ʻŌiwi Resources and Our County Government


By Keoni Kuoha and Uʻilani Tanigawa Lum

In the November election, Maui County voters will be asked whether or not to approve the charter amendment to establish a Department of ʻŌiwi Resources. To inform civic discussion, we offer questions and responses on the topic for the readers of Ka Wai Ola.

What are the county’s responsibilities to the proper management of ʻŌiwi resources?

Our counties have a variety of responsibilities to the proper management of ʻŌiwi resources as directed by state and federal law, among which the state Constitution is the most expansive. As a result of the 1978 Constitutional Convention, and out of concern for Hawaiʻi’s natural and cultural resources, Hawaiʻi’s people elevated protections around our resources and customs in a series of constitutional amendments. Article XI, Section 1 of the state Constitution provides that “all public natural resources are held in trust by the state for the benefit of the people.”

Furthermore, Article XII, Section 7 gives the state the duty to protect all Hawaiian rights “customarily and traditionally exercised for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes….” As a political subdivision of the state, counties are responsible for actualizing these protections. The protection of our natural resources and Hawaiian customs and traditions is the foundation of the county’s duty to proper management of ʻŌiwi resources.

The current Maui County Charter further dedicates the county to being “mindful of our Hawaiian history, heritage and culture” and to “fulfill[ing] the philosophy decreed by the Hawaiʻi State motto, ʻUa mau ke ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono.’” These substantial commitments by the county require specialized knowledge and skills to guide decision-making and ensure pono management. While these duties are required of the county as a whole, a dedicated department of ʻŌiwi resources would provide specialized expertise in ʻŌiwi resources to actualize meaningful protections and kuleana around these resources.

What could a county Department of ʻŌiwi Resources do?

Governments concentrate the knowledge and skill sets of important disciplines within departments to maintain the various functions of government and produce positive outcomes for citizens. Yet, there are currently no county departments in which the knowledge and skill sets required to manage ʻŌiwi resources are minimum qualifications for their leadership.

That would change if the Department of ʻŌiwi Resources is established. According to the proposed charter amendment, the director of the Department of ʻŌiwi Resources must be experienced in Hawaiian cultural resource management, cultural practices, and proficient in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi. Moreover, the proposed Department of ʻŌiwi Resources would: 1) collaborate with the mayor, executive branch, and council to ensure proper management of ʻŌiwi resources throughout the county; 2) design and implement programs to care for and develop ʻŌiwi resources; 3) guide the county in the correct usage of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, including place names and the integration of ʻōlelo within county functions; 4) promote healthy ecosystems through traditional resource management practices; and 5) advise state and federal agencies on all programs and projects that affect ʻŌiwi resources in the county.

How does county management of ʻŌiwi resources relate to Hawaiian self-governance?

The Hawaiian people have long sought and continue to strive for self-governance, including the independence to determine the foundational laws of our ʻāina and lāhui. However, county management of ʻŌiwi resources is not Hawaiian self-governance. Neither is it the type of limited self-governance exercised through the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Yet, it represents a type of self-determination that we have seen grow across Hawaiʻi since the renaissance of the 1970s, through which Hawaiians build communities of practice and rise to positions of leadership within important sectors of our society.

Hawaiian education is a perfect example of this growing self-determination, where schools are built upon the foundation of Hawaiian values and education systems integrate Hawaiian culture into their practice as both the content and context of learning. County management of ʻŌiwi resources represents an opportunity to further cultivate Hawaiian self-determination within the government sector.

Just as important, county management of ʻŌiwi resources is an opportunity to improve the government that we share with all residents of these islands, for the benefit of all and as required by the state Constitution. Hawaiian customs and traditions are a rich source of wellbeing for many. And, although the primary kuleana to steward ʻŌiwi resources is passed down through families and lineages of cultural practice, all who call Hawaiʻi home have kuleana to support good stewardship of these resources. Collectively, Hawaiians, Hawaiʻi residents, and visitors will benefit from caring for the resources that are the foundation of life in these islands.

Photo: Keoni Kuoha
Keoni Kuoha
Photo: Tanigawa Lum
Uʻilani Tanigawa Lum

Keoni Kuoha serves as vice-chair of the Maui County Charter Commission. Uʻilani Tanigawa Lum is an attorney, hula practitioner, and fellow at Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law at the William S. Richardson School of Law. The manaʻo shared in this article are their own.