He Kuaʻāina a he Wahine Koa o Molokaʻi Nui a Hina

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Colette Yvette Piʻipiʻi Machado
Oct. 25, 1950 – May 23, 2022

“O ka piʻi no ia a Kōkī-o-Wailau; Ascended to the topmost part of Wailau.”
An expression of admiration for one who reaches the top in spite of difficulties.
– ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #2434

Auwē, Uwē, Auwē. Lament, cry, sorrow. Our wahine koa, Colette Piʻipiʻi Machado, champion for Molokaʻi, with a heart full of aloha passed into the leina on May 23, 2022. In her lifetime, Colette overcame financial hardship and racial prejudice to be acknowledged as one of the most influential and respected leaders of our lāhui.

Born on Molokaʻi, her ancestral roots traced to the Piʻipiʻi warriors of Hālawa, Molokaʻi. Her grandfather, Zachary Pali-Pahupu was one of the original six homesteaders to found the Hawaiian Homestead Program in Kalamaʻula in 1921.

Her parents, Francis Machado and Hannah Pali-Pahupu, were born and raised on Molokaʻi. Her father delivered mail until her parents decided to uproot the family and move to Honolulu where they resided at Pālolo Housing and later in Kalihi.

Colette was the youngest sister to three older half-brothers (Jerry, Milton and Peter Haliniak). Playing alongside them, she learned how to be tough and how to fight back.

In elementary and then intermediate, she was disenchanted by racial discrimination and by a lack of hope and eventually dropped out in the ninth grade to stay home and help babysit her two oldest nieces.

She eventually earned her GED in Oregon and returned home for an opportunity to participate in a new program called the College Opportunity Program (COP). It started as an experimental program in model cities and eventually became a part of the University of Hawaiʻi. Colette successfully completed the program and was admitted to UH Mānoa, where she graduated with honors in education.

Shortly afterward, a documentary film was made about her educational journey. Titled “Colette,” it premiered in 1975 and was used to recruit for the COP program by showcasing her success.

I met Colette when she took the Hawaiians class that I teach in the Department of Ethnic Studies and together we protested the eviction of farmers in Waiāhole-Waikāne and supported striking workers at Hawaiian Telephone.

After college, Colette worked as a TRIO counselor at Honolulu Community College. Contractor Chucky Coelho recalls how she helped him and other students from Molokaʻi get financial aid, navigate through the system, and graduate. Colette was a strong advocate for all Native Hawaiian students.

Fed up with Oʻahu, Colette returned to Molokaʻi and began working to protect her island home from the development that was ruining Oʻahu.

She first worked with Alu Like, and then established the alternative education program, Ka Papa Honua O Keawanui with Kamehameha Schools. It was at this time that she became involved in the effort to famously “Keep Molokaʻi Molokaʻi,” working alongside Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli, Judy and Sherman Napoleon, Joyce Kainoa, Wren Wescoat, John Sabas, Adolph Helm, and Leiala and Jane Lee (as Hui Ala Loa, Inc.), to stop the development at West Molokaʻi and preserve the island’s scarce water resources for homesteaders.

“We saved Kaiaka ʻblack rock’ from becoming a hotel and protected the fishing koʻa and sites at Kawākiu – including a portion of Ke Ala Pūpū a Kiha from the Pōhakumāuliuli cliff condos,” said Aluli.

They also started Nā Lima Hana O Nā ʻŌpio, involving youth to help reopen loʻi kalo in Manaʻe, learning from taro farmers they visited in Keʻanae-Waluanui and Waipiʻo. Colette helped found Mālama Manaʻe, Ka Leo O Manaʻe, Kākoʻo Kawela, Mālama Molokaʻi and Ke Kuaʻāina Hanauna Hou – all of which were successful in protecting Molokaʻi lands and wai from development. Around this time, she met the love of her life, her husband, Myron Akutagawa, a descendant of taro farmers from Wailau Valley.

Across the channel, Colette and Hui Ala Loa, Inc., successfully organized the Aloha ʻĀina movement to stop the bombing and all military use of the island of Kahoʻolawe. She organized the first Makahiki ceremonies and continued to play a pivotal role in the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana, later serving on the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission.

Islands-wide, Colette served on the State Land Use Commission and the Hawaiian Homes Commission, which prepared her to eventually run for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Photo: Myron and Collette Machado
Family photo of Machado and her husband, Myron Akutagawa. – Photo: Courtesy

Her husband, Myron says, “Colette gave her best for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), serving as the trustee for the islands of Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi for six terms from 1996 through 2020 and as chairperson of the Board of Trustees from 2010 to 2014 and 2017 to 2020.”

While serving as a trustee, Colette was key in the acquisition of Wao Kele O Puna, Kūkaniloko Birthing stones, and the Palauea Cultural Preserve. She brokered the acquisition of the Kakaʻako Makai lands that generate $4.6 million annually with the potential to generate millions more. She also sponsored an OHA resolution to fund the kiaʻi of Mauna A Wākea and the filing of a civil suit challenging UH’s management of the mauna.

During her tenure at OHA, the organization became the 13th largest landowner in Hawaiʻi and the trust fund grew to $600 million.

As an OHA trustee, Colette was all about serving the people of Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi and the majority from these islands reciprocated by consistently voting for her. From funding a dialysis station in Kalaupapa for Uncle Henry Nalaielua and other patients to funding a state-of-the-art extension of the Molokaʻi General Hospital serving the whole island, no need was too small or too large.

Photo: Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) staff and commissioners
Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) staff and commissioners deep in discussion at Hakioawa during a site visit to Kahoʻolawe. L-R (standing) are Derek Chow, Palikapu Dedman and Jeffrey Chang; (sitting) Burt Sakata and Machado. – Photo: KIRC

Colette’s heart continued to be in the grassroots community organizing and advocating with the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana and Molokaʻi groups at the forefront of protecting Hawaiʻi’s lands and cultural resources – such as stopping the disinterment of hundreds of iwi kūpuna at Honokōhau, Maui.

She was also a member of Ka ʻOhana O Kalaupapa and the Hoʻolehua Hawaiian Civic Club, and was the founding president of the Molokaʻi Land Trust.

Colette and Myron made their mark in the islands-wide movement for community-based economic development from Waiāhole to Kīpahulu. After saving the Pūkoʻo Lagoon in east Molokaʻi from resort development they initiated aquaculture, cultivating and marketing a popular native long ogo limu identified by Isabella Abbott as gracilaria parvispora (not to be confused with gorilla ogo).

Colette has come full circle in her life’s journey, joining her ancestors in the embrace of her heavenly father in whom she believed as a faithful Christian. In her own words, “I love Molokaʻi. It is my ʻāina hānau, land of my birth, land of my kūpuna kahiko and my kulāiwi where I will remain when I hala.”

Colette Machado’s legacy is for the generations – an Aloha ʻĀina, a mana wahine, a wahine koa. E ola!

Photos from a trip to Washington D.C., when Machado was on the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission. Photos: Stanton Enomoto

Fond Memories

“Colette reincorporated ‘ke kuaʻāina’ into the vocabulary of our Aloha ʻĀina movement. She created pathways for future generations to learn from their ʻaumakua, our nature deities, kūpuna and cultural practitioners to develop the skills to protect the ʻāina and kai and ʻto take care of the land so the land would take care of us.’ She had unconditional aloha. She did her homework, lived her politics, and ran meetings with a tita-like leadership – with the ability to explain and argue for the best results. We appreciate and mahalo her always. Ke aloha kūpaʻa o ka ʻāina.”
– Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli, family physician, Molokaʻi Family Health Center

“Colette responded to the needs of Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi finding funds to support Akaʻula School, the Kualapuʻu Charter School, the Molokaʻi Land Trust, dialysis for Kalaupapa, expansion of Molokaʻi General Hospital, and the Lānaʻi Culture and Heritage Center. When she observed a Molokaʻi family living houseless on Maui, she personally arranged for their travel home and helped set them up in a shelter. I am thankful we had a staunch and prayerful warrior as our leader. Her love for Myron, her family, her island home, and for God and all of His creations leaves an indelible imprint.”
– Stacy Helm Crivello, former County Council member, Molokaʻi

“I can still hear Aunty Colette driving up to my house and beeping her horn saying, ʻGayla Ann, come riding with me down the wharf.’ She would take me to the wharf, up Hoʻolehua, and circle around town three or four times just to talk story with me. Being in her company made me feel happy. Aunty always said, “I love my family.” And she did. She did everything spiritual and cultural for our family. Yes, she advocated for our people, but she also was the bind keeping our family together. She will be greatly missed.”
– Gayla Ann Haliniak, niece

“‘Eh Kev…’ is how she usually started a sentence when she called. Colette never minced words – was more direct than most of humanity and didn’t seem to fear anyone. She could walk into any room with a baseball cap, muʻumuʻu and slippers and dominate. She was rough and tumble. She was bullheaded. She is a legend. People have stories about her that she doesn’t know and never told herself. One story is about her big heart. Another is about the great tears she shed. Another makes it sound as if she were the Bobby Knight of Molokaʻi. Another might be about her sound administrative ability as the chair of OHA. Rest in peace, my friend.”
– Kevin Chang, executive director, KUA

“She had the fire and passion to advocate for Native Hawaiians and protect our island home – a true warrior. She was able to confront issues in a way that didn’t threaten people, but they understood she meant business. She always spoke from her heart and when she spoke publicly, she was able to connect with people on an emotional level.”
– Carol Hoomanawanui, administrative assistant to Colette at OHA

“Colette was one of my great heroes. Her entire adult life was about public service, advocating for Molokaʻi and all Hawaiʻi and all Hawaiians. Her arena was public meetings, advocating for the land and people she loved. Together we created Molokaʻi Land Trust and she was the first president. After a while, she was needed more as the chair of OHA and became our emeritus board chair. Her legacies will live on.”
– Rikki Cooke, photographer and co-founder of Molokaʻi Land Trust

“Colette will always be in my mind’s eye. Her initial ‘tough tita’ persona was only because she lived by her principles, and she wanted to find out who you were. Once she knew you, there is nothing she would not do to help you. She was a warrior when it came to her culture. She broke the barrier with US foundations and American Indian leadership and brought them into her sphere of action and activity. Our lives have been so blessed to have shared space during these many years. A hui hou.”
– Hardy Spoehr, former executive director of Papa Ola Lōkahi