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Hawaiian activist draws crowd

    By Contributing Writers. October 24, 2011 - 6:44 pm

William Aila, chair of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, shared his experiences as an advocate for preserving Hawaiian land and culture with more than 100 students and faculty Sept. 27 to kick off HPU’s Hawaiian Speaker Series.

 The series was organized by Dr. Malia J. Smith, assistant dean for general education.

“The Native Hawaiian speakers that participate in these events give our students, faculty and staff the unique opportunity to intimately learn about this culturally rich place we call home,” Smith said. “And why not learn more about Hawai‘i, after all, it is embedded in our name, it is the ‘H’ in HPU, and it is precisely why many of us are here.”

 Before Aila, former Waianae harbormaster, began his speech at Sharky’s Cove, he chanted about the mountains and sea of Waianae. “It reminds of where I am from,” he said.

 Aila mostly talked about kuleana, or responsibility.

 “It is a reciprocal relationship with ‘aina,” he said. “It is earned, demonstrated and the responsibility that is totally yours.”

 Aila stressed the importance of kuleana and shared a story of when he first practiced kuleana while only in junior high school.

 “There was a teacher’s meeting and they were supposed to talk about new plans and developments,” Aila said, “but nobody was paying attention … maybe they were tired.”

 That was when Aila stood up and said to the teachers, “If you are not paying attention, then how can you expect the things to get done?”

Aila got compliments for speaking up and taking charge. He likewise encouraged students to take responsibility and to make themselves heard.

 Aila also addressed his concerns about preserving the historical and burial sites that may be affected by Honolulu’s rail project, telling the crowd that he has signed off on a programmatic agreement that will allow the protection of historic and burial sites.

 Answering a question from the audience about influence of tourism in Hawaii, Aila responded that although tourism is helping the state’s economy, it is lacking in its ability to “address the problems of local folks and the resources.”

 “We are reaching the saturation point.” Aila said, adding that there’s a need to address tourism in a sustainable way.

 After the event, Aila spoke to the Kalamalama about his opinion on the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, which will bring thousands of people to Oahu.

“APEC provides opportunities but it also provides a lot of irritation,” he said. “Who benefits from it? Is it the tourism? … Is it the homeless people? There are contractors who are benefiting from it.”

 “It means a lot of things to a lot of people.”

Aila also stressed the importance of protecting and preserving Hawaii’s agriculture.

One way to do so is through water conservation, which will soon become even more critical Aila said his department has found that there will be less rainfall in coming years in Hawaii, which will lead to water scarcity.

 Aila urged students to take part in helping the land. “You have the freedom of speech. Speak. Write letters to the editors. Write blogs,” Aila said.

 Alexis Kimble, a psychology major and a freshman from Georgia, said Aila’s words were inspiring.

“I really enjoyed it a lot and learned a lot,” Kimble said. “We are lacking work ethics and need to work (to deserve) privilege.”

 The next speaker in the series is Ramsay Taum, a Hawaiian culture expert and director of the nonprofit organization Sustain Hawaii. Taum’s talk, “Meaning of Hawaii: What That Means to You,” takes place Oct. 12 at 11:50 a.m. at Sharky’s Cove.

SANJEEV RANABHAT
Student writer