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Maui County to vote on creating an ʻŌiwi Resources Department in general election

Casey Harlow

In the general election on Nov. 8, Maui County residents will be asked to vote on potential amendments to the County Charter, including a proposal to create a new department.

The proposed ʻŌiwi Resources Department would ensure proper management of native cultural resources, including the Hawaiian language, cultural practices, and natural resources.

Simply defined, ʻōiwi means indigenous or native. It’s a term we’re hearing more and more nowadays, says Keoni Kuoha, Vice Chair of the Maui County Charter Commission.

"But the core of the idea is “iwi,” which along with meaning bone, also expresses the concepts of familial relationships, durability, and identity. And so anything ʻōiwi is tied to a place and to each other. Seeing our resources as ʻōiwi resources means that they’re connected to people. There’s that connection to communities and to the people who utilize resources. Those relationships are important and should be nurtured," Kuoha says.

The proposed ʻŌiwi Resources Department would act as an authority in the county to ensure proper management of ʻōiwi resources. This includes implementing programs to manage cultural sites, burials, and the variety of natural resources used in cultural practices.

The charter amendment would also mandate the county to operate as a bilingual government in both the Hawaiian and English languages.

"We’re looking at how do we reinforce ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi across our government, and that is definitely an area that our Department of ʻŌiwi Resources would be supporting both in translating communications as well as when we look at place names, that folks have a source to look to in our county government," Kuoha tells HPR.

The department would be placed within the County Planning Department and led by a director of ʻŌiwi Resources, who would advise other county departments.

"In Maui, and I think across Hawaiʻi, we’re trying to align our governance with our values. Managing ‘ōiwi resources as an official function of our government is something that reflects this point in time our value system," he says.

If Maui County voters approve the proposal, it will be up to the discretion of the mayor to decide the department’s size, and the extent of its influence.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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