Lengthy meeting on cruise yacht issue leads to plans for community-oriented conflict resolution
Peacemakers and warriors alike gathered at the Mitchell Pau’ole Center last night in an attempt to find a resolution concerning the American Safarai Cruise boat offering cultural tours of Molokai.
Principal and CEO of ASC Dan Blanchard, after hearing the thoughtful and impassioned comments on both sides of this issue, made a decision today in the hopes of reaching a resolution with the community.
“I want to express my sincere appreciation for the overwhelming participation in last night’s community meeting,” Blanchard wrote in a statement. “It is our intention to find a workable solution to this situation. We are working with members of the community to further this goal. In this effort, we have elected to postpone the Safari Explorer’s arrival in Molokai. The yacht will not visit this Friday and Saturday as planned. We are committed to further dialogue and will respectfully work with leaders in the community.”
Acting as the liaison between ASC and the Molokai community, Lawrence Aki — the cultural practitioner offering guided tours of Halawa Valley to the visitors — called last night’s meeting to order and served as mediator. Aki began by introducing Blanchard to the packed, standing-room-only audience.
Blanchard presented a slideshow on his “green, eco-friendly” tours of no more than 36 people. He emphasized the use of recyclable products and the culturally sensitive aspects of the tours. The visitors will be escorted by local people at all times. All services and food products will be provided by the 22 local businesses he has spoken with over the past six years in preparation for the tours.
The 145-foot Safari Explorer first docked at Kaunakakai Harbor on Oct. 30 for its two-day visit and has returned two more times since. The most recent visit on Nov. 26 was blocked by protesters on small vessels and surfboards who prevented the boat from entering the harbor. The tour raised the ire of the protesters by returning the next day and attempting to visit Halawa. However, the trip was shortened because of a tree blocking the highway.
Since the protests began, ASC has been accused of bypassing local protocol and never properly asking permission to bring its tours to Molokai. When this was raised, Aki asked, “what is the outline of the process?” Without a clear answer, Aki then invited the kupuna to be allowed to speak first.
‘Aha Ki’ole offers facilitation
Opu’ulani Albino, a kumu at the Hawaiian language immersion school at Kualapu’u Elementary, spoke as a representative of ‘Aha Ki’ole Molokai. Kumu Opu’ulani serves as the culture and arts representative on Molokai for this statewide advisory group.
“From the beginning, we (the ‘Aha Ki’ole) were never contacted,” said Opu’ulani. “The process is you come to the community and you hear them … you communicate with transparency.”
After explaining the ‘Aha Ki’ole’s role as resource managers following traditional Hawaiian practices, Opu’ulani read a statement from Kamalu Poepoe, the alaka’i po’o (second in charge) for ‘Aha Ki’ole Molokai. Poepoe, as well as Vanda Hanakahi, po’o (head) of ‘Aha Ki’ole Molokai, were unable to attend the meeting.
The statement emphasizes the ‘Aha’s role in gaining a community concensus on this issue through a widely distributed survey. On the cruise boat issue, the ‘Aha claims “it has been, and continues to be, fair and unbiased.”
According to the statement, the survey has found that, “a large majority (are) in agreement against the initiation of the cruise tour industry.”
But, the statement continues, “our structure calls for more that just collecting island mana’o. In our mission to protect and preserve resources, we are an advisory council that may be able to help facilitate discussion with those community members who feel that the resources may be threatened by unchecked growth as well as those who feel we need economic opportunity.”
Protesters speak out
Other kupuna speakers offered conciliation toward these tours and made pleas for a peaceful process. Various kupuna also asked for the community to be involved in its own destiny.
One kupuna who refused to offer a diplomatic approach was protest organizer Walter Ritte.
“You just don’t get it,” said the 67 year-old Ritte. “The protesters are here for one reason — aloha ‘aina. We are not peacemakers, we are aloha ‘aina warriors!”
Ritte explained that he and his soldiers are not opposed to the cruise ship per se, just the failure of ASC to include the community in this decision. “We are not going to allow you to come here without listening. As the indigineous people of this island we demand participation and consent.”
Ritte even compared this situation to the plight of indigineous people worldwide. “If we don’t participate we have no control. Who’s going to say you can’t bring six more boats? If we can’t control 38 (visitors) how can we control 3,800? … we got to start now!”
Ritte offered a “truce” if the Safari Explorer agreed to not come to Kaunakakai on Friday as scheduled. The question of whether or not the boat would return this weekend was reiterated by Ritte’s son Kalaniua and his wife Loretta. Aki, responding on behalf of Blanchard, said that all comments would be considered and a decision would be issued today (Thursday).
Kanoho Helm, another local activist who helped organize the protests against Big Wind projects on Molokai, spoke as a peacemaker. “I choose to take a neutral view on this,” he said. “The pathway to righteousness is in conflict resolution, let’s come together.”
Limits of the political process
Lori Buchanan, a two-term member of the Molokai Planning Commission — the only Maui County political body that meets on Molokai — spoke about the cruise boat in relation to state and county laws. While holding the recently issued Final Environmental Assessment Draft firmly in hand, Buchanan explained how the $5 million Kaunakakai Harbor improvement project, now being conducted by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, will only make it easier for commercial vessels such as the Safari Explorer to come to Molokai.
Buchanan explained how neither the state Department of Transportation nor the DLNR have the authority to place controls on this cruise yacht as long as the harbor master (who is a state employee under both the DOT and the DLNR) approves it. She asks why this company never approached the MoPC, which is authorized to approve all Special Management Area requests. She also asks why the DOT and the DLNR never put this issue before the MoPC. “If we can’t depend on the DOT and DLNR who can we depend on?”
“All of this should have been done before parking your hotel in the harbor,” said Buchanan. “The bottom line, it’s not about what Molokai wants, it’s what we can control.” In addressing Blanchard, she said, “I don’t know how we’re going to stop you or work with you, the ball is in your court.”
Other speakers expressed concerns about ASC disposing its garbage on Molokai.
Several speakers addressed the tone and the attitude of protesters. Molokai resident Chevy Levasa said threats have been made to people and businesses that support the ASC tours. She mentioned Teri Waros, a supporter of the tours and owner of Kalele Bookstore, as one of those who has been threatened. “We don’t need to go to that level,” said Levasa.
Clare Mawae, owner of Molokai Outdoors, the vendor providing ground transportation to ASC, spoke about the amount of “racism and hatred” she has encountered online as a result of her support. As an 18-year resident of Molokai who has raised her three children here, Mawae said, “I believe there’s a solution to all this. We need to work together as a community.”