I woke up this morning before sunrise and watched night make way for the day. The light of the sun danced streaks of pink and purple across indigo blue skies and at that moment I could hear Holaniku say, “listen to me wake up.” The birds’ voices started to fill the space in between and I closed my eyes and listened for their wings to meet the wind. I began to chant, ‘E Ala E,” to the east and watched as the clouds filled with the glow of Kanehoalani. My memories took me back to the ala watching the sunrise with the Kupuna and kia’i, and I could hear all of their voices chanting with mine. I thought of Uncle Hank and smiled knowing that his spirit is now in the realms of Wakea and asked him to watch over our precious Kahaili.
Time here is so sacred. I bear ceremonial witness to the cycles of life every single day. I can see and hear the Koa’e’ula doing their aerial courtship dances in the sky from my room. It is so incredible to be back in the same bunkhouse that was built when I first arrived at Holaniku 10 years ago. And now, from the same window, I see them dancing still. They fly over the naupaka and look for their chicks and expertly land to feed them. There is so much love in the way these birds take care of their young. They go out and they hunt and they brave skies that are filled with overlooking ‘Iwa. And even though there is always a good chance that they will be chased by an ‘Iwa, they still go out so that they can return with food. The last time I was here was in the winter when the Moli and Ka’upu were the biggest birds of the land with the most presence. And now, I find myself in the space in between the seasons where there are only a few Moli fledglings left and all of the smaller birds are ever present. I see how differently they protect themselves and their young ones. They are more aggressive and they will even fly right at you if you don’t see their nest, their eggs, or their chicks. This is the reason why we all walk with a heightened awareness of this sacred ground. This is their home and they make their nests below and above ground. I recognize how brave these birds have to be when they see us coming. We have to walk through colonies of ‘Ewa’ewa to get to the places where the Koloa Pohaka find shade and water. The parents of the chicks will make their voices loud and will screech to let us know that they are there and that they are displeased with our presence so close to their babies.
I see how we, Kanaka ‘Oiwi, are so much like them when we are on the frontlines protecting our sacred lands for the next generation and beyond. We chant, we use our voices, and we put our bodies between the potential harm and the spaces and people we love. The kupuna did what for us what the ‘Ewa’ewa, Noio, Ua’u kani, Koa’e’ula, and Manu o Ku, do for their hanauna hou. Our parents did and do the same. And now, my generation does the same for the next. We are all trying to survive in our own homelands. There is something beautiful and healing to being on an island that is protected and cared for – even the illegally occupying settler governing state and their agencies. This land is protected by the same state and the same agencies that came to arrest us on Mauna Kea. Since I was here last, I have been on four frontlines, in two contested case hearing processes, and two supreme court hearing processes, and was arrested in prayer by DLNR. And now I find myself here, as a DLNR volunteer. The irony is as thick as the naupaka forests have become. I find myself continuously pondering why we, Kanaka ‘Oiwi people, are not seen or even respected as a living part of the ecosystem that the state and DLNR are charged to protect and care for. Why is it they make it so hard for us to live in the right relationship in our own home? Our genealogies literally connect us especially to this land, to this ocean, these mountains, these birds, elements, and all living beings. We are a part of it all. And we deserve the same protections and the rights to protect what is rightfully our responsibility as lineal descendants of these sacred islands.
These agencies have a lot of power and they don’t always do right with that power. But there are people who work within these agencies that want to do good things for Hawai’i and for our lāhui. I am grateful for the incredible individuals that work for the state and for DLNR who have reverence and respect for us as Kanaka ‘Oiwi and for our living connection to our homelands. I think of Cynthia Vanderlip, manager of Holaniku, and President of Kure Atoll Conservancy, who has dedicated decades of her life to loving, protecting, and helping this land and the wildlife here heal. When I was here the first time, she honored my living cultural ceremonial practices and made so much room for me to feel safe and seen here. She has worked alongside many other Kanaka to create more and more room for Kānaka ‘Ōiwi presence on Hōlanikū and I cannot put into words how grateful I am for that. There have been many hands who have placed their love onto this sacred ‘āina and I find myself giving thanks for them whether I know their names or not for all they have done. This land looks so different from when I was here last and the longer I am here the more and more I see it.
I am honored to be here, to ceremony here, to put my hands on this earth alongside my sisters Kapulei and Afsheen, and to be a part of a team of women who are the color of sunrise, who make way for the day, who makes way for life.
E ala e Hōlanikū!
na Hawane Rios
Lā 3 o Kepakemapa 2022