Unveiling Maui’s Unheard Voices: Indigenous and Mutual Aid Activists Speak Out

Featuring Kamiki Carter and Summer Starr

by Kate Horgan
Published: Last Updated on
The Project Censored Show
The Official Project Censored Show
Unveiling Maui's Unheard Voices: Indigenous and Mutual Aid Activists Speak Out

You’ve likely heard a lot about Maui in recent weeks but chances are you haven’t heard a lot from Indigenous or frontline mutual aid activists working to protect and support their communities in the dearth of government support and protection. In the first half of the show, Native Hawaiian Kamiki Carter joins the show to talk about the impact of the fires as well as the impact of widespread community organizing with Maui Rapid Response. In the second half of the show, mutual aid and land stewardship organizer Summer Starr joins the show to discuss the censored sources of the fires, namely capitalism and colonialism. She explains the predatory push of disaster capitalists and how folks on the ground are are instead pushing for decolonization and land back.

For more on community organized aid efforts in Maui, visit Maui Rapid Response.


Video of Interview with Kamiki Carter

Video of Interview with Summer Starr

Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Kamiki Carter

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Eleanor Goldfield: Thanks everyone for joining us back at the project censored radio show. We’re very glad right now to be joined by Kamiki Carter, a Native Hawaiian wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend to many. She has been a community advocate for over 20 years and is passionate on Ohana, that’s families, having access to resources available within the Maui community to ensure their basic needs are met.

She is also currently the co facilitator with Maui Rapid Response. Kamiki, thank you so much for joining us.

Kamiki Carter: Hi, thank you for having me.

Eleanor Goldfield: Absolutely, I mean, I really appreciate you taking the time to sit down, understanding how hectic things are where you are. And I wanted to start off with Maui Rapid Response.

Was that an existing structure that was in place, or was it created in the aftermath of the fires, and what has that rapid response looked like?

Kamiki Carter: Maui Rapid Response, it is a disaster, a disaster response team made up of individual volunteers as well as non-profits and direct aid organizations from Maui County.

It was actually founded back in 2020 during the pandemic time. So it originally started off as supporting the unsheltered here on Maui, which we do have a lot of, and making sure that they had access to, to care for their basic needs. My ohana and I, our family came in and we started servicing the kupuna, which is our seniors, as well as our ohana in need, our family in need.

And, what is the positive thing is that while part of our group took care of the unsheltered, we were very fortunate to take care of our sheltered population as well. So we were able to literally wholeheartedly support our families around Maui County, which we were so blessed to having.

Eleanor Goldfield: And so it started back in 2020 and I’m curious what has been its primary role here after the wildfires started?

Kamiki Carter: I think I got to go back a little bit more because in 2021 we had a flood, a pretty devastating flood up in Haiku and we responded immediately.

And our group is to fill in the gaps where needed. For whatever reason, there wasn’t immediate support services out there. We were making sure that families were again, families and individuals were getting their basic needs met.

And then, you know, it comes to the wildfires and we’re activated again and a team, a huge team now comes together made up of more individual volunteers and more organizations wanting to partner with with us to be able to make sure that our Lahaina, as well as our Kula, Ohana, and individuals were cared for immediately. Because, it wasn’t said much, but families and individuals were in need of food during that time where we had no communication with the Lahaina community, the West Maui community.

And that was really frustrating. And it was really sad, especially for family members and close friends here on the other side of the islands, wanting to get in there to make sure that our loved ones were taken care of. So it was a little frustrating in the beginning, but we were able to form good teams.

Individuals were able to get in however way that they made it possible. Maui Rapid Response is, again, just a small group, but we were able to, to also break those barriers and get over there to ensure, again, that families were receiving, families and individuals were receiving the care that they needed or the basic needs that they needed to even survive.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah. Well, and could you walk us through some of the geography here? So Lahaina is in the northwest, as I understand it. Where are you in relation to that?

Kamiki Carter: So Lahaina is actually, yes, is in the West Maui side. I currently live in Kihei, which is South Maui. And our operations headquarters is in Central Maui.

And we do have what’s called community resiliency hubs that are throughout the South Maui, Central, Upcountry, north, North Maui, North Shore Maui area to be able to support west side hubs that’s already formed out there. So that’s where we are.

Eleanor Goldfield: So I’m also curious about some of those basic needs. I mean, in the aftermath, what were people most in need of, or even during, what were people most in need of? What did you see the most lack of there?

Kamiki Carter: Water, food. I apologize if I get emotional. Water, food, just your basic needs, things that sometimes we take for granted. A meal, something to drink, clothing.

Some of them were in their nightgowns, or pareos, wraparounds. Clothing, shelter. Shelter was huge. A lot of people were displaced because they were told to evacuate. A roof over your head, food in your mouth, clothes on your back. That is the main things that was needed out there.

And it, we couldn’t… We couldn’t get to them fast enough.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah. And I’m also curious how that looks with regards to other more official types of aid. I remember during the pandemic in Washington, D. C., where I lived, the, the mayor’s office was actually suggesting that people call us, a small mutual aid group.

And I was like, well, you could just do it yourself or fine, you know. How does it look on Maui right now in terms of aid that you’re getting from official sources versus groups like yours that are partnering together?

Kamiki Carter: I think initially, there wasn’t much support from the county that we’ve seen, that I personally seen. So creating, actually activating our team was something that we already knew was going to happen. And it was necessary because we knew in previous situations, the county or Red Cross or any other organizations never stepped in til a couple of days later, and that was too long.

I mean, go ahead, you go ahead and not have food for two days and no drink, water for two days. You tell me how you feel, you know, and so again, the community in their own way, shape or form, Maui community really came together, and they just activated themselves with or without groups.

Some had set up the actual shelters that the county did open up, but there was community members who actually set the shelters up and created some sort of organization so that individuals who are coming were able to be serviced and not just waiting in line.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, that’s a common story, I feel.

And so I’m curious, what is the status of things right now? What is the status in terms of the wildfires? And what’s also the status in terms of being able to support people?

Kamiki Carter: So at this point, the positive thing is we’re no longer in immediate response where we’re we’re seeing that with the support that is being given by the government, we are able to house families, even if it’s temporarily and individuals. And we’re seeing a lot more displaced families have temporary housing, however, there are still many, many, many displaced families and individuals who are currently either staying in their cars, yes, still to this day, or they are staying with family members or friends or even just community members that just opened their homes and just said, Come, we’ll pitch a tent. We’ll figure something out. We’ll all sleep in, you know, one, whatever it was. And we do still have many of them out there. It has been a challenge to access services for them.

But I believe in our team and our team has been working miracles and they will figure, they’re figuring things out on a daily basis.

We actually have an event, it’s called Kipuka and the Kipuka is where families and individuals can come to, so that they feel safe. It’s over at our Maui Botanical Gardens, but they feel safe and it is a beautiful, luscious, aina, which is land. And so, you know, one, they can reconnect back with our aina, which is huge in our culture, as well as be around others who have experienced what they’ve gone through, as well as have navigators and more so advocacy, but we like to call them navigators because they’re navigating what each individual or family is in need of and providing them, if it’s to complete the FEMA application, if it’s to, you know, complete a SNAP application, if it’s to reapply for a duplicate copy of their driver’s license.

I mean, basic things. A lot of them just had to leave and they left their bags behind, you know, and so it’s a lot. So we are so, we are so proud of our kīpuka team and they worked very hard and I’m actually just proud of our whole Maui Rapid Response Team from our donations, collections as well as distributions and our hubs and how our team leads, donation team leads really, really did what was necessary in the beginning to make sure that we were pumping things out.

We connected with Hawai’i Tours, and Hawai’i Tours provided the transport of items from our central headquarters over to the west side, and he still continues. He and the whole Hawai’i Tours team continues to do that, and we’re so, we’re just so proud to be able to be part of our community and we want to make sure that our community knows how much we love them wherever they are, whether or not they’re in Lahaina or in Kula because Kula is another one that was affected by the wildfires and up there their needs were mainly water and it continues to be water because the water is contaminated up there.

I’m not too worried about Kula. Because Kula’s community, upcountry community is also strong and we have been supporting them on our end and have connected them with resources like the Maui Food Bank who can handle a higher volume of items, whether or not it’s food or if it’s some even hygiene stuff.

Eleanor Goldfield: So, and I am curious because just knowing from my own mutual aid experience, getting the message out to people is difficult and I never even had to do that during a wildfire. How did you get the message out to people that like, hey, we’re, we can help or hey, we have this distribution hub here?

How were you able to get people safely or I mean not safely out to spread the word that there was that support?

Kamiki Carter: So again, Hawaii tours, Chris and his team, they were boots on the ground from day one when they could actually get into to the west side. And so they, Chris actually was one of the main contributors in making sure that everyone was on the same page and as he went to different places, as these hubs started to be created within the Westside communities on their own, yes, on their own, Chris was able to kind of tap into every single one and report back to us.

And the partnership is so beautiful. Because there was no communication for those first couple of days. And so, in the beginning, it was kind of like an all man for themselves getting out there.

So whoever can get out there, load your truck, load your vehicle, get it out there. And the community just did what needed to be done. When Chris and his team came on, they were able to support with shuttles, for even basic healthcare. They were able to set up these systems where we could partner with him and get more items that was necessary out there, along with many other organizations that Hawaii tours work with as well.

Eleanor Goldfield: That’s great. And when you said when you were able to get in, how did that play out? I mean, were people allowed to come and go, or even if they were aid organizations, what did that look like?

Kamiki Carter: Exactly what I said, every man for themselves, whoever could get in, just get in. It was, it, it was barricaded in Lahaina. The west side was pretty much cut off from us.

I’m very proud of our community for doing what was needed to get in. No violence that I heard of, which is such a positive thing. So let me preface that.

But it just needed to be done, and whether or not we went kākuloa way, the back side into west side, or just going straight in and, and figuring it out, it was done.

I know many of them felt lost. A lot of those that personally I’ve been supporting have shared how they felt, and lost kept on coming up, that word lost, and just trying to survive. Making sure my babies were good. There was a lot. I mean, again, we didn’t even really know how bad things were, but we just knew we needed to get to them somehow. And we did. The Maui community did. And I’m so proud to be part of this Maui community. Sorry.

Eleanor Goldfield: Oh, don’t apologize. Don’t apologize. Take however long you need.

Kamiki Carter: We’re good. I think it’s good to see this too.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, no, I agree.

I want to shift, kind of wrapping up here, I want to shift to something potentially more uplifting, which is, what are your visions for your home place, and what would you need in order to facilitate the kind of healing and rebuilding that’s necessary?

Kamiki Carter: So at this time, as I shared earlier, we’re not in the the immediate response phase.

We are pretty much settling down and really trying to focus on getting families and individuals temporary housing. That is being currently worked on. We are looking at partnering with the Maui Food Bank, either through our organization or connecting various organizations that are already doing the work out there and having the Maui Food Bank support them to make sure that families who are still in the homes that they have just the basics of how I said, just food and water, and certain places I know, I think the water is contaminated as well. And so that piece of it will help them substantially.

I know air purifiers right now is a huge need. We did get some shipped into Maui and I know that not per us, but another one of the organizations, and where we were able to support some of the families we were taking care of to be able to go through to those different hubs to collect air purifiers, which is great, but I know that’s a current need right now.

It’s going to be a process because we are going to start having to clean up, and those who moved back into their homes they’re cleaning up their homes. They’re cleaning up the soot. They’re cleaning up all of these things. But again, the air quality may not be be the best place for them or even the young children with any respiratory illnesses.

And so as we continue to move, we are going to start with the cleanup phase, and then we’re going to move into more of what is the next step?

The next step is, you know, people are talking about setting up tiny homes. People are talking about building certain communities based on what Josh Green, Governor Josh Green had stated: he’s going to make sure that nobody from outside of Hawaii is able to come in and purchase land because property owners are being approached to sell.

And that’s kind of my mana’o for that’s how it all started for us as Native Hawaiians. And so we have huge Native Hawaiian advocates out there that have been advocating on behalf of the Native Hawaiians, and being Native Hawaiian, I’m so thankful for them because they help to ensure our aina, our land to continue to remain to us so that our, our next generation, my kiki, my, my moʻopuna, my grandchildren, that they will, which I don’t have yet, but that so that they will be able to, you know, call Hawaiʻi their home and be proud of it and as the economy has been going in a crazy direction, a lot of our Native Hawaiians and those, you know, born and raised here who have families that have lived here for centuries, you know, they’re moving off island.

They’re moving off, I mean, out of the state and going to the continent. You know, yes, they say Vegas is the ninth wonder of Hawaii, but it’s not Hawaii. And we, we’re seeing a lot more families, and even more so now, some of the families who are displaced here moving off island, which is already sad.

And it’s just even, yeah, it’s just heartbreaking.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, it reminds me of what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The Lower Ninth Ward was, I think, 85 percent or more, Black community, and I think only, like, 20 percent of them were able to move back, and so basically you had a forced segregation that was used on the back of a natural disaster that was obviously not natural because climate change, but that’s an unfortunate, similar story that we’ve seen before.

So finally, Kamiki, what are some places that people could go who are not in Hawaii, to learn more or to support what y’all are doing?

Kamiki Carter: So you had asked earlier, what are things that are being asked for?

Prayers. Prayers is huge right now, and it’s free, and we ask for, you know, those who, are in that capacity to please send prayers to Hawaii in general.

We ask for monetary donations. Maui Mutual Aid Fund is what Maui Rapid Response falls under. You can go to mauirapidresponse.org.

And then we have other organizations, but I think that’s a one stop shop. They go to mauirapidresponse.org and they will see various ways to support the community, and as they go down, we do also have a piece where they can directly support families affected through their GoFundMe accounts, as well as other organizations that we trust and believe in.

And I think the other thing is to don’t forget us. Don’t forget about Hawaiʻi, because we’re gonna need help, and though we are not actively asking for it right now, we’re gonna need help.

We’re gonna need help shipping in shipping containers to store our tools that we’ll be using to rebuild to, we’ll be asking for rebuilding supplies, we’re, there’s going to be huge asks.

It’s just not that time yet. And we want people to not forget us. Because we are, we are going to need not only our nation, but the world to just continue to love us and to keep us in their prayers and just to keep knowing that we will need, need that additional support and like I said, it may not be now, but it may be in a six months. It may be in a year. It may be even five years.

It’s gonna take a while for us to rebuild. And that’s just the reality of things.

So, yeah, those are things, but I always say prayers. Prayers are free.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Kamiki, thank you so much. And, yeah, as you pointed out, don’t forget.

And I think that’s a big aspect of mutual aid, is the continued checking in with communities, knowing that we are not engaged in charity, but this is, the people helping each other.

So, thank you, Kamiki, so much for taking the time. Really appreciate it.

Kamiki Carter: Thanks, Eleanor.

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Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Summer Starr

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Eleanor Goldfield: Thanks, everyone, for joining us here at the Project Censored radio show. We’re very glad right now to be joined by Summer Starr, who is a mother, educator and mutual aid and frontlines worker. She has a grounding in land stewardship, which has branches into policy, politics, advocacy, activism, civil disobedience, community preparedness, and grassroots organizing.

She also holds a master’s degree in Indigenous politics, as well as a master’s degree in environmental law and policy. Born and raised on the island of Maui in the occupied nation of Hawaii, she feels a deep sense of spiritual obligation to identifying and helping heal the harms of colonization through building decentralized land based community resilience and sovereignty.

Summer, thanks so much for joining us.

Summer Starr: Thank you.

Eleanor Goldfield: So I want to start off with something that at Project Censored, we try to discuss the censored aspects of a topic. I want to start off with the things that you’ll never hear on corporate media: talking about the confluence of capitalism and colonialism, about your home place in Maui, how for centuries, settlers and colonial business enterprises illegally diverted Maui’s water to produce sugar and thereby profit which they did not then share with the Indigenous peoples of Hawaii, which is of course the classic case as we see here in the so-called continental United States.

And then later on tourism came and similarly sucked up water and other precious resources. Wealthy people from the U.S. and across the world bought up increasingly expensive real estate, driving up housing prices and making it harder for the Indigenous peoples to survive on their homeland. So, starting off with that, could you share a little bit about this source of the wildfires and why it’s important to recognize these root causes?

Summer Starr: Thank you for that question and intro, and you, you cover in a really short amount of time really well what plagues not only Maui, not only Hawai’i, but Territories all across the globe.

And so, yes, with that confluence of an increasingly drying landscape, because when we remove the native landscape, which happened for sugar, which happened for ranching, which happened for pineapple, which happens for development, and you remove that native landscape, we lose a lot of the moisture that we need being islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

And add on top of that, as you mentioned, the diversion of the water, which also depletes our marshlands because we aren’t having a mauka to makai, from the mountains to the ocean, connection of our streams.

So it’s a catalyzing effect that happens and as each island dries, every other island dries because many of us that are us islands that are close together have historically shared meteorological systems. We’ve shared cloud systems because of our forests, right? So there are so many layers to the hundreds of years of desecration and extraction that have happened at the hand of large multinational businesses and economic hitmen, right?

There’s a book, Overthrow, and I’m forgetting the author’s name at this point but it’s called Overthrow, from Hawaii to Iraq. And he theorizes that Hawai’i, the coup that happened in 1893, was the first of the United States sort of formula that they then took across the world, and at that time up until Iraq. So Cambodia, Southeast Asia, South America, so on and so forth. So that was first practiced here. And it was successful. So we are seeing the legacy of that.

Part of this, being somebody who is a futurist and who studies large scale political patterns, part of this is that because we were the first of that sort of formula of the economic hitman, more or less, I do strongly believe that we will be one of the first that, doesn’t secede because we were unlawfully occupied, right, but who regains their independence out from the military industrial yoke of the United States and begins the decolonization of the U.S. Empire as we have seen in the British Empire.

And so, and I think a lot of that is informed by the spirit of Aloha, by the values of the Indigenous people, the Kanaka Maoli of Hawaii.

So, the Indigenous resource management values were stripped when they were removed and divorced from the land in ways that we see all around the globe.

The desertification of the islands has only been increasing and catalyzing. And so this fire in particular was an absolute, just perfect storm of high winds that many people had never ever seen before, because with temperature changes happening globally, certain storms are getting closer to us that used to not get so close to us, and so high winds and acres and acres and acres of unattended, abandoned, invasive grasslands, and just insufficient infrastructure.

Part of this again is colonization and capitalism do not value the individual. They do not value community. They do not value our lives. They only value capital.

So a lot of the resources needed to fight fires, or more contemporary ways of preventing wildfire, they don’t they don’t provide us the protections we need from the disasters that are coming because they have been focusing on now tourism and development and previously sugar, pineapple, ranching.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, thank you. That was a lot of really important context there. And I do hope that y’all on those islands will start the ball rolling on the fall of this empire. It’s falling apart on its own, but it would be nice to have it hastened, particularly with what’s going on in Maui right now.

And I want to talk a little bit more about that, particularly with what you were talking about in terms of not caring about the people at all, and just caring about capital. Late last month, Biden announced his quote unquote focus on getting aid to the people of Maui with a one time $700 payment per household equaling about $1.9 million.

In conservative estimates on just the physical destruction of the island. And again, that’s physical destruction, not talking about addressing the needs of people or larger ecosystems. That estimate is about $6 billion.

And not unrelatedly around the same time Biden also asked Congress for another $24 billion for Ukraine, $7. 3 billion of which is earmarked for economic and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine. That’s more than 3, 000 times the level of assistance that has been given to Maui.

And so I’m curious with that, how are people responding to this total lack of support from the federal government? And do you see any support coming from state or local governments, or is it also pretty paltry on that level?

Summer Starr: Thank you for that intro again and thank you for extrapolating that math and for caring because I’m not sure a lot of people always make those analogies and it’s really important. Now I’m speaking from somebody who works in mutual aid and the front lines.

So, and I have not been in Lahaina. There were fires in the district on the mountain of Haleakala, where I am from, and I was evacuated for a bit, but we are okay. Thank goodness.

So, and I cannot speak for Lahaina people. I can only speak to what Lahaina people are speaking, and then people that I work with in mutual aid and across the board.

We saw that the government, aside from our firefighters, our firefighters tried their best and they worked so hard, oh, my goodness. Okay. But aside from our firefighters who are not properly taken care of by the state government, other than them, no one helped.

And the experience of those on the ground, the community who immediately activated and there were, there’s a state representative Angus McKelvey, and there’s Ellie Cochran and Tamara Pelton, all government representatives who live over there. Angus’s apartment burned down and they have been on the ground nonstop. And in some ways they are being, I’m witnessing this. I’m not hearing this from them. I’m witnessing this as a witness. They are not being centered. Their voices are not being heard as much as they should be. And they are speaking more similarly to what the community is saying, because they’re also experiencing it real time.

And what the community is saying is the government did not show up and furthermore, what many people have experienced as just citizens, or as people experienced in first response, wanting to get in to do first response was that, the county and the state were oppositional, oppositional .It made it difficult.

So because we’re an island, a lot of people, the boats and the jet skis were the first to get to places. And it was women with the Pacific birth collective, whose partners are fishermen and divers, and they had clients on the west side who were going to give birth who they were taking care of because they were these doulas. And so a lot of doulas just made their way to the west side through the ocean to take care of their clients. So that was what we saw.

And then of course there was on the ground Lahaina families, Lahaina organizations, medics coming in, private medics coming in, private mobile medics coming in, offering their services for free, medics coming in from native Hawaiian organizations, offering their services for free.

And this has all continued. And amidst all of this, there has been a lot of pushback from the state, a lot of hand tying by the state. Less so the county because the county has sort of ceded to the state and the feds once they finally came in.

But the refrain for the first 2 weeks and to this day, but we just don’t say it anymore is: where are they? They’re on the ground, FEMA is on the ground, they are being housed in hotels here, and, but we don’t see them.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, I mean, it was, it reminds me of, I went down to Puerto Rico after the disasters there, and I saw spray-painted all over the place “FEMA es la problema,” FEMA is the problem.

And there was electricity out across the island, but the Sheraton hotel where FEMA was had electricity and they had like full buffets and they were just sitting there and mutual aid was trying to get to these FEMA warehouses to get stuff and FEMA literally said to one organizer: well, if we give it to you, you’re going to get all the credit, and then they were like, well, then do it yourself! I don’t want the credit. I just want people to get the stuff that’s rotting in these warehouses. You monsters.

And so this seems to be a, I mean, it is the same story there.

So I’m curious, is there a feeling with the folks on the ground, I mean, you talked about decolonization, is there a feeling of for folks on the ground like, look, okay, this was just that very obvious, once again, punch in the face by the colonialist, capitalist state. Now that the fires are out and there’s a rebuilding and healing process, is there also this process of, okay, this is how we are going to rebuild on our terms, not on the terms of the U.S government?

Summer Starr: Yes, absolutely. And that has been a thread the whole time. And actually in my personal and political analysis, I think that had we not allowed ourselves to be so hand-tied by the county and the state, and then subsequently the feds in those first week and two weeks, we would have already had puʻuhonua set up.

Puʻuhonua is a traditional space of refuge. I, I, I paused because I can’t speak to what a puʻuhonua is because I’m not kanaka maoli and it’s broader than what I can convey not being a cultural specialist, but it is a, it’s a space of refuge and there have been models of it more recently where basically people who are unsheltered self-managed into these puʻuhonua, and so we would have had what we call hubs, these community hubs that have popped up.

There’s phenomenal community hubs that have popped up. A cute example of this is I went to a hub and I said, do you have this solar yet? And, and they said, we want to get solar, but we’re here at this County park and we don’t really have total permission, but we do have permission, but we don’t know how to get the permits. And I, and we had people ready and willing to set them up with solar, but the County was in the way, but they, they have solar there now.

So, we had been hand tied, people are continuing, we sort of gave the government the grace to show up. We’re like, hey, we’re just going to take care of it because we know how to take care of it. We always take care of it. We got this. And we let ’em give the pushback. We’re like, whatever you guys, you know, and we kind of let them show up and they never showed up.

So now people, yes, are moving forward and there will be more formal puʻuhonuas getting set up.

And I do believe that looking at Maria, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico is a profoundly good example to move forward so that we can learn from these disasters, really the federal response being the disaster, the bigger disaster, and model here on Maui, what we can do next time, when we see this next time, and that will be these decentralized, puʻuhonua spaces of refuge, climate resiliency centers, call it what you will, and people will just move forward with that.

Now I think regardless of government participation, this is where government has the option to cooperate, or Land Back, which we had done before on Malinikea.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And I want to ask you about the land back aspect in a minute. But I also want to talk about the reverse of that. Because I do know that even while things were still smoldering, there was an issue with disaster capitalism, which does not wait to dive in.

Real estate speculators started seeking to double down. Of course, they’re not looking to help. They want to further their profits by buying land cheap now that things are destroyed and selling later when prices are high again. And of course, as we’ve seen in places from Puerto Rico to New Orleans, this just drives more people, particularly Indigenous people, and in the case of New Orleans, Black folks, away from their home places.

What are y’all seeing right now with regards to disaster capitalism and what kind of structures are you setting in place to combat that?

Summer Starr: There has been immediately, deeply, profoundly predatory American disaster capitalists reaching out to families who lost everything. It was appalling to see.

I think what those American disaster capitalists did not anticipate was the passion with which people in Hawaii, people of Hawaii, people of Lahaina, which is a almost Kingdom unto itself, I don’t think I don’t think they understood the relationship that people have to the land here and to place here. It would be similar in Puerto Rico, right, and there would be elements of that in New Orleans to a degree for those who, you know, weren’t displaced and were there by being displaced.

So, yes, disaster capitalism is alive and well, has been alive and well here because they have been vampirically feeding off of our high cost of living and borderline poverty being a banana republic.

So the disaster capitalist long game, economic hitmen folks have been here. More came in, you know. Blackrock showed up. We already have Blackstone, but Blackrock showed up, you know, and all the usual.

And so what I think with this is, to answer your question more directly, just follow the model. The model is happening. They’re employing the mission here, the disaster capitalists are here, but Hawaii is different.

2023, post 2020 is different. And our weakest links is the vanguard, our weakest links are those who are in what we call the Luna class, middle, like management class, which was the weakest link during the Great Mahele, which was in the 1800s in the first real turnover of land to people that were non Kanaka.

So there’s this, there’s this bourgeois class, to say it, that is our weakest link. And it’s those folks, but the bourgeois class here is different than other places. And I trust that we can model through failing and trying again, what it really means to drop into our center, drop into our core, drop into our priorities, drop into reality and be the model for what we’re going to need for class solidarity and what that means for putting our land base first, putting our children first. So in Lahaina, the families are putting their children first. And the state has been failing them, and the state has been stymieing their efforts to put their children first, and people are seeing it, and they’re over it.

And the state’s stymieing of community movement forward is strong and alive and will intensify. And so, international solidarity always welcome. And, these conversations welcomed so that we can model and template and activate faster next time in order to subvert that colonial, imperial force that will try to co-opt as you mentioned happened in Maria as well.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m curious, going back to what you said about land back and also the fact that one of your focus is land stewardship. Can you talk a little bit about what land stewardship looks like in terms of, because I think a lot of people don’t know what Maui or Hawaii even would look like without the hotels and I didn’t know that Lahaina was a wetland, so can you talk a little bit about what land stewardship would look like and what kind of efforts are in place or being put in place with regards to land back?

Summer Starr: I would love to.

So in Hawai’i, we actually have a beautiful, profound model that you can look up online, the ahupua’a model, A H U P U A, Okina’e A, ahupua’a model. And to put it in a brief form, if you look at an island from the top, it basically slices the island into these pie slices from the mountain to the bottom, where it’s skinny at the top and wide at the bottom, these wedges.

That’s your ahupuaʻa, and then there’s smaller ʻili, there’s bigger moku, right, like a county, a state, and then the whole island. And so your ahupuaʻa system is you steward your watershed and your water source at the top. That’s your wauʻakua, W A U A K U A, your realm of the spirits and only your kahuna, your spiritual people go up there to make offerings because you have to keep your watershed clean right? And so your watershed is a sacred space. And then you have the space where I’m from actually is at the edge of the watershed. And so a lot of the roles I have been told historically of the people in this region was to be the guardians of the watershed. Kind of like the last stop, like, you sure you guys want, mm, mm, right? But not even us really go up there, right?

So, and then it goes and goes and goes. So you have streams that come down, and then you have, of course, one of the most complex agricultural technologies, the lo’i system, the kalo tero lo’i system, where water comes in, goes into these fields of mud and taro, but actually comes out cleaner and goes in, back into the river, right. So you have these series of profound agricultural technologies that are matched to very specific landscapes.

Some ahupua’a are like this [makes a small triangle with hands] because they have so much resources and maybe not even that much population. Some ahupua’a are like this [makes a large triangle with hands] because it takes so much resources, and then you have people at the bottom of the ahupua’a that are serving up what you need from the sea and taking care of the limu, the seaweeds right. And then people in the marshlands and fish ponds, massive fish ponds that just fed people in times of starvation.

There is a phrase called Ai Pohaku, Ai Pohaku, to eat stones. Ai Pohaku. And it’s this, it’s this, sentiment where it’s like, you can take everything from me, from us, and we will eat stones.

Because what they did with those stones was they built fish ponds where small fish were able to come into maturity safely from predators, right? And they were able to balance the ecosystem that way.

So when you ask, what does that look like? Oh, Hawaii did it and we were there. And since we were so late to colonization, there are people still alive today that remember that lifestyle. So the divorce from nature isn’t that far away. That’s why I believe there’s more of a potentiality.

Now, currently, Lahaina will have many different types of restoration, and I think if anyone has interest in the restoration of Lahaina, it would be best for them to start at Moku’ula, as you described the wetland. I cannot even get into it because it’s too long to talk about, but start with the wetlands and work out from there. Lahaina should be returned to its original environment and it can be.

For up country what we are doing very actively is there are people on the ground, community led, all community led on the ground right now, taking care of, or making the planning to take care of the burn scars and avoid further soil erosion and flooding in the areas.

We have very steep ravenous gulches and stuff, and so it’s pretty terrifying for people down gulch from that. So we are working on using local resources, local invasive trees in order to help restore the soil in these places. And so we will be modeling that out.

But again, funds and finances, and there’s a lot of money coming through. The federal government has a lot of access to funds, and not a lot of us are seeing it.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely, and I mean, just recently, Oprah and The Rock asked people to donate, and yet they have, I think it was a combined worth of two billion dollars, and I’m assuming Oprah’s estate on Hawaii looks like some kind of massive, ridiculously opulent compound, which I’m assuming she didn’t open up for people to use as a community space.

Summer Starr: I haven’t seen it and I’ve actually been persistently asking nonstop, just for space to store building materials, donated building materials and donated agricultural materials so that we can start rebuilding for people in a mutual aid style.

And, miraculously, FEMA has so much space, but the community doesn’t. So, a lot of the spaces I call have already been occupied by the federal government.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, they move quick in the bureaucratic sense. Not in the helping people sense, but very much in the, we gotta occupy.

Summer Starr: This is the way, and there’s another journalist in Puerto Rico, Bianca Graulau, and she’s been covering a lot of the recovery projects that are mutual aid based that have been coming out of Puerto Rico. And so I think Puerto Rico is similar to us, we’re islands, our grids were always unstable anyway, right? We didn’t have the same sort of dependence to the US colonial empire’s carrots, and we didn’t have as much access to the goods anyway. So when it gets taken away, we’re like, okay, you know, like, this is like a normal winter for us. Except Lahaina is nothing normal ever. That’s devastating. And up country, we lost dozens of homes.

Ah, just thinking of the scope of Lahaina got me distracted. But looking at Puerto Rico and Maui right now, my biggest ask, other than directly supporting families that have lost their homes in Lahaina, and there’s an account I can send you that has their information.

Other than directly supporting the families, is modeling, is learning this lesson: when you want to mobilize after the disaster hits, mobilize. Just do it and ask for forgiveness later because the government is not going to show up and when they do, they will try to bully you out of the front lines. We’ve already seen it too many times.

So just do the thing, set up the mutual aid camp and make sure, if you can, you have people who are experienced in legal observation, who are experienced in frontline work, so that you don’t further traumatize those that you’re trying to create safe haven for.

That was a concern, I think, that a lot of people unspoken had here, so we have to make sure we have Kia’i, guardians to protect those who’ve already been traumatized.

And then just ask for permission later. That’s the lesson from Puerto Rico. That’s the lesson from Maui.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, that’s beautifully put. And I think that’s a beautiful way to wrap it up. Is there anything else that you’d like to add that I didn’t get to? I mean, there’s always stuff, but in this little sliver of time that we have together.

Summer Starr: Thank you so much for the time and for, I think, amplifying the patterns that we’re seeing replicated here in Hawaii, amplifying that we believe Hawaii can do it different. Amplifying that what we need to do is uplift Hawaii voices in doing that. And again to donate directly to families because this is going to go on for a really, really long time.

But no, the way you laid out your questioning and the issues that you’re touching on, I think just continuing to expound upon that and continuing to watchdog for us. Because we don’t have the bandwidth to do that right now. So if people can watchdog and whistleblow for us, that is also helpful. And then we can offer that in the future when it happens to somebody else.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, thank you for sharing that. I think that’s a really solid and really direct solidarity ask, which I think is really, really helpful. So Summer, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us. I really appreciate it.

Summer Starr: Thank you very much. I really appreciate it as well.

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