cross posted from The Earth Institute MDP Newsletter.
Perspectives from the University of Minnesota Devin Hogan
For five months after college I lived on a rural Hawaiian island in upheaval. Molokai (The Friendly Isle, population 7,404) purposely has no stoplights and no elevators and is known by outsiders primarily for its deer hunting and former leper colony. Cruise ships don't visit the island because residents formed a chain of canoes across the harbor to turn back the first attempted arrival.
In 2006 the island's largest landowner proposed a two-hundred-house subdivision on pristine beachfront in trade for locking 60,000 acres in a land trust. The deal sounded good on paper: One Last Development. Debate on how to proceed consumed the island and bitterly divided families. Some of the old guard was tired of fighting; others liked the potential for new jobs. In this climate I arrived for an internship at the weekly newspaper.
I started by reporting community meetings. The activists argued that trading even 200 acres of sacred land for 60,000 more was a bad deal. No number of jobs could justify the paving of ancestral hunting grounds and birthplace of hula. Most importantly, and missing from the debate, there wasn't enough water to support even current needs. I was experiencing closed ecosystems in a very real way.
The newspaper owner and I made the editorial choice to publicly oppose the development. As the community paper we owed Molokai residents the voice to speak out against a multi-billion-dollar foreign conglomerate. The Dispatch researched and reported on the fallacy of land trusts (the land actually could be developed), uncovered state-level backroom deals, and laid the groundwork for a plebiscite. The power of words worked. Media in Honolulu picked up on the story (a surprisingly rare feat) and the chorus against developing La`au Point grew louder.
I soon joined the activist group. We planned street protests and met with senators to show that Molokai deserved better. We drove jeeps into the jungle to cut palm fronds and mangrove trees, and shipped everything in fishing boats to build a protest camp of traditional Hawaiian hale on the shores of La`au. After several months the corporation abandoned the subdivision plan.
My first grassroots environmental campaign was a success. The Native Hawaiians took me in so I could learn the sacredness of all Earth and keep these lessons in my heart for future endeavors. The experience was so profound that I intend to make resolving these issues my career.
Devin Hogan, University of Minnesota