“He lālā kamahele no ka lāʻau kū i ka pali.
A far-reaching branch of the tree standing on the cliff.”
A boast of a strong person who, like the tree on the cliff, can withstand gales and pouring rain.
The shock and anguish of the Maui wildfires has touched the heart of everyone on this island, in this state, in this nation and in this world. It is almost impossible to listen to the stories of our people – of my island – and not be overcome with emotion.
Today we suffer in our sorrow. Our tears flow. We pule for our ʻohana, and we mourn the many lives lost in this horrific, almost unbelievable tragedy. Homes and businesses up in flames. The lost cultural history amid the destruction of the once capitol of the Hawaiian Kingdom brings a special sadness.
But Hawaiians are a resolute people. We will endure, and we will recover. Our ʻōlelo noʻeau abound with teachings of courage, of perserverance, of steadfastness. We will embrace our Hawaiian ways of knowing, and we will hoʻomau.
Our ancestors instruct us to aloha kekahi i kehai, to love and take care of one another. It fills me with joy to see the myriad efforts of Kānaka bringing relief to their brothers and sisters living this nightmare. My hope is that every Hawaiian, indeed every resident of this state, contribute and aid the people of this island in a true spirit of lōkahi.
These fires have affected all of us on Maui. Multiple homes burned down in Kula. At 4:00 a.m. on August 9, I was awakened by an emergency alert on my telephone advising me to evacuate my home in Kula because the fires were threatening my neighborhood.
With no time to pack, I loaded my two dogs into my car and evacuated my home. I am blessed to have our homestead hale in Waiohuli to which I retreated for safety. I stayed the day and returned to my home in Kula at 5:30 p.m. Fortunately, the winds shifted, and my home was spared. All of my family is safe. Mahalo Ke Akua!
But it weighs heavily on my spirit to know that so many others in our island community were not as fortunate.
The county, state and federal emergency personnel continue to work around the clock to move toward recovery as quickly as possible.
We realize that there is a perception is that OHA is not doing enough to kōkua. Our lāhui must understand that OHA is not considered a “first responder,” and we are not yet allowed in Lahaina to assess the situation. We do not know where our people are staying. But rest assured, OHA will not neglect our people.
I have been involved in meetings with community groups to see how OHA can help facilitate fundraisers and donations.
For now, we assist by offering immediate help until a list of beneficiaries affected by this devastation is made available, and then OHA can offer financial help.
At a trustee meeting on August 17, OHA announced its intent to allocate emergency disaster relief funds to address the Maui wildfires (see related stories on page 4). Key points to this strategy include creating a low barrier process for Native Hawaiians to access OHA funding, and to establish a system enabling OHA to continue to provide long-term support to impacted families.
In the meantime, tons of donations of household necessities and personal hygiene goods, as well as baby needs of food, formula and diapers, have been received for distribution. Clothing, sheets, blankets, and towels are also being collected. Volunteers are in various collection centers helping to sort the donated items. Many people have opened their homes to welcome another family that has lost their home.
The outpouring of Hawaiʻi’s communities is so heartwarming. It is indeed the true spirit of aloha.
The University of Hawaiʻi has organized chefs from Maui’s hotels and restaurants and they are preparing 9,000 meals a day for disaster victims and responders working in the devastated areas. I am facilitating a donation of 20 cases of frozen salmon fillets from Alaska from Hawaiians fishing up there and I will have it trucked to UH Maui for these chefs to put to good use.
I met with Maui entertainers who organized a livestream fundraiser on August 19 at the Grand Wailea and offered my support. I facilitated the use of the Grand Wailea Ballroom as the venue for this event, and OHA was named as a supporter of the concert which was covered on local television stations primarily KITV. Mahalo nui to John Tolbert for allowing us to use the Grand Wailea Ballroom and for providing all the equipment, food and beverages for the entertainers.
And I was honored to be invited by the White House to meet U.S. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden who traveled to Maui on August 21 to view the devastation in Lahaina first-hand, meet with first responders and community leaders, and participate in a blessing ceremony.
I have also met with communities outside of Hawaiʻi who would like to donate money or items to kōkua affected families, and I also met with an international nonprofit that would like to qualify families for financial support in the interim for rentals.
We will work tirelessly to address the many needs of our people. We will continue to strategize. We will continue to seek partnerships. We will continue to fight for the people of Maui and the survivors of this unprecedented disaster. And with Ke Akua’s help, we will recover and rebuild.
He ʻaʻaliʻi kū makani mai au; ʻaʻohe makani nāna e kulaʻi. I am a wind-resisting ʻaʻaliʻi plant; no gust can push me over.