Hawaiʻi Should Lead Forth, for it is the Largest

Moku o Keawe is the youngest, and largest island in ka pae ʻāina o Hawaiʻi. With more than 4,000 square miles of land, it is larger than all of the other islands combined.

And yet somehow, Hawaiʻi Island has, for the most part, been spared the rampant, unchecked development that has plagued Oʻahu for more than half a century and more recently, Maui and Kauaʻi.

This rapid, greed-driven development has inflicted extreme violence in its wake. Our iwi kūpuna have been unearthed; our ecosystems have been corrupted; countless native species have been eradicated; and our people, language and culture were nearly erased.

With little left to pillage on the smaller Hawaiian Islands, real estate developers and corporate interests are increasingly fixing their sights on Moku o Keawe as Hawaiʻi’s “final frontier” ripe for economic exploitation.

Already Kailua-Kona is unrecognizable, having been overdeveloped into a tourist mecca reminiscent of Waikīkī. North of Kailua town, West Hawaiʻi’s coastline hosts no less than eight luxury resorts catering to the mega wealthy and the exclusive residential developments they spawn. Meanwhile, intrepid visitors are venturing out of designated “tourist” areas and encroaching into spaces and communities that have not invited tourism.

Despite painful lessons learned during the pandemic about economic diversity, sustainability and food security, and despite vows to diversify Hawaiʻi’s economy, reduce our dependency on imported goods, and address the looming climate crisis, now that COVID-19 no longer terrifies, many of our government and business leaders seem happy enough to continue Hawaiʻi’s unhealthy dependence on the tourist industry despite the damage it wreaks on our environment, the strain it places on our infrastructure, and its contribution to the affordable housing crisis.

Increasingly, the kupa of Moku o Keawe, like the kupa of Nā Hono a Piʻilani, in their own spaces and within their own kuleana are refusing to acquiesce. They do not accept that having their island remade by outsiders into someone else’s fantasy image of what Hawaiʻi should be is somehow inevitable.

They are working in their respective spaces to create economic opportunities and industries that are relevant and healthy for our people and that pay them a living wage – rather than working for minimum wage to service the whims of visitors.

They understand that as Native Hawaiians they have constitutionally protected rights, and they are asserting those rights, demanding to be heard, and teaching the next generation to do the same.

And while their opponents may have more time, money and resources, these ʻŌiwi are nevertheless determined to flip the script. It is an endurance match, but the stakes are high. They remain kūpaʻa, immovable and resolute.