Papahanaumokuakea is a model for our future
August 26 marks the fifth anniversary of the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. As a kanaka maoli and young marine scientist, I am proud of my commitment to protect this incredible ocean ecosystem and its historical and scientific artefacts from the first Polynesian culture.
But more importantly, I am proud of the commitment to explicitly include Hawaiian culture and knowledge systems as a valuable aspect of monument management – as evidenced by the new Mai Ka Po Mai Cultural Orientation Report. With climate change and the loss of nature threatening the future of our planet, our cultures, and my generation, Papahanaumokuakea should serve as a role model in Hawaii and across the world.
Indigenous communities bring generations of culture, knowledge and perspectives related to environmental conservation and stewardship. For the Kanaka Maoli, or native Hawaiians, the interdependence of nature and culture is our identity. It goes beyond realizing that nature and culture are one, to establish a lasting bond between people and place.
Through the cultural immersion programs of Kamehameha Hoomakaikai schools, I learned first-hand about my kupuna’s hard work to protect the aina, kai and law of the islands. By hand, I planted saplings of koa in the slopes of Mauna Loa to restore a native forest. In Oahu law, I planted kalo to maintain a local farm and business. Wading through the deep sewage water, I grabbed and removed by hand invasive fish from local ponds.
Aina is the source of Hawaiian identity. It is based on the reality that humans are not separate from the environment. Malama aina is a Hawaiian expression of our rights and kuleana to take care of aina. Learning experiences with Kamehameha schools taught me the importance and invaluable practices of environmental stewardship established by our kupuna.
My current job at Malama Maunalua showed me how an organization of community members who embody this identity can strive to find environmental management solutions. Malama aina has universal implications for the direct care and protection of resources established before us.
From the start of his designation, Papahanaumokuakea established a model for establishing Hawaiian culture as the basis of his management framework. Earlier this summer, the monument’s co-administrators released Mai Ka Po Mai, a landmark policy document that was the culmination of more than a decade of discussions with the Native Hawaiian community.
It incorporates the cultural traditions associated with Papahanaumokuakea and seeks to help federal agencies further integrate native Hawaiian culture into the management of this special oceanic place. For example, it establishes malama aina, cultural practice, blessing protocol, and olelo Hawaii to ensure that traditional knowledge and values are recognized and perpetuated.
By including indigenous Hawaiian culture within the boundaries of the Papahanaumokuakea management framework, studies of the North Hawaiian Islands can expand beyond traditional scientific research, as cultural studies, language, history, l archeology, song and dance are encouraged in the process of research and monitoring.
Indigenous-led conservation can protect our marine ecosystems.
It is essential to raise the voice of indigenous communities and build on their leadership for place-based conservation efforts. Unique collaborative management systems, like Papahanaumokuakea, should serve as a model for effective protection of oceans and marine protected areas as the Biden administration strives to meet the national goal of conserving at least 30% of our ocean by 2030.
Indigenous-led conservation can protect our marine ecosystems, but more importantly, protect our diverse communities and cultures that are interconnected with these ecosystems. Scientific significance and cultural value can be one and the same.
E komo mai! Let’s celebrate together the anniversary of the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and share its legacy across the world.