195188 Reviving cultural practices and traditional diets through Native Hawaiian water rights

Tuesday, November 10, 2009: 2:50 PM

Lawrence H. Miike, MD, JD , Commissioner, Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management, Honolulu, HI
Freshwater (wai) was the seminal resource from which the culture and diet of Hawai`i's indigenous people originated. In Hawaiian mythology, the wetland taro plant (kalo) is the first-born, older brother of all Native Hawaiians. Land divisions were based on ahupua`a, typically stretching from mountain to ocean, and most often centered on a stream, from which ditches (`auwai) diverted water to irrigate terraces (lo`i) of kalo. And waiwai, denoting an abundance of water, is the Hawaiian word for “wealth.”

With the development of large sugar plantations and their need for enormous amounts of water, the indigenous system of water distribution and sharing was transformed, abetted by the Kingdom of Hawai`i's Supreme Court, whose appointed members were immigrants trained in western law. Water became property that could be owned, transferred anywhere, and used for any purpose.

In 1973, under Hawai`i's first Chief Justice of Hawaiian lineage, the Supreme Court ruled that water was a public resource, held in trust by the State for its people, a decision reinforced in 1978 by amendments to the Hawai`i constitution. Court decisions in this century have identified protection of the resource and traditional and customary practices, including growing kalo, as among trust purposes. Thus, the stage has been set for the revival of cultural and dietary practices through increased stream flows for more lo`i and return of the indigenous freshwater fish, crustaceans and mollusks that once were abundant in Hawai`i's streams.

Learning Objectives:
Discuss the importance of freshwater streams,springs, and seeps in pre-western-contact Hawaii. Explain how the current laws on water rights support the revival of traditional diets and other Hawaiian cultural practices.

Keywords: Hawaiian Natives, Water

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a member of the State of Hawaii's Commission on Water Resource Management and author of "Water and the Law in Hawaii" (University of Hawaii Press, 2004). My current term on the Commission is from 2004-2012, and I was previously a statutory member of the Commission from 1995-1998 in my capacity of Hawaii State Director of Health (because the state water quality programs were in the Department of Health). I was also the founding Executive Director of Papa Ola Lokahi, the umbrella organization for the state's Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems, from 1989-1991.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.