Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023 |
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Hawaii County might lease 1,000 acres of Hamakua land to a Native Hawaiian nonprofit.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the County Council’s Finance Committee, Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball presented a resolution that would allow the county to negotiate a long-term lease for an area called Koholalele to nonprofit Hui Malama i ke Ala ‘Ulili, also called huiMAU.
Koholalele is a narrow strip of land near the Hamakua State Forest Reserve. No‘eau Peralto, executive director of huiMAU, said at the meeting that the land was once a “place of abundance” until the rise of sugarcane plantations in the late 1800s displaced the native residents and devastated the local ecosystem.
Peralto said that after the collapse of the sugar industry on the island, the land remained fallow for decades, until the county considered selling it in 2010. The county ultimately did not sell, but he said his research into the land inspired him to form huiMAU in 2011 in an effort to restore the land to its former state.
“We built the hui to reestablish systems that sustain our community,” Peralto said. “We envision a Hamakua with the capacity to live and thrive sustainably in Hamakua for generations.”
Peralto said huiMAU hopes to use Native Hawaiian farming and gathering practices and regenerative agriculture to restore Koholalele to a state where it can sustainably support a community.
Kimball said the proposal dovetails nicely with the county’s stated goals of promoting regenerative agriculture and food sustainability.
The plan elicited strong support from residents and council members alike.
Resident Liana Honda said recultivating Koholalele will improve public health in the district. About 30% of Hamakua residents are Native Hawaiian, she said, which means they face the lowest life expectancy of all major ethnic groups. Honda said she believes the shift away from traditional diets and ways of life is one factor causing shorter lifespans.
The council was effusive in its praise for the proposal. A visibly emotional Councilwoman Maile David (South Kona, Ocean View, Volcano) lauded Peralto for bringing traditional Hawaiian communities back to life.
“This will be a template for what I hope the whole island can become,” David said. “Self-sustaining, where we don’t have to rely on anyone, where if you’re hungry you can just pick something out of the backyard.”
The precise terms of the lease — such as its length or rent obligations — have not been negotiated yet.
With the Finance Committee unanimously voting in favor of the resolution, it will now go before the full council in two weeks.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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