The families are going through is it worth it?

Dennis · 3 months ago

What Maui needs more than anything else is revenue. The County is hemorrhaging in red ink. Reductions in services and positions are already occurring, Maui accounts for 30% of stae revenue. Maui is dragging the entire state down economically. The cost of the fires is in the billions, at a minimum. We are broke. How to do that? Open the floodgates to commercial activity, What are we doing instead? Juat the opposite lockimg us into homelessless, poverty and dependence. Subsistence by handout, Begging. People are leaving the island. There are no jobs. No new commercial use permits. The resistance to commercial activity is a bizarre and nonsensical attitude, Want to heal Maui. Approve every commercial use permit, business license and building permit. Open 100% to tourism. Flood the cash registers and prosperity will return, The poverty subsistence mindset is the problem. Antitourism and and anticommercialization are rooted in racism, selfishness and economic ignorance,

Tavares · 3 months ago

I'm so sorry that Maui is going through all that they have, and there are a couple things that bother me, (1) Why in the world is Bisson putting this tourism BS above what the people of Maui really need is for "Healing time" NOT no Tourists groups taking the visitors through the Fire zone to stare and make the locals feel so uncomfortable, They are NOT Zoo animals that need to be looked at or questioned by these people, The locals NEED Support, compassion and so on. But, Bisson and his thoughts (probably) is to allow tourism to resume will take some of the heat and blame off him. (2) All the mayors gathering on Maui is awesome, but they need to show support by giving the hugs, and letting people know the home islands of the Mayors are going to be with them for a long haul, IDK what our Political figures (both Federal and State) are thinking, what should be the priority and that is what is really needed to get our residents to feel a "worth" right now I'm guessing that the vast majority are feeling quite the opposite and with this Tourism being allowed back it's probably worse than anyone even knows.

unclebob61 · 3 months ago

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