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Kanaka Maoli Health Does Not Matter, Kanaka Maoli Do Not Matter
Blocking the connection between Native Hawaiians and sacred land has the potential to negatively affect health, the writer argues.

About the Author

  • Sharde Mersberg Freitas
    Sharde Mersberg Freitas earned her masters in Public Health from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and her Juris Doctorate degree from the UH William S. Richardson School of Law. She is a mother, wife, kanaka maoli and aloha aina activist.

Despite the overwhelming testimony in opposition to the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) proposed “emergency” rules, the BLNR approved them, further limiting access to kanaka maoli’s sacred temple, Mauna a Wakea.

The BLNR cited reasons of needing to preserve “law and order,” and ranger reports noted safety concerns. This latest decision has added to the Hawaii state government’s support of profits over people.

But what about the safety and public health concern for the lahui to practice their religion? What about the continued ʻeha and stress to see or experience the continued desecration of our lands and most sacred spaces? What about the public health concern for kanaka maoli?

Thatched roofed structure and a small canoe across the street from the Maunakea visitors center. Maunakea. Hawaii. 24 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Thatched roofed structure and a small canoe across the street from the Mauna Kea visitors center.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) to be built atop Mauna a Wakea gives promise to many new scientific discoveries. However, it is not a new scientific discovery that Native Hawaiians have the poorest health in the state, and among the worst health in the nation. There are many factors that influence one’s health.

Specific to Native Hawaiians, my master’s thesis looked at the associations between social determinants of health that are specific to Native Hawaiians. The social determinants of health identified that are specific to Native Hawaiian health include, but are not limited to education, culture, land and natural resources, and rights and ethics related to research and government.

Specifically looking at the connection between health and land, the idea that there is a positive correlation between access to the land and health is not a new discovery. In fact, Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Services is a model community health center for the world using indigenous knowledge where doctors have been known to prescribe a patient time to steward the land. Because in working the land, one with diabetes reconnects with the importance of knowing where one’s food comes from — knowing how to harvest it, knowing how to cook it — and builds social connections with fellow gardeners in the process.

In consideration of this long-established connection of health and land, why is the BLNR allowed to approve such “emergency” rules that will limit access to kanaka maoli’s sacred space of Mauna a Wakea? Knowing this correlation between health and land, BLNR’s decision to limit access to land means less connectedness with land resulting in poor health outcomes. This decision, and others like it, indicates that kanaka maoli’s health does not matter; kanaka maoli do not matter.

What more will it take for the Hawaii state government to follow the lead of the keepers of the “host culture?” If Gov. David Ige is so concerned about the “host culture,” then why won’t he listen to the protectors of said culture? (SeeRespecting the Host Culture: Why are Guests’ Values More Important” by Williamson Chang). Despite efforts of a pretextual democratic process and other instances of public input leading up to this point, the picture is very clear: There is an overt governmental strategy to bend the will of kanaka maoli to the control of the government.

What critics of the most recent uprising with the aloha aina movement in opposition to the building of the TMT may not know is that there is also an organized, experienced, tireless and unyielding kanaka maoli strategy to protect from “threats to natural, historical and cultural resources” (as noted in the “Summary of the Maunakea Ranger Reports, March – July 2015”). The protectors of Mauna a Wakea hold this force along with those who believe and practice aloha aina, and understand the importance in caring for our environmental resources with the manao, planning and forward-thinking of seven generations into the future.

As James Kaulia, president of Ahahui Aloha Aina, said, “… until the very last aloha aina.”