Census finds Hawaiians remain in poorest areas

Honolulu Avertiser
Monday, April 30, 2001

Tanya Bricking
Avertiser Staff Writer

Growing up in Nanakuli, Raymond Kaleoalohapoina'oleohelemanu Kane traded the fish he caught off the Wai'anae Coast for slack-key guitar lessons from his elders on the beach. He learned early on to find pleasure in the simple things in life. census map

Today, the Wai'anae Coast is home to Hawai'i's largest population of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, a statistic that has not changed much from Kane's childhood.

Despite Hawai'i's growing diversity, Native Hawaiians continue to be clustered in the state's poorest areas, new census data indicates, and a middle class of Native Hawaiians dots the map in small numbers in more affluent mixed-race neighborhoods.

For Kane, 75, a Native Hawaiian slack-key guitarist legendary to generations, it is a point of pride that 11,728 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders live in the 12 miles between Nanakuli and Makaha along O'ahu's rugged Leeward Coast.

The State of Hawai'i Data Book 1999 lists the median household income on the Wai'anae Coast at $32,392 – less than half that of more affluent Hawai'i Kai on the other side of O'ahu. Kane finds the riches are measured by his neighborhood's cultural identity and the spirit of its people.

"We got everything here, and almost all free," he said. "Very comfortable. We can raise our children. We got all the opportunities."

Of the 113,539 people in Hawai'i who selected the "Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander" single-race category in Census 2000, one-third live in 25 concentrated pockets of more than 1,000 people.

Most of those predominantly Hawaiian communities are anchored by federally designated Hawaiian Home Lands. The same pockets account for 31 percent of Hawai'i's welfare recipients, 35 percent of its adult prison population and 50 percent of its incarcerated juveniles, according to state economic, safety department and youth services office figures.

Across the island, in Wai'alae-Kahala, John Keola Lake lives in a neighborhood where only 109 people chose the "Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander" race category in the 2000 Census.

While his neighborhood, which spans from middle- to upper-income levels, doesn't rank among the places where the Hawaiian population is high, Lake said he increasingly sees more people like himself in every part of the Islands.

"The economic barriers are no longer the same," said Lake, who teaches Hawaiian language, music, dance and chant at Chaminade University and the University of Hawai'i. "Many more things are available to the Hawaiians."

Lake said he sees more Hawaiian students seeking doctorates now than ever.

The difference, when comparing Hawaiians with other ethnic groups in the state, is that changes have come more slowly for the host culture, said Charles "Uncle Charlie" Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., a Hawaiian storyteller, cultural consultant, spiritual leader and community activist.

"They've been at the bottom of the totem pole," said Maxwell, who is half Hawaiian. "It's an inbred thing from a long time ago. Our values as Hawaiians are completely different than the values of Western man. For Hawaiians, the ocean, the fish, the coconuts and the land – that's what's important. In modern times, that don't work."

Native Hawaiians often find themselves in a clash of cultures, he said, fighting such things as subdivisions and roads from destroying the beauty of the land while they also try to further the island's economic development.

The Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population is slow to change from a pattern that holds across the Neighbor Islands. Their populations are concentrated in lower-income areas such Keaukaha-Pana'ewa, a Hawaiian Home Land district near Hilo on the Big Island, where the median household income estimated in 1992 was $30,014, about $13,000 less than the state average.

On Maui, most Hawaiians are in the central valley town of Wailuku, home to another protected Hawaiian Home Land tucked against the west Maui mountains, where the median household income in 1990 was $38,450, and about 7 percent of children under 18 years of age were living in poverty.

On Moloka'i, sometimes called "the most Hawaiian island," the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population of 1,420 outnumbers populations of all other race categories on the island, almost doubling the Asian population, but unemployment is an ongoing concern.

On Kaua'i, one-fifth of the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population live in the Kealia-Moloa'a census tracts on Kaua'i's eastern shore, where subdivisions with million-dollar lots have cropped up next door to Hawaiian Home Lands.

Of the six major Hawaiian islands, Lana'i is the only one without a concentration of at least 1,000 Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. It has only 226 counted in the 2000 Census, eight times fewer people than in the island's Asian category.

Native Hawaiian advocates say data from this Census, which separates the Native Hawaiians category from the Asian population for the first time, will be used to show where the needs are. But because this Census allowed people, also for the first time, to choose multiple race categories, it may sometimes be difficult to find the people they want to serve, said Momi Lovell, director of Census information for Papa Ola Lokahi, a federally financed Hawaiian health system.

"The needs have not changed," she said. "No matter what the Hawaiian count is, it's still an underserved population."

Haunani Apoliona, Office of Hawaiian Affairs chairwoman and a member of President Clinton's Advisory Committee on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, cautions against making too much out of initial Census data. The category that includes Native Hawaiians also includes people of Samoan, Chamorro, Tahitian and other island ancestries, which could skew the numbers, she said. It also leaves out Native Hawaiians who selected more than one race.

The U.S. Census Bureau will release more Census 2000 data by June, with considerably more in-depth information about communities, including detailed race and ancestry information, housing status, household makeup, age and gender.

The first batch of data is not a complete picture of Hawaiian communities, Apoliona said, "but perhaps it speaks to the activism of the people who live in Hawaiian homes."

Ever since Congress passed the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act in 1921, a blood line was drawn through the Hawaiian community because the legislation set aside 203,000 acres as homeland for Hawaiians with at least 50 percent native blood. Activism has remained strong among those fighting for more land and rights.

"A great majority of the Native Hawaiians are the lowest social rung of the economic ladder," said Francis Apoliona, spokesman for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which benefits those Hawaiians with at least 50 percent native blood. "Our lands are very set lands that basically no one else wanted. What we want and what in reality we're going to get are two very different things."

While some homestead developments are sprouting $200,000 homes, including Kalaawahine Streamside near Punchbowl and some parts of Waimanalo on O'ahu's eastern shore, most homestead developments are in Hawai'i's poorest areas.

Maxwell, a Hawaiian activist for 30 years, is happy for the advancements. But he also sees room for more opportunities.

"We're the host culture," he said. "Many people helping Hawaiians fight development are non-Hawaiians. Others must help Hawaiians keep the culture. We're beginning to look like Anywhere, USA. We don't want that."

It's fair to say that Native Hawaiians are "ghettoized" to areas of poverty and welfare, Maxwell said. That is what Hawaiians have been living with for years.

As a leader in the Hawaiian civil-rights movement, Maxwell said he wants to push for more, and the Census data confirms areas of need.

"To see so many of our people struggling in poverty, but yet our culture is used to bring people here," he said, "it's very sore for the heart."

© COPYRIGHT 2001 The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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