The Kupuna Islands

The Kupuna Islands Native Hawaiians have long had an important cultural, religious and social connection to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which they call the Kupuna, or elder, islands (the mark above the first u in Kupuna indicates a long vowel sound.) In the Hawaiian language, the name for the Hawaiian Archipelago is Pae `Aina `o Hawai`i.

The northwestern islands contain numerous archaeological sites — including 88 on Nihoa Island, the southernmost of the group – evidence of ancient habitation, religious ceremonies, agriculture and burials. Native Hawaiians traveled to these islands in double hulled canoes hundreds of years ago. They built ancient rock shrines on Mokumanamana (Necker) Island (left), the purpose of which is still unknown. In 1822, Queen Ka`ahumanu sent an expedition to explore the islands.

In January 2005, Wespac conducted public hearings on its proposal to allow fishing in the northwestern islands.

Wespac produced radio ads that ran on several stations before the hearings. One ad said, “Hawai`i fishermen have utilized the waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands for hundreds of years. Now, a proposed National Marine Sanctuary may prohibit or restrict all fishing and Native Hawaiian use in the area.”

The statement upset many leaders in the Native Hawaiian community because it threatened them with the loss of rights guaranteed by the Hawai`i Constitution. Some Native Hawaiians said they came to the hearing because Wespac was disseminating information in an attempt to cause Native Hawaiians to oppose the sanctuary.

“We needed to come here because you (Wespac) advertised that Native Hawaiian rights are at risk,” Vicky Holt Takamine, president of ‘Ilio‘ulaokalani, a coalition of traditional practitioners committed to protecting Hawaiian customs.

Wespac’s statement was not accurate, said William Aila, a Native Hawaiian who helped author the proposed sanctuary rules addressing native rights. He said that all traditional and customary uses would be protected by the sanctuary. But Eric Kingma, a Wespac official shown behind Aila, insisted that Native Hawaiians would lose rights.

Paul Koberstein