“Power dynamics are central to any conversation about food justice,” shared Ikaika Hussey, founder of Hawaii Federated Industries.
During a recent live event – part of an ongoing series of conversations about food justice held by Share Our Strength, the organization behind the No Kid Hungry campaign – three generations of Hawaiian activists spoke about power dynamics of colonization and resistance that define the current food landscape in Hawaii.
Today, the island experiences high rates of food insecurity and dependency on imported foods but also a strong movement to reconnect to traditional meals and culture.
Daniel and Meala Bishop are part of the older generation of activists who grew up in Hawaii when it was still a U.S. territory. They experienced firsthand the loss of their culture and language. In the 1960’s, school was segregated and didn’t teach them about the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Daniel shared how his grandmother was taken from her family from an early age and raised Catholic without any knowledge of Hawaiian history.
“When I confronted the truth at the dinner table, it was met with great hostility,” he shared.
This older generation was instrumental in the renaissance of Hawaii embodied in the milestone 1978 Hawaiian Constitution. The document made Hawaiian an official language of the state and created an office for the protection of Native Hawaiians, acknowledging the need for reparations.
Marti Townsend, director of The Sierra Club of Hawaii, explained that the constitution created many innovative policies that are essential for the protection of the environment and food sovereignty.
An example, Townsend explained, was the public trust doctrine that “recognizes that there are natural cultural resources that are shared by everyone. Water, for example, cannot be privately owned.”
Hussey added that many of the tenets of the 1978 Constitution, including the public trust doctrine, were taken from policies and practices of native Hawaiians prior to colonization.
Both Townsend and Hussey represent the renaissance generation that grew up after the enactment of the Constitution. Both connected historical racist attempts to undermine Hawaiian culture to the challenges faced by native Hawaiians today in a capitalist society.
The early generation of activists and the renaissance generation paved the way for the important work of young activists like Ka’iana Runnels who, in his own words, says his “responsibility in life is to feed,” and connect people to traditional ways of life.
Runnels grew up immersed in Hawaiian language and culture and with a deep understanding of the history that was hidden from Daniel and Meala Bishop.
In his eyes, it was essential for young Hawaiians to decolonize their minds and tongues, freeing the way they think and eat. And the only way to do this is to break the school-to-prison pipelines and connect kids to their history.
The six speakers – representing a multigenerational perspective on the fight for justice in Hawaii – expressed hope for future generations of Hawaiians. They see a shift in mentality and a reconnection to traditional ways of living. They also see communities working in unity to tackle challenges like climate change and the lasting impact of the pandemic.
Ka’iana Runnels Mahiʻāina Supervisor at The Kohala Center
Kaʻiana Runnels is a mahiʻai (cultivator of food and land) from the mokupuni of Moku o Keawe, in the moku of Hilo ʻAkau. His passion is to collect, identify, document, cultivate, preserve, and spread the mea kanu (food crops) of his kūpuna (ancestors). His specific focus is on kalo, ʻawa, maiʻa, and kō. His ʻike (knowledge) stems from a variety of kūpuna and hoa (friends). He first and foremost recognizes all those kūpuna who gave freely of their time and priceless naʻauao (wisdom). Along with his kuleana (duty, responsibility, right, privilege) to these mea kanu Hawaiʻi (Hawaiʻi food crops), he works to help our ʻōpio (youth) navigate personal and national sovereignty starting with their minds, then their food, and ultimately, politically. He helps to educate ʻohana (families) about food cultivation and the importance of ʻaipono (proper foods) in our everyday lives.
Marti Townsend Chapter Director at The Sierra Club of Hawaii
Marti became the Director for the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi in June 2015 because she wants to build a movement to reverse the climate crisis. Prior to taking on this role, she served as Executive Director of The Outdoor Circle, KAHEA: The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, Earthjustice and the Hawaiʻi State Capitol. During those posts she was instrumental in establishing Hawaiʻi’s Environmental Court, protecting Mauna Kea’s conservation district from overdevelopment, establishing the Papahānaumokuakea Marine National Monument (and Northwestern Hawaiian
Islands State Refuge), and combating environmental racism. Connect and follow The Sierra Club Hawaii @sierraclubhi on Twitter and Instagram.
Daniel Bishop Native Hawaiian rights activist and native planter
Daniel is a member of Onipaʻa Na Hui Kalo, a community-based organization dedicated to the reintroduction and rehabilitation of Kalo (Hawaiian taro) growing as a mainstay to the Hawaiian diet and way of life. He was the President of Kalo Paʻa, a nonprofit that ran a Community Kalo Complex located in Waiahole Valley known as Waiahole Mauka Loi. Daniel is also a member of the ʻTaro Purity and Security Task
Meala Bishop Native Hawaiian rights activist and native planter
Meala Bishop retired as a community arts specialist role in Ko’olaupoko, O’ahu after spending 23 years in the community, teaching, not just art, but many things impressed upon living in the islands oceans, mountains, and lo’i. Meala says of her work: “Learning the truth of our Hawaiian epic, solace was achieved for me as water folk, advocate of the arts, kalo cultivator, pioneer for righting social injustices and an activist
for natural resources.”
Ikaika Hussey Community Organizer, Founder of Hawaii Federated Industries
Ikaika is the founder of Hawaii Federated Industries, a worker-led social enterprise aiming to strengthen Hawaii’s economy through projects in decarbonization, food security and local production. He is the former editor of Ka Wai Ola and the founder of The Hawaii Independent, Summit Magazine, and Maoliworld, and a co-editor of A Nation Rising: Hawaiian Movements for Life, Land, and Sovereignty, published by Duke University. Much of Ikaika’s energy is devoted to working on reversing climate change. He is a proud member of UNITE HERE Local 5, and a leader in The Aikea Movement, a workers rights movement seeking to build power for Hawaiians. Ikaika lives in Kalihi, and was raised in Kaneohe. Connect and follow @IkaikaHussey on Twitter.
Paula Daniels Co-Founder and Chair of the Center for Good Food Purchasing
Paula Daniels is Co-founder, Chief of What’s Next, and Chair of the Board of the Center for Good Food Purchasing. The Center for Good Food Purchasing uses the power of procurement to create a transparent and equitable food system that prioritizes the health and well-being of people, animals, and the environment, through the nationally-networked adoption and implementation of the Good Food Purchasing Program by large institutions. There are now over 50 institutions in over 20 cities across the US enrolled in this Program, which received a 2018 Future Policy award from the World Future Council, UN FAO and IFOAM Organics International. Paula is a lawyer, and has held a number of senior positions in government in California and Los Angeles relating to
water policy, coastal protection, municipal infrastructure, and food policy, including as Senior Advisor on Food Policy to Mayor Villaraigosa of Los Angeles. Connect and follow @paulaadaniels on Twitter.
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