In an attempt to reach out to all of Molokai, the ‘Aha Ki’ole O Molokai held an informational meeting last night at the Mitchell Pau’ole Center in its move toward gaining greater local control of cultural and natural resources.
Recent protests of a small-scale tourism operation, American Safari Cruises, provided the impetus for the organizational efforts of the local ‘Aha. After the 145-foot yacht, the Safari Explorer, was blocked from entering Kaunakakai Harbor Nov. 26, ASC postponed two visits to Molokai in an effort to reach an agreement with the protestors. The company announced this week it will resume its regular tours of Molokai on Jan. 21, 2012.
‘Aha Ki’ole O Molokai stepped forward to offer community-based mediation on this issue. While several members of ‘Aha Ki’ole O Molokai participated in the protests, the local organization has gone to great lengths to separate itself from the protest group led by Walter Ritte and has emphasized its neutral position on the issue.
Molokai kupuna Aunty Vanda Hanakahi, state chair of the ‘Aha Ki’ole Advisory Committee, discussed the history of the ‘Aha system, a traditional cultural and natural resource management system that dates back to 700 A.D. Aunty Vanda said the system proved to be more successful on Molokai because, “our people had a kinship to the ‘aina; that’s what’s different between Molokai and the other islands.”
Kamalu Poepoe, second in charge of the ‘Aha Ki’ole O Molokai behind Aunty Vanda, introduced the guest speakers and discussed a recent survey conducted by the ‘Aha. Besides the cruise tour question, the survey also asked respondents to voice their mana’o on the question of off-island escort boats fishing off Molokai shores during ocean sports events.
“A strong majority was not in favor,” said Poepoe, regarding the cruise yacht and tourist industry question. However, she added, enough of the ‘no’ responses asked for consideration of managed tourism. As a result, the ‘Aha will “initiate protocol” for deciding this and other issues, said Poepoe.
A series of four meetings has been scheduled that will cover each moku, or district, represented by ‘Aha Ki’ole O Molokai. ASC’s decision to return to Molokai Jan. 21 coincides with the completion of the final moku meeting in Maunaloa on Jan. 17. “Never before has Molokai had this platform to decide its future,” said Poepoe.
However, Molokai Chamber of Commerce President Robert Stephenson questioned the legitimacy of the ‘Aha to make decisions about Molokai’s future. Stephenson did not speak during the meeting, but said afterwards:
“Our (the Chamber’s) concern is that any process has to be rooted with a foundation in the law and I’m not aware that this process being courted at the moment has a foundation in the rule of law.”
The legislation to create ‘Aha Ki’ole Advisory Committee — Act 212 passed in 2007 — stated that the ‘Aha Moku council, “shall serve … in an advisory capacity on all matters regarding the management of the State’s natural resources.” The latest version of this law passed both houses in the most recent legislative session but was vetoed by Governor Neil Abercrombie because of flaws in specific language, how members are appointed and the budgetary structure and accountability of the organization.
“Never did it (Act 212) provide for any membership or districts other than the original eight appointees appointed by the governor,” added Stephenson.
Despite the questionable authority of ‘Aha Ki’ole O Molokai, Bill Aila, chairman of the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, expressed optimism about the potential of the group. As a guest speaker, Aila said that if the ‘Aha Ki’ole process is “inclusive” it has “the most potential for coming up with solutions” as long as it works toward building “long-term relationships.”
Guest speaker Colette Machado, chair of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, also spoke about the “hard work and time commitment” that this process will require if it is to be successful. While emphasizing the “blood, sweat and tears” that must go into this process, Machado said that the potential exists for creating a guiding document to help plot the future of tourism on Molokai.
“I cannot stress how important it is to have productive discussions,” warned Machado, if this process is to succeed.
Machado said she has received an assurance from Maui County Council chairman Danny Mateo (an invited guest on the agenda at last night’s meeting who did not attend) that any document or declaration from the ‘Aha can be included in the Molokai Community Plan. The county’s Long-Range Division is currently updating Molokai’s 2001 Community Plan for release in 2012.
If a truly collaborative process does take place, Machado said she will ask OHA for $250,000 — as long as the state offers matching funds — to help fund the ‘Aha Ki’ole statewide advisory function. With improved legislative language, “The potential is there for a tighter review process, which we don’t have,” said Machado.
To begin an initiative for gaining local control of tourism on Molokai, the ‘Aha Ki’ole invited two presenters to the meeting who offered past planning documents as guidelines for the future.
Davianna McGregor, representing the Molokai Responsible Tourism Initiative, offered a summary of the community-based visitor plan developed by the Molokai Enterprise Community (Ke ‘Aupuni Lokahi) from 2004 to 2006. After 72 interviews with residents and three focus group meetings, this initiative came up with a plan for sustainable tourism on Molokai. The plan, with clearly identified goals, processes and criteria, sets down principles for guiding Molokai tourism. Presenting an authentic visitor experience that reflects Hawaiian culture “as well as Molokai’s rural lifestyle and its people,” is the cornerstone of the plan.
Many of the Molokai Responsible Tourism Initiative ideas for controlling tourism on the local level were reiterated by Malia Akutagawa, president of the grassroots organization Sust’ainable Molokai. In presenting the highlights of the document “Molokai: Future of a Hawaiian Island,” Akutagawa emphasized the need for responsible tourism. This includes developing a clear “Molokai carrying capacity” that would set limits on the number of visitors.
This document, created in 2008 in response to the closure of Molokai Ranch, attempts to answer the question, “What does the community want?” This document pulled from numerous planning documents created over 30 years. It offers a Molokai-produced vision of its economic and social future in the areas of culture, education, agriculture, environment, subsistence, tourism and governance.
“This process involves everyone and cannot be divided along racial lines,” Akutagawa said. “What we’re trying to seek is a balance, using these documents as a starting point.”
After Akutagawa spoke, each individual moku leader addressed the room to encourage participation in the meetings.