Kawainui Marsh Restoration and Education Project

I have been dancing hula with Halau Mohala Ilima for the past seven years, and plan to have my daughter join the keiki classes as soon as she is old enough. I am a homeowner in the Pohakapu neighborhood and grew up in Maunawili. I have seen Kailua change over the years, and I believe the Master Plan being proposed is our best chance to not only restore Kawainui marsh but also our own sense of identity.

But there are two stories being told about the future of Kawainui marsh.

In one story, the loudest story, you hear about passionate Kailua and Lanikai residents who want to stop “development” on a pristine protected marshland, home to endangered water birds. They will tell you how they were not consulted on the plans to build a tourist attraction in the middle of Kailua, bringing tour buses full of traffic to their small town. In this story, they are wise, and after one meeting have graciously decided it would be alright to build a small gravel lot and an open air structure, so visiting hula dancers can perform at Kawainui. This sounds better than a permanent structure, which doesn’t seem necessary, when really, people can dance hula anywhere. And any other plan being presented is being rushed through without their support or knowledge. Any other plan does not have the funding to support it.

That story is based on rumors and exaggerations. It is not the truth.

The other story, the real story, tells of a plan for few small, environmentally sustainable buildings, designed with the input of many different organizations over a long process, which has been presented to the public at multiple open meetings over the years. A plan supported by native Hawaiian organizations, governmental organizations, cultural organizations, and environmental organizations that are all helping sustain and improve the marsh and Kailua with sweat and hard work. They all agree that for Kawainui to survive, it needs to be cared for by all the people, and people need a place to come to learn why they should care, and how to help.

This story tells of a polluted waterway, clogged with invasive species. A story that also talks about the sewage pump and waste dump site and construction sites and all the businesses and homes that surround this fragile space, because the land is tied to everything around it through rainfall. This story tells of piles of trash dumped throughout this “pristine” land and of the run off from the traffic on the roads as residents drive by, many of whom might never step foot into the lands they say they want to protect.

This story tells of the bones of ancestors with no safe place to rest.

This story is also one of hope, and tells of a resurgence of memory over the past forty years, a preservation of language and skills that were almost lost, and are still in danger of being lost if our children grow up unaware of the natural rhythms of the land and water and air, beyond what they can learn in a classroom. Our children, and indeed, all of us, need a place to learn this knowledge with hands and feet and most importantly, with our hearts.

Kawainui deserves a chance to be more than just a pretty cage for endangered birds. It can be a living, breathing heart of Kailua. We need a place for us to come together and listen to each other, where we can hear all the true stories about our home, the history of the people that lived here before us, and ultimately, create a new story for ourselves. The Master Plan produced by Helber Hastert & Fee is a proposal that gives us that opportunity, and that is why I support it.

Thank you for reading.

Kate Righter