ʻŌiwi Resources: What Are They and Why Should You Care?


By Keoni Kuoha and Cody Pueo Pata

On November 8, Maui County voters will be asked whether or not to approve a 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 does ʻŌiwi mean?

ʻŌiwi is primarily defined as “indigenous, native.” Core to the concept of ʻōiwi is “iwi” which, along with meaning “bone,” also expresses the concepts of “familial relation,” “durability,” and “identity.” Things considered ʻōiwi are intrinsically tied to a place and each other through environmental, genealogical, cultural, communal, and/or experiential relationships. Today, all that are native to the pae ʻāina, waters, and skies of Hawaiʻi are ʻŌiwi.

What are ʻŌiwi resources?

ʻŌiwi resources provision Hawaiian cultural practices and worldview. As tangible and intangible resources, Hawaiian culture does not exist without them. In the charter amendment ballot question, ʻŌiwi resources are briefly described as “the Hawaiian language, place names, historical and archival materials, cultural sites, iwi and burials, and the variety of natural resources used in cultural practices.” Delving further into whole and thriving cultural practices, ʻŌiwi resources include the places at which practices may be conducted in their fullest expression, the names of places that lend context to practices, the cultural knowledge and perspectives that are embedded in practices, the ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi used to convey knowledge and perspective, and the materials that enable practice, such as the koa resources used to build canoes, craft ʻukulele, and even adorn hula altars (which include the bodies of hula dancers).

Why manage ʻŌiwi resources?

A government’s decision to manage a resource indicates that the resource has value to society, and failure to manage that resource could lead to negative consequences like decline, degradation or disappearance, including extinction, of the resource therefore negatively impacting society. The underlying questions before Maui County voters in November will be: 1) Are ʻŌiwi resources valued by our society? and; 2) Will failure to manage these resources lead to negative consequences? To both of these questions, we believe the answer is a resounding YES.

To the first question, we need only to look to the value that our communities place on ʻŌiwi resources. They sustain and enrich our lives. At a minimum, the widespread enjoyment of practices like heʻe nalu (surfing), hoe waʻa (canoe paddling), hula, and mele (song) show that, across society, we value ʻŌiwi resources.

To the second question, our contemporary history is full of failures to properly manage ʻŌiwi resources, the consequences being matters of life or death. Mismanagement of the ocean, shoreline and freshwater resources that feed and sustain our families has forced many to move from their beloved ʻāina, some leaving Hawaiʻi entirely. Unlike previous generations, most Hawaiians can no longer live off the resources that are currently managed simply as “natural resources.” It is clear that the framework of natural resource management alone is not adequate to maintain ʻŌiwi resources to meet the sustenance and cultural needs of Hawaiians, let alone all who call Hawaiʻi home.

With effectively managed ʻŌiwi resources, cultural continuity and prosperity can be ours now and for generations to come.

Imagine a Hawaiʻi where access to ʻŌiwi resources is no longer threatened by overdevelopment and lawsuits; where wai is treasured, mauna are reserved for our highest pursuits, and fisheries are managed by those who depend on them. Where our government utilizes millennia of accumulated cultural knowledge to craft decisions that consider far more than property lines and short-term outcomes. This is all possible if we simply take the steps needed to infuse our governance with the knowledge and skills necessary for the proper management of ʻŌiwi resources. In Maui County, we are on the cusp of taking this step forward – but only if we collectively chose this for ourselves in the November election.

Keoni Kuoha serves as vice-chair of the Maui County Charter Commission. Cody Pueo Pata is kumu hula of Ka Malama Mahilani and serves as the Hawaiian cultural advisor for the mayor of Maui County. The manaʻo shared in this article is their own.