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VOICES: Work together to keep Kaua‘i pono

RE: Mo‘olelo Murals artists repair artwork vandalized at Salt Pond, July 14, 2021.

My perspective on the vandalism of the Hi‘iaka Mural at Waimakaohi‘iaka aka Salt Pond comes from my position as a Kaua‘i born and raised wahine and who is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit, Kamawaelualani Corp. Through this nonprofit me and two of the original artists who completed the Hi‘iaka Mural at Salt Pond, started the program “Mo‘olelo Murals” dedicated to protecting, preserving, and perpetuating our ancestral mo‘olelo (stories/ narratives) in the form of public art. You can see our work in Lihu‘e and we are in the process of doing murals island-wide.

When our Mo‘olelo Murals hui found out about the vandalism of the Hi‘iaka Mural at Salt Pond we felt a lot of emotions and no emotions at once. We didn’t take this as a personal attack, we took this as the result of a political system that is continually held unaccountable for the injustices enacted against our people and ‘aina. In creating this mural, the artists worked in relationship with the houseless community. Keiki belonging to the encampment were painted onto the mural because they belong to that place and their mana went into the mural just as much as the artists. The hope is that these keiki will feel a sense of belonging to this wahi pana (special/storied place) and a contributing part of their community, especially in the face of insurmountable factors that consistently tell them they don’t belong here…in their own homelands.

Instead of focusing on the vandalism of a beautiful mural that was by and for the community, we want to take this as an opportunity to open public dialogue about the larger issues that led this to happen.

The issue is threefold: First, our cost of living and deficit in affordable housing leads to large houseless communities that are disproportionately kanaka. Kanaka and locals who are generationally rooted here are continually displaced. Further, as rural disparities persist, Kaua‘i has a lack of resources that help with addressing substance abuse and mental/ physical health issues.

Second, the irresponsible amount of tourists on Kaua‘i is understandably leading to frustration for kanaka and locals who may feel like tourists are only here to breed an overreliance on outsiders for our livelihood, and who have the privilege of taking what they want from our culture while doing nothing but contributing to the further displacement of our people.

Lastly, the influx of transplants and outside land/homeowners are aggravating the cultural and economic divide between the rich and poor, kanaka and haole, outsiders and locals.

So what do we need? We need elected officials to be easily accessible to our people, especially those whose voices are the most systematically silenced. We need policy change that doesn’t continually give excuses for why we can’t more tightly regulate the number of tourists on Kaua‘i at any given time, we need our elected officials to transparently and unapologetically work toward policies that prevent the pushing out of kanaka and locals, and who are unafraid to publicly stand against the continued colonization of our ‘aina and ways of being.

We need individuals to take command of their situation and hold themselves accountable before holding anyone else accountable. We need our community members to understand that they have the power to organize and mobilize to make the changes needed for healthy, thriving people and places on Kaua‘i — We need not wait on others to empower ourselves.

Kaua‘i is hurting. It is our individual and collective kuleana to not spend our time and resources putting out dumpster fires as they arise, but to proactively (not reactively) and holistically hold Kaua‘i close and help heal her by healing ourselves and each other.

Above all else, I am proud to be of Kaua‘i and am sending out this kahea to everyone, no matter where on the island you live and what background you come from, to work together to keep Kaua‘i pono for our future generations.

Mahalo nui loa,


Nik “Nikki” Cristobal, Ph.D.c

is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit, Kamawaelualani Corp.
Source: The Garden Island

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