By Keani Rawlins-Fernandez
I ka ‘ōlelo ke ola, i ka ‘ōlelo ka make. In the word is life, in the word is death.
This traditional Hawaiian proverb speaks volumes about the importance of language and how it informs our worldview. Language contains the power to manifest or change a condition.
Our Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday received a presentation on the recently completed ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi translation of our Maui County Charter — a project that took four years to see through. Maui County is the first in the state to translate our charter into ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi. Community organizations are now urging our sister counties to follow suit.
It has been a vision of mine to prioritize initiatives that weave ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi into our county government. Having our language represented and actively spoken is an important building block for restoring ea to our culture.
Our native speakers have an important role in the future of our county, as we champion this inclusion that is protected in the Constitution of Hawaiʻi.
This past election, our electorate ratified a charter amendment to establish a Department of ‘Ōiwi Resources and to affirm that the county will operate as a bilingual government. ‘Ōiwi resources, our mea Hawaiʻi, are all the things that give life to Hawaiian culture and are the foundation of our practices and worldview.
Hawaiian culture does not exist without these tangible and intangible resources. “A government’s decision to manage a resource indicates that the resource has value to society,” said Keoni Kuoha, our Charter Commission’s vice chairperson.
We must invest properly into that which feeds us, or we will starve physically and spiritually. History shows us that failure to manage those resources has led to detrimental and irreparable consequences, including the loss of our coral reefs, illegal resource extraction in our ecologically unique and culturally sensitive sand dunes or the theft of wai for corporate profit.
We cannot exist as Hawaiians in Hawaiʻi without these things. In fact, ecological degradation affects every living being.
While some may see these efforts as symbolic, they are anything but. These initiatives are both foundational and critical, especially as we deal with the ongoing fallout of a capitalist system that abandoned many to enrich a few.
This is evident in our climate instability, which goes against an indigenous worldview. Similar to other indigenous peoples, we come from a culture where everyone was cared for and the natural balance and interdependence was of utmost importance.
We can begin to find our way back to that balance, but it will require ‘ike kupuna, the wisdom of our ancestors, to get us there.
As we propose ideas to heal our people and planet, it remains abundantly clear that the road map for us in Hawaiʻi was set generations ago by our kupuna. They teach us how to live in balance with our life-giving environment, in a way that reciprocates — aloha aku, aloha mai.
The disconnect from this way of living created so many of the world issues we face today, with climate disaster at our doorstep. It’s not difficult to see how mauka-to-makai land management, ‘āina momona practices and pilina to ‘āina leads to lōkahi or unity.
This cannot come from extractive practices that create imbalance. We have the tools, and now we have a charter that enables our government to use them.
As we look toward the next term, we will work toward building up this new department, as we continue to do with the Department of Agriculture. We look forward to cultivating robust discussion about how we can achieve all that we aspire to through this department.
The voice of the people will be central to how this department moves forward. We need the lahui to come together and put our collective mana into the creation of this department.
Together, we can protect and hoʻomomona our resources, our people and our planet by accessing the indigenous wisdom we have inherited and putting it in motion. He aliʻi ka ‘āina, he kauwā ke kanaka.
* Keani Rawlins-Fernandez is the chairperson of the Budget, Finance and Economic Committee. She holds the County Council seat for the Molokai residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Visit mauicounty.us for more information.