“Don’t let the sins of the system get in the way of you figuring out how to get the system to actually work for you,” states Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology Ecologist, Kawika Winter. 

From the mountains to the seas, the ahupua’a stewardship and conservation system is being revived by U.S. government agencies. The system has reintroduced three Indigenous communities that are already seeing conservation success, with a 310% increase in biomass of surgeonfish and a general increase of the Bluespine unicornfish population. The growing inclusion of Indigenous Hawaiian preservation, social, and spiritual values have been key in building these areas and gaining conservation success. It also helps build productive and mutual partnerships with the government.    

“They [ahupuaʻa] are relics of our ancient past, but they’re encoded in our land use and recordation system even until today…spiritual practice, not necessarily religiosity, is an important part of the work that we do. We enjoy the act of devotion. We understand the value of collective intelligence and sentiment focused on stated goals,” stated one report Author, Hannah Kihalani Springer. Springer is also an ʻŌiwi (Indigenous Hawaiian) kūpuna (elder), currently living within a five mile radius of where her ancestors resided hundreds of years ago. 

For decades, the state and U.S. government have been the deciding factors in land division among these Indigenous communities. They would grant private land ownership and have isolated habitat management, with different agencies watching over aquatic and terrestrial regions. This limited Indigenous peoples’ ability to live and care for their native lands in their traditional way. But now, they’re years of fighting and resistance have paid off. According to the published report by the Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology, three communities are seeing success within their conservation efforts–the Hāʻena on the island of Kauaʻi, Heʻeia on the island of Oʻahu, and Kaʻūpūlehu on the island of Hawai'i. These communities have gained success in creating partnerships and stewardships with the government, ultimately leading to the reintroduction of these communities to their native lands from the mountains to the seas. 

But, their efforts have caught the eye of many traditionalists on the islands of Hawai'i. Many Indigenous Hawaiian advocates see the stewardship between these communities and the U.S. government to be counteractive to their ancestral and traditional ways since the kingdom was overthrown in 1893. Fortunately, these communities will continue to fight to restore each conservation area and deliver success amongst their people.

Each of these ahupuaʻas hold multiple formally recognized Indigenous communities and conservation areas, (ICCAs). These ICCA’s can exist without the interference of the U.S. government due to co-management of resources and private land ownership. Bringing leverage on the rights and resources that were once taken from them.  

“...maybe let’s consider this: Let’s figure out how to get this giant to lift some boulders for us. So we can restore a fish pond and feed our people again. This isn’t the end. It’s a step forward on the path…the scientific truth that humans and nature aren’t separate from each other,” stated Winter.