By Ardena Sanoe Saarinen and Nicholas Tanaka
Clara “Sweet” Matthews and her ʻohana are part of the living, evolving moʻolelo of North Hālawa Valley.
Since the early 1990s, with the help of a small group of community leaders, they have tirelessly pursued mālama ʻāina activities in the valley – hand-clearing invasive plants, planting food and medicinal plants, and protecting nearby archaeological sites from being destroyed by further development. North Hālawa Valley has long been revered by Native Hawaiians as a place of healing for the mind and body, a place for learning, and a place for worship.
In April 1992, Aunty Sweet and her late husband Robert “Boots” Matthews set out to protect two heiau (temples) located deep in Hālawa Valley: Hale o Papa (for women) and Luakini (for men).
They stood alongside a rising tide of mana wāhine, Native Hawaiian practitioners, and poʻe aloha ʻāina to block construction trucks and bulldozers from advancing down the path of the planned H-3 Freeway that would connect Leeward and Windward Oʻahu through the Koʻolau Mountains.
H-3 opened for public use on Dec. 12, 1997.
Although many were arrested for protesting, they were nevertheless determined to protect and preserve the archaeological, cultural, and natural resources that were sacred to the Kānaka ʻŌiwi of the Hālawa ahupuaʻa and greater moku of ʻEwa; a determination catalyzed from knowing the vast impacts H-3 would impose on the Hawaiian people and upon the ma uka regions of the valley whose pristine tributaries once fed the numerous loko iʻa momona (fertile fishponds) of Puʻuloa (Pearl Harbor).
Aunty Sweet and the growing hui held on to their vision and have worked for decades to protect this sacred space for those from across Ka Pae ʻĀina Hawaiʻi genuinely seeking a path to understanding the wealth of ancestral knowledge the valley holds, including the ancient healing practice of lāʻau lapaʻau.
Nā Kūpuna a me Nā Kākoʻo o Hālawa
Nonprofit Nā Kūpuna a me Nā Kākoʻo o Hālawa, Inc. (NKNKHI) was set up under leadership of Aunty Sweet who is now the project manager for the organization, and one of few kūpuna still with us.
The mission of NKNKHI is to promote preservation, cultural stewardship, and education in Hālawa Valley. Core team members took part in the multiple stages of planning potential mitigation options for North Hālawa Valley and other impacted areas in the aftermath of H-3’s construction.
The nonprofit has hosted and educated dozens of local, continental, and international groups over the last two decades. As the sole qualified applicant during the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ (OHA) solicitation for stewards of North Hālawa Valley, NKNKHI accepted its kuleana as the recognized steward of the project area in March 2016 and committed to the creation of a Stewardship Management Plan (SMP) in pursuit of securing access for continued stewardship of these ancient Hawaiian cultural sites. This kuleana is intended to pass down from generation to generation in perpetuity.
Healing of the ‘āina and the people has been the main theme over the years. It was further developed as the primary guiding objective for mitigation work to be carried out and directed by the stewards.
“We need ways to heal beyond the western concepts and practices of healing,” explained Aunty Sweet. “A cultural learning center, a hālau, in Hālawa Valley can provide descendants of this ‘āina some ways to begin healing from generational trauma and trauma experienced in their lifetime. If we can begin healing even just one or two of the many issues we Hawaiians face today – then these are the first steps to ensure a prosperous future for our moʻopuna.”
Stewardship of a Sacred Space in Perpetuity
With the completion of the SMP last March, the Hālawa stewards have reached a project milestone together in one small part of the overall and ongoing H-3 mitigation process.
The Hālawa SMP is based on the framework of the Luluku SMP, co-written by ʻĀina Momona and the Hālawa-Luluku Interpretive Development Project (HLID) team. In the SMP for Hālawa Valley, NKNKHI details its five-year Strategic Action Plan, Proposed Preservation Plans for Archaeological Features, a Master Plan for Support Facilities, and a Comprehensive Site Maintenance Plan. Together, these plans constitute the starting point for NKNKHI to begin implementing its programs and guiding future development as its organizational capacity expands through the coming years.
“Our ʻOHAna proudly recognizes the signifiant accomplishment of Nā Kūpuna a me Nā Kākoʻo o Hālawa in completing their North Hālawa Valley Stewardship Management Plan,” said OHA CEO Dr. Sylvia Hussey. “This milestone honors the strength and perserverence the kūpuna of Hālawa have sustained through decades to realize their vision of biocultural restoration that will establish a place of healing and learning for all.”
This past September, the Hālawa Stewards completed another significant milestone as the group was issued an automatically renewing permit from the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation (HDOT). This permit provides the stewards with access in perpetuity to the state-owned lands that comprise the North Hālawa Valley HLID project area. The SMP and the permit to access these sacred cultural sites detail the relationships, responsibilities, limitations, and processes that NKNKHI and HDOT will navigate together as Native Hawaiian community-based stewardship of this ʻāina evolves over time.
Mai Makaʻu i ka Hana, Do Not Fear the Work
NKNKHI will continue to lead the collaborative community work required to revitalize, restore, and preserve the sacred Hale O Papa and Luakini Heiau as part of the cultural kīpuka of North Hālawa Valley.
Support facilities in the valley are progressing with remaining pre-construction activities nearing completion. Construction of the hālau, restrooms, storage, and irrigation system in the valley together with the complete renovation of an administrative center near the entrance of the valley are anticipated to begin early 2023, and will be completed within the year.
Inspired and invigorated by these accomplishments, NKNKHI stands ready to guide the next generation of core team members that are needed to facilitate the important biocultural activities in Hālawa Valley that remain vital to healing and feeding the minds and bodies of our community.
“This achievement is a great reminder of what can be done when we ʻilau hoe, when we paddle together towards a common goal, like the protection and restoration of important cultural kīpuka across Ka Pae ʻĀina,” said OHA Board Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey.
“Part of OHA’s mission is to support efforts such as this hana here in Hālawa Valley. When we accomplish these things together we strengthen our lāhui and honor our kūpuna by creating protected spaces to perpetuate our cultural practices for this generation and those yet to come.”
Ardena Sanoe Saarinen is OHA’s project coordinator for the Hālawa-Luluku Interpretive Development (HLID) project. Nicholas Tanaka is president of Nā Kūpuna a me Nā Kāko‘o o Hālawa, Inc.
OHA would like to recognize the perseverence of the Hālawa Valley stewards and celebrates the milestone accomplishment of completing their Stewardship Management Plan and obtaining their renewable permit this year.
Despite the excellent stewardship work occurring at the Luluku and Hālawa Valley project areas, ensuring proper mitigation efforts for Ha‘ikū Valley, also affected by Interstate H-3, continues to be part of OHA’s kūleana.
OHA’s role as the recognized consulting agency for H-3 mitigation work entails ongoing advocacy, holding both the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation (HDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) accountable for continued federal historic preservation-related mitigations and state level conservation district commitments made decades ago.
OHA continues its commitment to working with the Ko‘olau Foundation to bring about cultural restoration and preservation work in Ha‘ikū Valley.
OHA and the HLID team bid a warm aloha to the late Karen Chun, HDOT Highways Division, Design Branch manager. We want to recognize her decades of service to Hawai‘i as a leading female engineer and specifically, her decades-long work on the H-3 mitigation project. She will be remembered for her significant contributions to the project and efforts towards a resolution. We extend our deepest sympathies to her ‘ohana who mourn her early passing in August.