Hometown Heroes: Kohala Center, OHA malama aina in leeward Kohala

  • A homesteader and member of the Kailapa Community Association tends to an a‘ali‘i shrub planted near Kilohana Stream in Kawaihae. (The Kohala Center/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Editor’s note: Each Wednesday, West Hawaii Today is publishing a story about individuals, groups or organizations that have helped make life better for others in our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Kohala Center has received a $150,000 grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) to reinforce and strengthen native Hawaiian family, culture, and land in Kawaihae.

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The grant, which comes through the OHA Ohana and Community Based Program Grant for Hawaii Island, will help the Kohala Center address needs throughout the ahupuaa (traditional mountain-to-sea land division) of Kawaihae in leeward Kohala, which includes the Honokoa watershed. Through its “Hoolauna Kawaihae: Building pilina through respectful engagement” initiative, the Kohala Center will use the grant funds to research, learn, assess, and incorporate ancestral practices to engage respectfully in restoring dryland native forests in the ahupuaa and strengthening relationships between its people and the natural environment.

Most directly affected by threats to Honokoa’s integrity are more than 150 families who live in Honokoa on the Kawaihae Hawaiian Homestead. These homesteaders, representing the Kailapa Community Association (KCA), call this aina home. Located in one of the driest areas of the main Hawaiian Islands, KCA relies on fresh water for its independence and resiliency as a Hawaiian community. A lack of rainfall and freshwater resources present major issues for further community development and sustainability in the low-elevation areas of Kawaihae, as without water, about 7,500 acres of designated agricultural land is not viable.

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“The Hawaiian worldview ties together the health of aina and the health of kanaka,” said Cheryl Kauhane Lupenui, president and CEO of the Kohala Center. “More than 90% of Hawaii’s original dryland forests has been destroyed, resulting in the loss of native species, culture, ike Hawaii (Hawaiian knowledge), and habitats. This is a key project in our long-term efforts to strengthen aina-kanaka relationships and resiliency as an ahupuaa-stewarded community.”

Know a Hometown Hero that should be highlighted next Wednesday? It can be anybody, from a youngster doing good for the community, to a professional helping with the COVID-19 pandemic, or even a kupuna! Please send your nominations to cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com with the subject: Hometown Heroes Nomination. Please include the hero’s name, contact information and what makes them a hero.

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