By Wayne K. Nishiki on 2 August 2009 in the Maui News -
Image above: Distressed Hawaiian flag baseball cap available at www.zazzle.com From (http://www.zazzle.com/hawaiian_flag_in_distress_hat-148339278052495265)
Recently, there have been questions about the upside-down Hawaiian flag on my desk in the Council Chambers. For those that have taken the time to ask me directly: Thank you. To those that I may have offended, I wish to humbly apologize and share some of my core beliefs relating to this issue.
Let me start by saying that I love America. In fact, like so many other Americans, I loved my country enough to leave behind family and friends to serve in the U.S. Army.
I also love and care deeply for Hawaii. It's where I was born and raised, where my children - and now my grandchildren - go to school, dance hula, pick limu, surf and explore tidepools.
An upside-down flag is the international signal of distress. I placed an upside-down Hawaiian flag on my desk in March after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ruling by Hawaii's Supreme Court that had blocked the sale of 1.2 million acres of ceded land. I did this to show support for the Hawaii court's original ruling and to show compassion for the families of Hawaiian ancestry that have a beneficial interest in this land.
The flag reminds me that prior to Western contact in 1778, the Hawaiian race was thriving. Western contact brought devastation to the Hawaiians by way of fatal disease, loss of land and the 1893 overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. This was the start of what can be called the cultural genocide of the Hawaiian people. Their population declined by approximately 90 percent.
I am reminded that the suffering continues even today. Studies show that Hawaiians face numerous health problems and die at a rate higher than other ethnic groups in Hawaii due to such health problems. Specifically, Hawaiians have some of the highest statistics for substance abuse, alcohol addiction, depression, diabetes, respiratory illnesses, heart disease and cancer mortality.
The flag reminds me of statistics showing that people of Hawaiian ancestry are the most incarcerated race in Hawaii and that nearly half of their households experience problems with affordability, overcrowding and structural inadequacy.
It reminds me that taro farming, which relies upon cold, flowing water from streams, was a fundamental part of the Hawaiian culture. Tragically, the continued and excessive diversion of water from the streams of East Maui and Na Wai Eha is destroying the ancient tradition of taro farming. On average, a mind-boggling 163 million gallons of water per day (as much as all of Oahu consumes) is being diverted from streams on 33,000 acres of state ceded lands in East Maui and transported to Central Maui. This massive diversion of water leaves taro farmers with a mere average 3 million gallons a day. Surely our precious water can be apportioned more fairly without harming any users.
This lack of stream water has also impacted residents who exercise traditional and customary rights for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes, such as fishing, gathering limu and the taking of o'opu, hihiwai and opa'e from streams. In their diverted state, native stream life has virtually disappeared in most Maui streams, hindering the ability of residents to pass these practices on to future generations.
I am reminded of the ongoing desecration to ancient Hawaiian burial sites. For Hawaiians, like so many cultures around the world, the iwi kupuna (ancestral Native Hawaiian remains) should be treated with utmost respect. Sadly, rather than caring for and honoring the bones of our kupuna, those charged with protecting them either insist that burial sites do not exist in development areas, or allow the Hawaiian burials consisting of iwi to be excavated, removed from their resting places, and left in cardboard boxes, sometimes for years.
The upside-down Hawaiian flag reminds me that the Hawaiians relied upon the ocean and reef ecosystems for fishing, diving and subsistence. Today, they can only watch as once pristine reefs are being lost forever as wastewater from injection wells and other land-based pollutants continue to degrade nearshore waters and reefs.
It reminds me that access to beaches is being severely limited by resorts and million-dollar homes in gated communities. It reminds me that agricultural lands have been replaced by "gentlemen estates."
For those that are of Hawaiian ancestry, or were born and raised here, or have moved here and adopted our way of life, you understand my intent. The Hawaiians are a people in distress. I believe that many voted me into office trusting that I will continue to defend what is left of the Hawaiian culture.
[Editor's Note: Wayne K. Nishiki holds the Maui County Council's South Maui residency seat.]