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Excerpted From: Kaylee Kilolani Michiko Correa, The Relationship Between Food Sovereignty and Hawaiian Health: The Implications Behind Alexander and Baldwin's Recent Land Sale, 17 Indiana Health Law Review 257 (2020) (Student Note) (252 Footnotes) (Full Document)


KayleeKilolaniMichikoCorreaThe Hawaiian creation story, or Kumulipo, features Wkea (sky-father) and Papa (earth-mother), parents of the Hawaiian Islands. Ho'oh klani was the daughter of Wkea and Papa; Wkea and Ho'oh klani had a stillborn baby boy, so they buried him on the east side of their house, facing the sunrise. A plant soon grew in the burial spot, which became the first kalo (taro) plant, named Hloanakalaukapalili. Wkea and Ho'oh klani had another son, named Hloa, to honor his older brother, Hloanakalaukapalili; Hloa is said to be the first Hawaiian and all Hawaiians trace their mo'okauhau (genealogy) back to Hloa.

This story illustrates the familial-like connection Hawaiians have with the land and the vitality of that connection:

Knaka Maoli [Native Hawaiians] trace their ancestry to the 'ina (land), to the natural forces of the world, and to kalo (taro), the staple food of the Hawaiian people. All are related in a deep and profound way that infuses Hawaiian thought and is expressed in all facets of Hawaiian life.

Native Hawaiian land rights have been a highly debated issue for the past 125 years; yet, a neglected discussion is the impact of land rights on Native Hawaiian health. While obesity rates in Hawai'i have decreased significantly in the past seven years, Hawai'i still ranks 25 out of 50 for diabetes-related deaths, 17 out of 50 for physical inactivity, 29 out of 50 for low birthweight, and 38 out of 50 for excessive drinking, according to America's Health Rankings.

These poor health statistics are a result of, amongst other factors, a post-colonization reliance on imported and processed foods. So, reliance on food produced on Hawai'i soil, particularly foods that fall within Traditional Hawaiian means of subsistence, seem to be a plausible solution to improving the health of our people. This concept is otherwise known as food sovereignty: A general definition of the concept is as follows:”[f]ood sovereignty ... is that state of being in which 'all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice.”’ However, it is difficult to pursue this endeavor when there is little land available; for instance, taro farmers in Hawai'i face a handful of challenges, including a rapidly decreasing amount of agricultural land and a recent Maui land sale demonstrates the importance of food sovereignty.

The Alexander & Baldwin Company (“A&B”) possessed over 41,000 acres of sugar cane land on Maui and retained land and water rights to all of it; however, A&B stopped its sugar cane production in 2016 after 145 years of production. In 2018, A&B sold 41,000 acres of sugar cane land to a California-owned company called Mahi Pono. Initial reports suggest that Mahi Pono plans to grow a wide range of crops, such as coffee, fruits, and vegetables for local use and as exports. Mahi Pono also acquired Kl lio Ranch, A&B's grass-fed cattle production project in partnership with Maui Cattle Company, and Central Maui Feedstocks. Mahi Pono's two land purchases makes them the biggest private landowner on Maui.

The people of Hawai'i are quite familiar with private corporations coming in and purchasing land for commercial land development. Haunani-Kay Trask, a prominent Hawaiian activist, educator, and writer, noted that since 1893, Hawaiian lands have been used for things like urbanization, resorts, and plantation agriculture. While most Hawaiians are not supportive of the land development that occurred and continues to occur throughout the islands, they disagree on something that could impact Hawaiian land rights: federal recognition.

Federal recognition is one of several Hawaiian rights advocacy approaches circling around the Native Hawaiian community indigenous peoples rights, decolonization, and sovereignty are the three other main theories. Federal recognition grants tribes a government-to-government relationship with the United States in which they can self-govern and receive federal assistance. The indigenous peoples rights theory is rooted in international human law and focuses on protecting Native Hawaiian rights within the American legal structure. Decolonization is also rooted in international law and strives to turn the state into an independent nation-state. Lastly, sovereignty is based on the “States-rights frame of international law” and seeks to restore the Hawaiian monarchy.

A modified model of federal recognition is the logical and most immediate resolution to Hawaiian health issues because it would be a major step towards Hawaiian food sovereignty. In order to understand this, Section II explains the history of Hawai'i, focusing on events leading up to and including the transformation in the land ownership and usage system from AD 600 until today. Section II will also provide an overview of Native Hawaiian health.

Section III will explore the concept of food sovereignty in general and how it can operate in Hawai'i.

Section IV offers a case study of the multimillion-dollar sale of A&B sugar cane land on Maui to a farming venture company, Mahi Pono.

Section V discusses the different legal theories Hawaiian scholars have analyzed to reclaim Hawaiian land rights.

Finally, Section VI proposes a federal regulation as the most immediately attainable opportunity for Hawaiians, specifically on Maui, to progress towards food sovereignty.

[. . .]

Attaining food sovereignty for the benefit of Hawaiian health begins with restoring Hawaiian land rights, and reclaiming land rights begins with more political power. Seemingly, building a Native Hawaiian government first, with the hopes of eventual independence, is the most accessible way to do so. Most Hawaiian legal issues are dismissed because we have no political power. And yet, there is pushback to the idea of federal recognition for fear of giving up claims of independence. However, this proposal does not wish to give up a claim to independence either; rather, it urges Native Hawaiians to consider looking past our intra-community opinions to work toward one goal: eventual independence. It is easy to dwell on the past wrongs experienced by Hawaiians - the overthrow of our monarchy, the negative health impacts of a Westernized diet, and the setbacks of transitioning to a Western land ownership system.

The “wrongs” continuously discussed by Hawaiian activists are common to all indigenous communities, including those of Indiana. Similar to what happened with Native Hawaiians, in the late 18th century, the Native Americans of Indiana came to the realization that the British and American colonists' main goal was to take Native American land. The Native Americans were unfamiliar with the British-American concept of land tenure and fought endlessly with the Americans; by 1794, a treaty was drafted and signed, stating that the Native Americans gave up a strip of land in southeastern Indiana in exchange for goods worth $20,000 and an annual payment to all the tribes, ranging from $500-$1000. The Native American leader who signed the treaty, Chief Little Turtle, had the same spirit as Queen Lili'uokalani in that he hoped signing the treaty would improve the conditions for his people, even though it meant that the Americans now had sole authority.

Chief Little Turtle and Queen Lili'uokalani did what was best for their people at the time, and the Native Hawaiian community faces a choice to do what is best for our people now. In order to move forward in reclaiming our identity, health, and land rights, Native Hawaiians must work with what is available to us: 43 C.F.R. § 50. Native Hawaiians need access to their own land because it touches all aspects of our health - physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. While private entities, such as A&B and Mahi Pono, promise to keep the agricultural integrity of our land and consider the incorporation of traditional Hawaiian foods into their plans, the reality is that these promises are subject to many variables. In other words, this is not food sovereignty. However, with the establishment of a Native Hawaiian governing entity, the possibility of food sovereignty and a healthier Native Hawaiian community becomes much more possible because with land, comes power.

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