RHC Update

Resilient Hawaiian Communities Initiative Update

By Sean Aronson, Post-J.D. Legal Fellow

In May, members of the Waiehu community in West Maui participated in a huakaʻi to learn more about the physical features located in their community.

Some say that summer is a time to unwind and kick back, but for the Resilient Hawaiian Communities (RHC) initiative, things have never been busier. Since the last update, the two Native Hawaiian communities that are working on climate change adaptation planning have made tremendous strides in reaching their goal of becoming more resilient in the face of the coming ecological impacts to their homelands.

The objective of the RHC initiative is to build capacity within two Native Hawaiian communities through the creation of a resiliency plan. The plans will integrate the latest climate research with the specific place-based solutions the communities identify to best prepare for the ecological impacts anticipated as a result of climate change. 

The RHC project, which is a one-year initiative funded through the Department of the Interior, is in full swing and both communities are finding that new and exciting opportunities for collaboration are developing as they do outreach inside and outside their communities about the project. Since the planning phase of the project is coming to an end, this community-led process is transitioning to drafting sections of the plan that will ultimately serve as a roadmap for future generations. In preparation for the writing phase, each community has had to figure out how best to engage their community in the project in meaningful and place-based ways.

To that end, each community has taken unique approaches to their resilience planning efforts. The community of Waiehu Kou which sits in the shadows of the West Maui Mountains decided to organize a series of three huakaʻi or field trips to facilitate their community participation in the planning process. Additionally, each huakaʻi fits nicely within their overall project objective, which they have termed makaʻala or awareness, awakening, watchful. They chose this name because they felt it was important to have community members interact with the physical spaces that make up their ahupuaʻa before starting to write their resilience plan.

Each huakaʻi involves an early morning gathering that includes Hawaiian protocol, an introduction to the RHC project, and the reasons Waiehu is focusing on its adaptation capabilities around climate change. From there, the assembled group walks about three or four miles to observe the various ecological characteristics of the ahupuaʻa from mauka to makai. They also take part in a restoration project which so far has included weeding in a neigbor’s loʻi and planting native species along the bank of a prominent gulch in the area to help mitigate soil erosion. Here is a video made by the community during the first huakaʻi at the end of May.

On Hawaiʻi Island, the community of Kailapa in Kawaihae has been successful in its past efforts to fundraise for projects like a new community center and an aquaponics garden and greenhouse, but one community goal that has eluded them is locating a reliable water resource for their community on the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) parcel where they homestead. Currently the community’s only potable water resource is a well on the adjacent Kohala Ranch property. DHHL must then purchase the water at a very expensive rate from this private water utility and then subsidize these water costs for the beneficiaries. Not only is this situation far from ideal, it also prevents the community from having control and ownership over their own water resources, which is their top priority for becoming a more resilient community.

In order to assist the community with this goal, RHC team members have been working with various stakeholders to strategically approach the water problem from multiple angles. This has involved reaching out to hydrologists, engineers, geologists, attorneys and politicians to gain a better understanding of the complex issues at play in water related projects. Some of these local experts assembled in August at an all day workshop that brought together subject matter experts and community members. The goal of the workshop was to assess the handful of viable options that exist for the community to secure an alternative water resource for the community. Each option was analyzed through four lenses or frames – legal, cultural, ecological, and economic. Hopefully after the workshop, the community feels more empowered to speak with one voice and chart a course for the option that makes the most sense given the four criteria. And if the pursuit is successful, Kailapa will have taken a giant step towards resiliency and self-sufficiency.