Video of the protestors at Kaunakakai Wharf — click here
The calm of Thursday morning at Kaunakakai Harbor was broken with the sound of a conch shell announcing the coming of the day to all four directions.
This was soon followed by the sound of an amplified bullhorn and about 30 protesters yelling in unison at the docked cruise ship, the Safari Explorer: “Cruise ship, go home!”
Organizer and local activist Walter Ritte gave instructions to the protesters to not harass the 36 or so passengers aboard the 145-foot vessel, described as an “upscale yacht.”
Ritte did go on to say that the boat operator and its crew, however, were fair game. He also explained how 30-40 protest signs are now being plastered along the east side of Molokai to let the tour know its feelings.
American Safari Cruises, an Alaska-based company, has been planning what it calls “cultural tours” on Molokai for several years. While company representatives have been working closely with Molokai businesses and individuals for several years, they never received the approval of the Molokai `Aha Ki`ole, a legitimate, state-recognized council has been charged to work with the Department of Land and Natural Resources on local land and water management issues.
While ASC CEO Dan Blanchard said that his company never intended to bypass local protocol, protesters question his willingness to really work with the community. When representatives of the `Aha Ki`ole asked ASC to postpone its first visit on Oct. 29 and 30, the tour only delayed its plans by one day. This action brought out the first protest on Oct. 30.
“We gave him ample time to cancel the first one so we could talk and he chose not to, because business is more important than this community,” said Loretta Ritte, Walter’s wife and a longtime activist in the community.
The `Aha Ki`ole and other local kupuna had scheduled a meeting on Oct. 25 to meet with Blanchard at the Mitchell Pau’ole Center. Blanchard did not show but instead attended a meeting planned by local supporters of the tour on Oct. 29.
Mervin Dudoit, `Aha Ki`ole representative for the moku that covers the area from Kaunakakai to Kamalo, said that all he wanted from the beginning was a public meeting to determine the community’s desire.
According to Dudoit, he approached Teri Waros, owner of the Kalele Book Store and one of the supporters of the ASC tour, to find out about holding a meeting. “I told Teri (we wanted a) community meeting, and whatever the community decides then we’ll go by that, but she told me, ‘no need.’ Now, I’m really against this thing coming in.”
“I talked to guy Dan (Blanchard),” Uncle Merv continued, “and he said he liked to call meeting with us, `Aha Ki`ole. He like calling, we no like him calling meeting, we wanted to call the meeting. Last time he came in Sunday said he wanted to meet on Monday, I said, ‘no way, let me talk to the `Aha Ki`ole first;’ it’s not just going to happen like that.”
“ I feel somewhere along the line a communication error happened,” said Clare Mawae, operator of Molokai Outdoors, a local company that is providing ground transportation for the tours. “I hope communication will occur and we can discuss a process and have a process put in place on how we handle the visitor industry on this island.”
Uncle Merv and others feel it’s not so simple.
“What will come in the back of this ship?” Uncle Merv asks. “There are several boats that are even bigger. A little bit bigger than this can (come into the harbor), get up to even 80 on a boat, a regular thing coming in. I’m afraid of that because more tourists come in we’re going to end up just like Lahaina. You know Lahaina Harbor used to be fishermen. But they threw them all out because they had nothing to do with tourism.”
“He was talking to our people,” said protestor and former Maui County mayoral candidate Patricia Hammond about Blanchard. “It was just not in the context that our kupuna are used to and it’s not the protocol that our island historically goes through … This was a sneak attack, another overthrow. Queen Liliuokalani was taken down by seven or eight business members. The same thing is happening here. Seven or eight business members took it upon themselves to make a huge plan for Molokai, which very well could end up with bigger boats coming in.”
Hammond believes the protest should focus not on Blanchard — “who is a guy just doing business like you or me” — but on the local businesses that tried to bring this in. “This boycott needs to be geared toward those few companies that are here among us,” she said.
“I have nothing personal against this boat or the passengers,” said protestor Kamalu Poepoe, a sixth grade teacher in the Hawaiian Language Immersion Program at Kualapuu Elementary School. “What I fear is that this boat will be the door opening for out of control growth. We’ve seen that happen to the other islands when the growth gets out of control.”
“We work very hard at keeping that Molokai feel,” Poepoe continued, “so it would be devastating if we suddenly had too much happening, too much growth. It would have been more respectful for the business community not to take care of their own desires but to meet with the rest of the community because they know that’s how we feel.”
Currently, the `Aha Ki`ole is conducting a community survey of its members in regards to this cruise ship. Early returns are showing a majority does not support the tours, but the final results are not yet in.
“I like the survey to tell us more,” said Uncle Merv. “Then we gonna figure out what we’re really going to do.”