Hawaii’s pristine beaches, clear water, and breath taking views often obscure the fact that paradise is also invaded by large corporations that fight Native Hawaiians for land they’ve been living on for generations. You may have heard of the viral #WeAreMaunaKea movement that started on the Big Island or protests against development of a similar telescope on Maui, but there are also smaller community movements are fighting just as hard for their homes. The locals, especially Native Hawaiians, are not giving up their connection to the land, access to public space and beaches, or their native culture without a fight.
Shay Arneho, recent University of Hawaii at Manoa Hawaiian Studies graduate and leader of the Save Hau Bush movement, revived the undertaking from her parents with the mission to save the Ewa Beach community from Haseko, a company who wants to build hotels, condos, and shopping centers on their beach called Hau Bush. According to Arneho, Haseko wants “to make [the Hau Bush beach] their mecca because of the killer views” that will attract tourist from around the world. Haseko’s plans to limit land access parallel Hawaiian colonization from centuries ago. Letting development continue would not only add traffic and population to the area, but would also take away fishing and camping grounds from the native people who still utilize the areas for social and historical activities.
One advantage the Native Hawaiians of the Ewa Beach community have is their rights to practice Hawaiian culture. Over the years, Haseko has developed a lagoon in the middle of a former heiau—a native Hawaiian temple. By stripping the locals of their culture and history, the developers gain more power.
But Arneho is determined to perpetuate the island philosophy through “dance, chant, and oral stories” so she can remind people what they are fighting for. The lack of respect for the Hawaiian culture is enraging to locals. Now, Arneho is trying to “turn that turmoil into positive energy and using it against Haseko and the County Council Members,” instead of letting them take away parts of what makes Ewa Beach, Ewa Beach.
The fight has not been an easy one. Despite Arneho’s best efforts to mobilize over a hundred people to provide testimony in opposition to further building and development at a meeting with the Department of Planning and Permitting, the department still recommended approval of Haseko’s development.
Big companies and politicians often think they can easily bully the locals into accepting their plan, but Arneho’s goal is to give her community members the knowledge and power to fight for their beach by holding community meetings featuring professors and Hawaiian priests who can share what they know and answer questions. “It makes it a lot easier for you if you can walk up to the plate and present yourself in ways they would never expect,” she says on how to be taken seriously when battling against poloticians and company executives. “[County Council Members] expect you to walk up with your pidgin accent, with a lack of education, and no ability to fight. They don’t know that you know. That’s a very powerful weapon.”
Through education, she aims to open her peers’ eyes to the reality of how their humble town will change drastically in a few years span. In order to be seen and heard by County Council Members, Arneho hopes to rally the support of the entire Ewa Beach community.
Arneho recognizes that developers do not realize the harm they are doing to the local community. When they told her that parts of the beach are an “eyesore,” she organized beach clean ups to build morale and prove that the community is willing to work on the beach if it means they get to keep it. Furthermore, Haseko thinks their projects will benefit the locals by renovating the beaches and providing jobs, but the locals are “simple people who have known each other for years,” and just want their land and story to be preserved; Not washed away with development and commercialization. Haseko is not only limiting access to the physical beach. They are limiting spiritual access to Hawaiian ancestors and history.
Although the battle is not even close to being won, there is no stopping this small but growing movement. With the mission of education and cultural preservation, Shay Arneho is using what she knows to peacefully fight for a cause she believes in- protecting a beach that that local people have enjoyed for generations from commercialization changing the Hawaiian way of life. “Little numbers and big voices can make a difference,” Arneho says. “One person can change everything.”
You can find Shay and show support for her mission on the “Next Generation Hawaii” Facebook page or on Instagram using the #SaveHauBush.