Community leaders, officials finalize plan to guide stewardship efforts in North Hālawa Valley
Clara Matthews, also known as Aunty Sweet, feels at home in Hālawa Valley. The 85-year-old and her late husband, Robert “Boots” Matthews, have been at the forefront of a community effort to protect and preserve the valley since the H-3 Freeway’s construction in the 1990s.
“It's historical for us, the Hawaiians. We were here,” she said. “You know, it's historical, and for our ancestors, so that's important to me to keep it going and give the story about the Hawaiians.”
Aunty Sweet said she and others advocated against the freeway’s construction. They didn’t want historic and cultural sites, including heiau and burials, destroyed. Although she said the final route preserved heiau in the area, she and others have worked to bring the space back to the community.
She founded the group Nā Kūpuna a me Nā Kākoʻo o Hālawa for that reason. They have worked with state and federal agencies to complete a stewardship management plan. It was signed in March and guides future plans for about 8 acres of land under and near the viaduct in North Hālawa Valley.
The plan is part of a larger initiative that seeks to address the impacts of the H-3 Freeway’s construction, both in Hālawa and Kāneʻohe. Agencies involved in the process include the state Department of Transportation, which is the landowner, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which serves as project manager.
Once management plans are finalized, the goal is for community stewards to carry out long-term visions for the land. In Kāneʻohe, community leaders and officials completed a stewardship management plan last year. It calls for restoring traditional agriculture and establishing education programs for about 20 acres of land in Luluku.
“The whole purpose of the stewardship management plan is to ensure that the restoration and preservation of their cultural and archaeological sites can begin with the vision and leadership of the Hālawa Valley stewards,” said Ardena Saarinen, project coordinator with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. “They're well on their way to their path of healing that is part of some of the negative impacts that were experienced when H-3 was constructed.”
Goals outlined in the Hālawa Valley plan include restoring native vegetation, developing education programs and building a hālau. They hope the hālau will be a community gathering place for kupuna to share their knowledge and for cultural practitioners to teach their crafts.
Saarinen said they plan to begin construction of support facilities early next year. The $1.5 million project, funded by the Federal Highway Administration and the state Transportation Department, would include building the hālau, as well as parking and restrooms.
Healani Matthews is Aunty Sweet’s grandson. Growing up, his grandparents often took him into the valley to share stories. He and others have led thousands of people on educational tours of the valley and worked to restore the land for many years.
“A big part of our culture is being in tune with nature, and our relationships with each other, including the animals, the elements, the plants, the space that you live in, and making sure that this knowledge is innately shared with our people,” he said. “These plants love you unconditionally. The grass below your feet loves you unconditionally. I feel loved. I feel whole. I feel like one.”
Nicholas Tanaka, board chair of Nā Kūpuna a me Nā Kākoʻo o Hālawa, agreed that the valley is a special place that they hope more people learn about.
Tanaka first got involved with the group several years ago as a student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. His ethnic studies professor took students on visits to different cultural sites, including Hālawa Valley. He said he continued to help and even wrote his master’s thesis on the valley.
“Hālawa Valley has had a very long struggle to come to where it is now,” Tanaka said. “And there have been so many people that have come before that have laid the groundwork for what we do now. I am grateful to be in the place I am because of the hard work and struggle of those people.”
Although Aunty Sweet said she had hoped construction of the hālau and other plans would have moved quicker, she’s happy to continue passing her knowledge on to future generations.
“It's a beautiful space to be. And when you're doing something, you feel it in your heart that you're doing something good,” she said. “I love that place.”