Friday, September 27, 2013

Rez Life and Stories from Hawaiian Homesteads and Kuleana Lands

Paukuz Life: A View of Hawaiian Homesteads
By Kahala Johnson

“What are these places that kill us every day but that we’d die to protect and are like no place else on earth?” (Treuer, 19)

David Treuer’s Rez Life--part historical journalism, part memoir--invokes a familiar sentiment in Kānaka Maoli who have ties to a Hawaiian Homestead. Hawaiian Homesteads are communities established under the 1921 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, which imposed a blood quantum definition of Hawaiianness and of eligibility for homelands. Although my family and I have only recently moved into the Paukukalo homestead community on Maui, we have longer associations with the area through friends and relatives. For much of my life, that place has been an important part of my identity: for one, it was the first place I heard Hawaiian spoken (yelled and cursed, actually) beyond the typical tourist greeting. Most importantly, it was where my mother received my name from Aunty Kahili, a kumu hula and master weaver who had been a friend of the grandmother I never knew in this life.

Although I am conscious of the shared political model between Hawaiian Homesteads and Indian Reservations, it was not until 2009 when I heard a direct comparison made between its social aspects. That summer, I had a Native American friend visit who, after we had driven past the dilapidated crack lab, the house with the yard full of stolen vehicles, and the neighborhood congregation of shirtless Pakuz Bois, declared with a sigh of recognition: “it’s the same [as the rez].” Having never seen a reservation myself, I remain unsure of the truth of the comparison. But reading Rez Life, I couldn’t help but feel that certain parts of Treuer’s observations have an unsettling affinity with circumstances in Hawaiian Homesteads.

In this entry, I interpret the dimensions of sovereignty Treuer discovers at Red Lake as they appear in Paukukalo homestead; in so doing I offer a sort of trans-Indigenous reading of these reservations as texts. With the intent of recovering a sense of sovereign space, I ask the same questions Treuer poses in his introduction,: “And what is this place— this [Pakuz], these [homelands]? What are these places that kill us every day but that we’d die to protect and are like no place else on earth? And what can we find here behind the signs that announce us?

The piko (center) of Paukukalo Hawaiian Homes is a park flanked on its northwest face by the shiny, blue and white, well-landscaped and extremely out-of-place Kamehameha Schools administration satellite. The park used to have a playground until a couple of kids accidently burned it down lighting fireworks in the dead of April. Directly opposite the administration building is an abandoned military site cowering beneath the shadow of Halekii and Pihana heiau, once used by chief Kahekili to offer human sacrifice. During the change of seasons between Kū and Lono, a mens’ group called Hale Mua o Maui ritualizes the sand dune upon which the heiau sits. They usually march down the street at 3:00am at those times, pretty much butt-naked, in order to get to the space; the mormon and jehovah witness houses along the way have quite the fit with such a display of culture. Nevertheless, the fact that it is on homestead lands makes it much easier to practice Hawaiian spirituality. 

Our house is located towards the ocean side of the homesteads, situated on the street with the wandering peacocks and a community-use golf cart stolen from Waiheʻe Dunes. A Hawaiian Homestead is only “Hawaiian Homes” if it has wandering peacocks (or other similar scavenger fowl, such as chickens used for gambling) and a communal golf cart. Even on those gods-forsaken slopes of Papakōlea Homestead, where I lived for a year—I kid you not—they had peacocks. And a fucking golf cart. 

On any given day, you can hear our transgendered neighbor singing to Lady Gaga songs and the sound of a lifted truck hauling in the latest kill from a pig-hunting venture. On our street, kids express a unique sovereignty: they are still able to run from house to house, and from yard to yard, without parents worrying about their safety. In fact, our area has the best security: it houses, among its other extralegal business practices, an economically-viable and genealogically-related thief ring. What this means is that no one steals anything, at least not within the parameters of the block, since inevitably the horde of nomadic Hawaiian kids will find it and report it back to the ʻohana. Of course, domestic violence, gangs, drugs, and all the other statistical maladies continue to be a problem. I don’t glorify it in the least. What I find intriguing though is that in response to an extralegal activity, an extralegal remedy is used as an instrument to control it within the space of the neighborhood in a way that doesn’t rely on the whakataunga hōhā (insipid resolution process) of the upper-class, gated community at Maui Lani, i.e. community boards. Rather, the process is grounded in the tradition of letting kids roam and sharing the responsibility of raising them as a community.

While the homesteads fall under the no-gambling jurisdiction of the faux state, anyone from Paukukalo can tell you how well that actually plays out on the ground. Sport gambling in all forms continues to be a source of income for some, particularly when contracting periods are slow or unemployment hits. Other economic activities are somewhat less regulated, and I promote at least one of them: pig hunting. Pigs don’t revere boundaries the way the state does and so they encourage hunters to exercise a degree of sovereign access to areas that would otherwise be considered “off-limits.” Since the animal is considered a pest, the faux state tolerates hunters’ access. For our community, it is a source of food, and it is one that encourages extraeconomic relationships (outside capitalism) between families. 
While I could hardly consider the homesteads a sanctuary, it nevertheless could potentially be a protected place for what Treuer envisions in regards to language immersion. It is still a mystery to me how Kamehameha Schools was able to build an administration building at its center, and yet a Pūnana Leo or charter school immersion program does not yet exist there. What makes the lack of a Hawaiian language immersion school in this community even more distressing is the fact that the community is saturated with enough elders, cultural practitioners, political activists, and Indigenous pedagogues to supply such a school with a foundational staff base.

In any case, transformations are needed, and I feel the potential of the homesteads has not been tapped enough. There is an identity associated with it, albeit rightly contested by the Hawaiian community who is disenfranchised by blood quantum. Rather than relying on faux state legislation to determine our political, economic, engendered, pedagogical, and cultural futures, perhaps there is a need to explore the extrasovereign opportunities offered in this space.

*For more information on the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1921, see J. Kēhaulani Kauanui’s book, Hawaiian Blood

A map of Minnesota's Indian reservations and communities. Source:

Kulāiwi Hawaiʻi, by Haley Kailiehu
Artist's explanation:
I’m a really visual person so when I saw the map of the reservations it brought clarity to the situation American Indians are challenged with today. The areas of the reservations are so disproportionately small and so dispersed.  The map Treuer presented inspired my art for this week.  I took a map of Hawai‘i island and highlighted the Hawaiian Homelands on the island.  It’s colored red, but if you look close enough you will see that it is actually filled with the percentage symbol because in order to be awarded a 99-year lease on Hawaiian Homelands, you need to be at least 50% Hawaiian.  This is a highly controversial way of determining identity. In this image, the entire island is covered with the words “Kulāiwi Hawai‘i,” which is my way of saying that as Native Hawaiians, as ‘Ōiwi of Hawai‘i, we have genealogies that lead us to our ancestral ‘āina. As ‘Ōiwi we have kuleana to all of Hawaiʻi, not just portions of it. All of it.  

Kuleana Lands and 'Ōiwi Connections
by Haley Kailiehu

Along with the image above, Treuer’s book inspires me to share what my family experienced as a result of various land laws in Hawaiʻi and how that changed our lives forever. My great-great-great-great grandfather Tūtū I Kepano and great-great-great-great grandmother Tūtū Kahipa (a.k.a. Henehene) were kama‘āina of Kainehe, one of the many ahupua‘a in Hāmākua on Hawai‘i island.  My Tūtū I Kepano was a respected konohiki of the ahupua‘a. After the Mahele in the late 1840s and the Kuleana Act of 1850, he knew he was at risk of losing his land so he decided to buy his ‘āina.  He was granted nearly half of the land to which he originally held kuleana--basically 1/3 of the ma kai (sea side) portion of Kainehe. He was able to buy a portion of the middle section of Kainehe back from the sugarcane plantation owners some time later in life. Fortunately my Tūtū I Kepano was in a position to do that and was able to secure land for our ‘ohana to live and grow.  

His daughter, my great-great-great grandmother, Tūtū Pahulio Kaomea Kepano, was one of his children who was born in Kainehe. She eventually married Solomon W. Kauahipaula, and they had 8 children. Solomon W. Kauahipaula was a lawyer and was one of the initiators and organizers behind the petitions in opposition to US annexation. One of his children, Samuel Kamuela Kauahipaula, my great-great grandfather, lived in Kainehe all his life.  He married Kawaiola Aukaku Kolomona and they had two girls one of which is my great-grandmother, Tūtū Mary Kaliipahulio Kaomea Kauahipaula.  Tūtū Mary Kaliipahulio Kaomea Kauahipaula married Gilbert Manuhoa Travis, and they lived in Kainehe where they raised 8 children. My grandma Mary Keliipahulio Travis was the first born in the lineage. Although she moved to Maui from Kainehe after graduating from high school at the age of 18, her sister Aunty Mildred Hipa Billado (Aunty Millie) continues to live in Kainehe and maintains the presence of ‘ohana on that ‘āina.  

Even though my family continues to live in Kainehe, it has not come without extreme loss. It seems that at different points in history, my family lost a lot of the land to plantation owners and other private owners for really unfathomable reasons. One story is that my grandpa lost acres of land to the plantation because he couldn’t afford to pay back the general store (owned by the plantation) for the loaf of bread he had credited to his account. The most current injustice occurred in late 1970s when the county decided to build the main road leading from Hilo to Waimea—also known as Hawai‘i Belt Road—directly through what little land my family had maintained title to up until this point. Our family remain living in Kainehe, maintaining our connection to that ‘āina, despite continual efforts to dislocate us from our land.  During the 1920s when the illegal government opened lands to the common people through the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, my family could have said ‘this is too challenging, let’s just move to a place where we’re guaranteed land for 99 years,’ but they did not.  They remained. They stayed in Kainehe.  And they are still there. Aunty Millie and her children all live on Hawai‘i.  From the thousands of acres my ‘ohana once lived on and had kuleana to, we now only live on a little less than 2 acres. But we are still there. 

From listening to Aunty Millie speak about growing up in Kainehe I can only imagine how great it must have been.  They fished in the streams for ‘ōpae and ‘o‘opu and on special occasions they would go holoholo (cruising) down to kai (sea) to pick ‘opihi.  Another aspect of our ‘ohana that I came to appreciate and respect as a young adult was that we are all very close, even with our ancestors who passed on before us.  We have a ‘cemetery’ in Kainehe where many of my ancestors are buried.  Because Aunty Millie still lives there, she tends to this garden. She has the most beautiful garden in her yard, full of flowers growing for the gravesites that she goes to visit every day. It is important that we stay close to our ancestors for many reasons. As I grow older and think of my kuleana, I look for guidance from them so it is great that I know where they are and where they rest because by understanding who they are and where they are from only helps to further allow me to understand who I am. I am the embodiment of all my ancestors, who were fishermen and women, kapa makers, and gardeners. That connection is, to say the least, extremely valuable to me because it is a validation that I am an ‘Ōiwi of this specific place. 

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