I have worshipped Tūtū Pele for most of my adult life. I was at the front of the historic protest on March 25, 1990, to protect Wao Kele o Puna forest as the attorney for Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi kūpuna who led the protest and were arrested that day. I was there and bailed them out. Tūtū Pele is our mother, giver of abundant gifts that have nourished and protected her people.
So it is with the utmost reverence and gratitude that I strongly recommend that the Hawaiian people, the general public, and relevant government agencies work together through a public/private partnership (PPP) to tap into the incredible gift of her energy: renewable geothermal energy.
The $600 million given to the Department of Hawaiian Homelands is not enough to meet the housing needs of the 28,000 still waiting for the affordable homes they were promised. At best it will build 2,700 homes. Then what? We start the dance of supplication all over again?
There is a better way. If we invest just $2 million of that $600 million in a PPP to develop geothermal we will create a revenue-generating stream that will allow DHHL to keep building homes for years to come to meet the needs of those who have waited – and are still waiting.
PPPs are not a radical idea. They have been used in other communities where Native and non-Native peoples have collaborated for the good of all.
I saw it in New Zealand when I worked with Maori tribes to apply the Native-to-Native model for development to realize the value of the assets on their lands. I created that model following my work at the United Nations helping to craft the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is a model that ensures that Indigenous peoples enjoy a fair share of the wealth that accrues from the development of natural resources on their lands. In Hawaiʻi, geothermal is classified as a “mineral.” Both Hawaiians and the public at large have a right to enjoy the long-term wealth that will result from tapping into it.
We toss around terms like “self-determination” but don’t always act like we believe in pursuing it wholeheartedly. If we are serious about self-determination we should be at the table when policy is being made about how we manage our lands and all it offers. I weep for the ceded lands that have been lost to military bombings because we were not at the table to say “NO!” I weep for the toxic technology that has been used to develop geothermal on Hawaiʻi Island subjecting people there to repeated evacuations.
It does not have to be this way. Self-determination means taking charge of our economic, cultural and social development. Self-determination means taking the lead to use the gift of geothermal energy wisely and respectfully from Tūtū Pele.
The initial efforts to develop geothermal energy on Hawaiʻi Island lacked cultural consultation on site selection and access for gatherings, worship and heritage preservation. There was no benefit built into the plan for Hawaiʻi Island customers, Native Hawaiians or other residents. We were not at the table when decisions were made about the type of technology used or how the community would be protected from dangers associated with exploration and development.
Since the overthrow of our monarchy, one company has enjoyed a monopoly on delivering electricity to all of us. Today we pay the highest rates in the nation: 35-45 c per kWh compared to a national average of 11-12 c per kWh. Let’s chart a different course. Let’s develop geothermal on our terms, being culturally appropriate, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable.