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Singer: Lawsuit to protect hunting, gathering rights

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Sydney Ross Singer | Medical Anthropologist, Biologist, Author

Do people belong in the environment? A class action lawsuit being prepared by the Pele Defense Fund may help decide that question. At issue is conservation versus public use of wild spaces.

When we think of conservation, we are supposed to have a warm fuzzy feeling that we are protecting animals, plants, and special places from people. People are apparently the bad guys, and saving nature means getting rid of the people – even if they have lived there for centuries.

The indigenous peoples of Hawaii are now being threatened by conservation. Hunting and gathering has been practiced in Hawaii for generations as a necessary part of survival.

Now, the Hawaii government is planning the eradication of the wild food animals and the plants that feed them, all in the name of conservation.

Hundreds of thousands of acres of Hawaii’s public lands have already been fenced off from public use. Only scientists and government workers have unlimited access to these areas. Eight foot high fences keep out hikers, bird watchers, nature enthusiasts, hunters, and gatherers.

Meanwhile, nonnative plants and animals are being poisoned, shot, trapped, and eradicated.

(Photo courtesy of Tony Sylvester)

Apparently, the wild sheep, goats, pigs, deer, and cattle are no longer considered food but “invasive species”. The fruit trees and vines, such as strawberry guava and banana poka (a type of passion fruit), which feed the wildlife and people, are also considered “invasive.” As a result, the people who have relied on these food resources for generations are in trouble.

Many of these people are of Hawaiian ancestry. Many are not. All share the common culture of hunting and gathering. And now, faced with declining wild food resources and an ever rising cost of living, they are finding it too expensive to live in Hawaii any longer.

Recent headlines announced the increased exodus of local residents to the mainland. They are being chased away in part by government conservation policies that place nature above people, trying to erase centuries of food species introductions that have been sustaining the local culture.

Why kill wild foods, especially when the Hawaii government advocates for food self-sufficiency for our island residents? Perhaps it’s because the hunting and gathering culture, like the so-called “invasive species” on which they survive, is no longer welcome in the Aloha State.

Conflict between indigenous peoples and conservation is a longtime problem. According to Dr. Peter Kareiva, head scientist for the Nature Conservancy, one of the biggest threats to indigenous peoples around the world is conservation and the removal of people from the land on which they live.

Yosemite was occupied by Miwok Indians growing crops, white settlers raising sheep, and miners seeking gold and other minerals. Not long after John Muir, head of the Sierra Club, built himself a cabin and a water-powered mill he decided the other occupants had to go. Muir vigorously backed the expulsion of the Miwok.

The Yosemite model spread to other national parks, including Yellowstone, where the forced evictions killed 300 Shoshone Indians in one day.

In 2009, journalist Mark Dowie published Conservation Refugees, which estimated, “About half the land selected for protection by the global conservation establishment over the past century was either occupied or regularly used by indigenous peoples. In the Americas that number is over 80 percent.”

Estimates vary from 5 million people displaced over the last century by conservation to tens of millions, with one Cornell University professor estimating that 14 million individuals have been displaced by conservation in Africa alone.

According to Kareiva, “In the early 1990s, indigenous groups spoke out against these evictions at various forums, including at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio. As a result, conservation groups pledged to respect and work with the communities living in or around protected areas … But by 2004, the conflicts had only increased. That spring, the International Forum on Indigenous Mapping resulted in a declaration signed by all 200 delegates that the activities of conservation organizations now represent the single biggest threat to the integrity of indigenous lands.”

However, not all the people of Hawaii are buying their tickets to the mainland just yet. They are preparing to legally fight for their land. The Pele Defense Fund (PDF) is raising $40,000 for a class action lawsuit to save the wild for the people, and preserve the hunting and gathering lifestyle that is the peoples’ right.

According to Palikapu Dedman, President of the PDF, “All funds received by hunters and supporters will go to immediate use for a retainer or down payment to the attorney who will file a class action law suit to stop immediate fencing and eradication of deer, sheep, goats, pigs and cattle on DLNR lands including NARS (Natural Area Reserve System) areas. We feel there is strong evidence of traditional and customary practices that have been grossly neglected in the designated fence lands to date, including Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. These funds will be kept in a litigation account with PDF and only used as such. Let’s all stand together and protect the resources and life style of our island for our keiki’s future. Hunting and gathering are the same. It is not just a right but our responsibility.”

Pele Defense Fund can be reached at:
P.O Box 4969
Hilo, Hawaii 96724
Phone: (808) 315-9996

(Sydney Ross Singer is a medical anthropologist and director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease.)

4 Responses to “Singer: Lawsuit to protect hunting, gathering rights”

  1. Mark says:

    This article cherry picks quotes and facts given out of context to enhance the author’s viewpoint. Although public access to public lands, native hunting gathering rights, and food security are important issues in Hawai’i, Singer fails to mention many relevent facts so he can pursue a personal crusade against the conservation movement. Have hunting and gathering been practiced for generations? Absolutely. But not with the species he mentions, which have all been introduced to Hawai’i recently. What Singer fails to mention is how these invasive species are a dire threat to agriculture and watersheds in Hawai’i, both key components of ‘food self-sufficiency’ for our population. Local residents making an exodus for the mainland can blame rampent development and increased real-estate prices for the inflated cost of living, not conservation. Additionally, those areas that Singer derides where “eight foot fences keep out hikers, bird watchers, nature enthusiasts, hunters, and gatherers”, such as the Natural Area Reserve System (NARS) generally allow public access for both recreation and indigenous practices.
    Hunting and gathering are important cultural activities. But so is conservation. If we are to reach any level of ‘self-sustainability’ in Hawai’i, it needs to include smart management of our public lands, with the control of harmful non-native species, while allowing for native hunting/gathering activities and recreation. This is certainly a complex issue with many diverse stakeholders and interests. Next time please present all the facts, not just cherry picked quotes taken out of context and junk-science by a self-proclaimed biologist and anthropologist. Some of us living in Hawai’i would like to see our forests and waters survive for the next generations.

  2. counter current says:

    Mark, the Kau Forest Reserve is being sought for fencing and eradication of game animals. It is one of the most intact pristine native forests in the Islands. It has been inhabited by wild pigs for longer than anyone can remember, yet it is in good shape. There is evidence that in many instances game animals in Hawaii have actually enhanced native species. These facts go undocumented because they do not accommodate the acquisition of federal grants. Furthermore, goats and sheep were introduced to Hawaii in the 1700’s. Deer were introduced in 1868. All were gifts to the Hawaiian Kings. Several generations can easily fit in there. On Molokai, there has been a healthy deer population for a long time. Farmers on Molokai have said that the deer only bother their farms when there is a drought. At such a time, they enjoy venison at the dinner table. As for water, that is an Oahu problem related to over development. History on that is well documented. On the Big Island there is no reason to believe that the wild game animals are effecting the water supply, or ever will. That is pure propaganda fashioned to win Federal and State funds for fencing, eradication, and job creation.

    • Pua says:

      All trees are important in this VOG filled island. I live on the west side of the Big Isle and it seems to me that the Kaloko mauka area use to be a tropical rainforest and then no one seemed to think a rainforest on the dry side of the island was important so the mauka area became a one home per lot subdivision and now it is a multiple home per lot subdivision, hardly any tropical trees and hapu are left. Our rainfall here at my home for the past 40 years, went from 18-22 inches a year to 5-7 inches a year above the Keahole airport ….sure the rain varies depending on how high or low one lives on Hulalalai and if its a dry or wet year, all in all the crisis is the invasive humans cutting down trees and putting down parking lots for their cars and trucks…even that wouldn’t really be a problem if people would plant more trees for shade, beauty and possibly fruit trees

    • Midnight Rambler says:

      cc, have you ever been to Molokai and Lanai? Much of both islands have no topsoil, because it’s all eroded into the sea over the past 200 years. First cattle, then deer wiped out the forests that used to cover them, and now it’s barren and denuded. Not even alien weeds and grasses can grow in many places. The south coast of Molokai used to be almost completely lined with fishponds, and now they’re all filled in with silt washed down from above. And because there is no vegetation, it doesn’t extract rain and fog like it would if there was a forest, so the land is drier.

      I don’t know about the farmers on Molokai, but ask farmers and ranchers on Maui and they’ll tell you the deer are causing huge problems for them. It took 20 or 30 years for them to build up enough numbers to move closer to people, during which time everyone got complacent and thought they wouldn’t be a problem. Now they’re eating up pastures and farms. And during a drought is exactly the *last* time you want competition for scarce resources.


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