Hawaiians send message at Maui airport protest

Honolulu Advertiser
Saturday, February 3, 2001

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

Sign waving KAHULUI, Maui – More than 100 Native Hawaiians demonstrated peacefully at Kahului Airport yesterday in an event designed to educate tourists and residents about recent legal challenges to Native Hawaiian rights, lands and entitlements.

"We want to let them know what's really happening behind the hula dances and the lu'au lights,'' explained Thelma Kahaiali'i of Lahaina, a member of Na Kupuna o Maui (The Elders of Maui), which organized the demonstration.

Kahaiali'i and Na Kupuna members said they were responding to U.S. District Court lawsuits filed last year by Patrick Barrett and John Carroll seeking to halt government programs and services guaranteed to Native Hawaiians under the state constitution.

Na Kupuna spokesperson Kapali Keahi said the lawsuits have enraged the Native Hawaiian community and brought together a diverse group of individuals for the demonstration.

"What we're dealing with is racism," Keahi said. "They're using the system to attack our rights.''

Demonstrators gathered at 5 a.m. for chants and prayers, then distributed literature to travelers and held signs as motorists honked their horns and flashed shaka signs. Among the morning sign-holders was Maui recording artist Keali'i Reichel.

Although state officials beefed up security and advised travelers to arrive early for flights, no disruptions were reported. The demonstration is scheduled to continue today until 8 p.m. and tomorrow from noon to 5 p.m.

Tourists were curious about the demonstrators, but many said they didn't understand what the fuss was all about.

After hearing a brief description of the lawsuits, Rick Kegley of Bradenton, Fla., responded that he's not a believer in policies intended to right past wrongs, while Jim Kraning of Pocatello, Idaho, said Hawai'i's indigenous people should be given opportunities, not handouts.

"I think they're fighting a losing battle,'' said Warren Finch of Tacoma, Wash. "If they don't want us back here, we'll just go back to Palm Springs.''

Several demonstrators complained about restrictions placed on the event by airport officials. Most were restricted to an area outside the main airport buildings. While some were allowed to hand out fliers inside, they were confined to areas with little foot traffic.

"Some kind of protest this is,'' complained Wailani Farm, a Waiehu Kou homesteader. ''If I were planning this, we'd be on the runway.''

But the elders insisted on a peaceful protest and that's what will take place, she said.

On the road leading to the airport, Francine Cabacungan of Wailuku was waving a sign next to her cousin, Julie Rodrigues. Together, they lamented the situation Native Hawaiians have found themselves in and said it was about time for such a demonstration.

"Hawaiians are too nice – too nice for their own good. It's our culture,'' said Cabacungan, who received permission to take off early yesterday from her job at the Maui Prince Hotel.

"Hawaiians are good at grinning and bearing it,'' Rodrigues added. "We do the best we can with what we got.''

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