Ka Wai Ola

Photo: Brendon Kalei'aina Lee

Today I had the amazing opportunity of having a tour of Pu‘ukukui Watershed Preserve then helping keiki plant kalo and kō at Ola Mau Farms. This experience of seeing a pristine Native Hawaiian watershed and our future planting kalo made me reflect on this past legislative session. One of the most contentious topics was HB1326, better known as the “water bill”. Although A&B was at the forefront of the discussion, this bill had implications for the entire state. We as Trustees had beneficiaries on both sides of the issue.

Maui is just the stalk of the kalo when it comes to this water issue. As Kānaka we know “ola i ka wai, water is life”. How do we balance the need for agriculture, housing, business and even tourism when it comes to our most precious resource? If you uproot the kalo you will see the real “meat” of the plant that sustains it, wai. Our kūpuna did not commoditize our streams, rivers, and springs.

Photo: Waterfall
Water is a right, not a commodity. Pu‘u Kukui Watershed Preserve. – Photo: Courtesy

It was in this spirit that the delegates of the 1978 Constitutional Convention wrote into law that the access to water was a State trust responsibility. They were trying to right the wrongs done by plantation owners for decades by diverting water for private gain. Kalo and small farms fell by the way side without the life-giving waters. Estuaries dried up and our fisheries suffered because of this.

If our leaders of today want to ensure a resilient and self-sustaining future for Hawai’i, they need to learn a lesson from the sandalwood trade of the early 1800’s. As Kamehameha II, Liholiho, began to lose control of the trade that his father had begun, there were devastating consequences. As the maka‘āinana were forced to plunder our forests, farming and fishing ceased. While our people were lost to foreign disease, many more were lost to exposure, malnutrition, and famine. How different would our history be if our people had continued to grow on the land as they had done for millennia?

Our land is once again uncultivated with the demise of big plantations in the State. If we want local agriculture to source our food supply, then we need to ensure water flows back to our streams and the small communities that they supply. Community farms are the best situated to feed their same communities.

We hear talk of a sustainable future, but our actions say otherwise. With the 2019 legislative session officially over, our elected officials will begin the kūkākūkā sessions with colleagues and stake holders. While it was important for us all to speak up during session it is equally vital that we speak up now as well. Water is a right, not a commodity. It is held in trust by the State for all its citizens as is our land for Native Hawaiians. Together we made a difference this session, together we can make a difference for those keiki, who I had helped to plant their food for tomorrow.