Protecting the ʻĀina

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Na Ed Kalama | Unuhi ʻia e Kilika Bennett

A pair of OHA grants are helping community nonprofit ʻĀina Alliance revitalize some 400 acres in Anahola, Kauaʻi

Their mission is to convert land liabilities into community assets. And they’re going to get the job done, even if they have to do it themselves.

Founded in 2021, ʻĀina Alliance is a community nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing some 400 acres of mostly vacant Department of Hawaiian Home Lands in Anahola, Kauaʻi. The land had deteriorated in recent years with illegal dumping and homeless encampments a constant nuisance.

“This beautiful coastline of Anahola has been abused and polluted for too long. In the last two years we have worked to restore its beauty by removing abandoned cars, appliances, trash, and hazardous waste. We look forward to a thriving future here, powered by Native Hawaiians guided by the wisdom and practices of our kūpuna and culture,” said ʻĀina Alliance Board President Jeremie Makepa.

ʻĀina Alliance was recently awarded a pair of grants from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. A $100,000 community grant will help the group expand its current Anahola Hazard Mitigation program and create venues for Native Hawaiian cultural workshops. A $25,000 Kākoʻo Grant will be used for administrative tasks.

The Anahola Hazard Mitigation Project began in April of 2021 and involves the coordination of multiple state, county and private organizations. The project involves addressing potential fire and health problems and rallying the community to take pride in caring for their ʻāina.

Makepa said the coastline in Anahola provides ample space for cultural practitioners to share their expertise with others in a variety of natural settings.

“These grant funds will help to build and maintain safe spaces and access to the best locations to conduct the workshops and place-based learning activities. Over the next two years, the goal is to have at least 24 cultural workshop events and 24 community workday events to reduce pollution on the ʻāina. Our goal is to build a resilient community supported by strong ʻohana with deep connections to our past, our homes, and each other,” Makepa said.

Makepa is a Kauaʻi fire captain, a DHHL beneficiary and an Anahola resident. He’s also an exceptionally inspiring individual – he saw a need in his community and did something about it.

“I just got tired of seeing what was happening here, and having to respond as a fire captain to the car fires and dumping that was going on, so ʻĀina Alliance was started,” he said.

“Basically, we’re a bunch of individuals who became so disgusted with what was going on in our community that we decided to do something about it. You can complain and complain but it doesn’t work. We were tired of listening to excuses from the government – and from everybody else – so we decided to take action.”

Makepa’s neighbor, Frank Cummings, owned a trucking company.

“He found out what we were trying to do and he wanted to help. He had been trying to do exactly what I was working on, so we partnered up,” Makepa said. “Because of my public safety background with the fire department, and his expertise in trucking and heavy machinery, we just made a super team that can work together to get things done.

“Frank is the vice president of our nonprofit, I’m the president, and together we have a vision to revitalize our ʻāina and help Native Hawaiians get back on the land.”

Makepa said in 2020 there were more than 300 abandoned vehicles in the area. Thatʻs when he knew that something had to be done.

“I kept seeing these kūpuna just walking around trying to pick up rubbish on the side of the road. They inspired me in the way that they wanted to take care of the community – but they couldn’t get the impact that they needed by picking up rubbish because people were dumping things faster than they could take stuff away. I started doing some work and eventually became the founder of our nonprofit.”

Makepa said he’s trying to spread the inspiration to kōkua around and show people that somebody cares for this area – so they should too.

“Really, we’re just trying to empower people to be their own hero,” he said. “We constantly depend on government and point the blame – ʻhow come you guys doing this, you guys should be doing that.’

“But really, if you want to take control of your own destiny, I believe you’ve got to take the initiative, be your hero, and do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.”