Latest KĀKOU Town Hall Hits a Nerve
KĀKOU Town Hall Guests: Māhealani Perez-Wendt, Mike Irish and Aaron Sala
We did something a little different at the second KĀKOU Town Hall, televised and streamed live for two hours on PBS Hawai‘i April 19.
Mostly, we let the conversation unfold naturally. This wasn’t a shout-‘em-down event; it was a respectful Hawai‘i discussion in which people from different backgrounds and perspectives mulled quality-of-life answers.
Our topic was The Global Squeeze: How Do We Keep Hawai‘i Hawai‘i? Thirty-eight thoughtful invitees gathered, 16 of them Neighbor Islanders.
Participants were quick to point out that many residents, especially Native Hawaiians, are feeling that they need to leave Hawai‘i, as they weigh earnings against sky-high housing prices and a heavy burden of state and local taxes. Some characterized tourism as a perpetual engine that is running unchecked.
Back row, from left: Hank Adaniya, Rob Stephenson, Edward Wendt, Māhealani Perez-Wendt, Keoni Lee, Lori McCarney, Kealoha Hooper, Sabra Kauka, Mike Irish, Maenette Benham, Puna Dawson, Kepa Maly, Jan Harada, Tom Raffipiy, T. Ilihia Gionson, Corie Tanida, David DeRauf, Danny Goya and Peter Adler. Middle row: Denise Laitinen, Kit Zulueta, Mark Doo, Jon Osorio, Mike Buck, Kainoa Horcajo, Marlene Booth, Aaron Salā, Candy Suiso, Mark Suiso, Daphne Barbee-Wooten, Jay Fidell, Olin Lagon and Ekela Crozier. Front row: Jennifer Suzuki, Leslie Wilcox, Rebecca Meyer, Eric Enos, Skylark Rossetti and Craig Takamine.
A high school junior, Rebecca Meyer, expects to move away. She noted that she’s never visited some special places on her home island of O‘ahu, because tourists are overrunning them.
The Dean of the UH Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, Dr. Jon Osorio, said, “We need to have political and economic change if Hawaiians are going to stay here. And honestly, if Hawaiians disappear from here, it isn’t Hawai‘i anymore.”
Dr. Maenette Benham, UH-West O‘ahu Chancellor, said that what keeps Hawai‘i Hawai‘i is the cultural values that young people hold in their na‘au, or gut, and how they use them as a driving force to uplift community.
Jay Fidell reminded everyone that cost-of-living anxiety dates back decades. “How do you convert that into recognizing the sea change and doing something about it?”
T. Ilihia Gionson of Kona said a good next step is voting in the upcoming election for a worthy candidate – “and if you don’t see one, maybe it’s supposed to be you.”
Māhealani Perez-Wendt of Hana, Maui, prefaced her answer by saying it’s “sensitive” and usually not discussed “in mixed company” – meaning Native Hawaiians and non-Native Hawaiians.
“What I hear in this room is a sense of resignation,” she said. She advocates Hawaiian sovereignty as an “agenda of survival.”
Her husband, taro farmer Ed Wendt, agreed: “This is deep, deeper than you think.”
A younger Hawaiian by a generation, Keoni Lee, offered that sovereignty should be viewed by non-Hawaiians as an opportunity, not a threat, as Native Hawaiians can lead the way in sustainability practices that once made their homeland flourish.
Maui’s Kainoa Horcajo preferred to call this “home rule” rather than sovereignty. He said, “It’s not just a kānaka thing, it’s a kākou thing…That is the way we truly solve all of these problems.”
Peter Adler, a professional in conflict resolution, listened intently during the program but chose not to speak. He told me later: “In certain settings, a shut mouth gathers no foot.”
You can find this discussion online at pbshawaii.org. Look for our next KĀKOU Town Hall this fall.
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