Oceania: Mehana Vaughan on “Kīpuka Kuleana: Restoring People to Lands and Lands to People in the Hawaiian Islands.”

Mehana Blaich Vaughan grew up in Namahana and Kalihiwai, Kauaʻi, on the border of the moku of Haleleʻa and Koʻolau. A former high school and middle school teacher in Hawaiian charter schools, Mehana is currently an associate professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management and U.H. Sea Grant College program. Her work focuses on restoring indigenous-led, community-based natural resource management and relationships to place, which can in turn enhance resilience to climate change. She is the founder of Kīpuka Kuleana, a nonprofit organization and community land trust on Kauaʻi that perpetuates kuleana to place through protection of cultural landscapes and ancestral lands (www.kipukakuleana.org). All proceeds from her book Kaiāulu: Gathering Tides, published in 2018, benefit Kīpuka Kuleana. Mehana is a mother of three children, 15, 13, and 11.

Across the islands of Hawaiʻi, diverse community groups are caring for lands and waters in a thriving multi-faceted commons.  Their work provides ecosystem restoration, reinvigoration of Native Hawaiian stewardship practices, and cross-generational education, while building resilience in the face of climate change. I will share a larger mapping effort or census of community managed territories within Hawaiʻi, along with stories from interviews and case studies of individual groups and their varied work to care for cultural sites, agricultural systems, coastal areas, and entire mountain to sea land divisions.  Underlying many of these community efforts is restoration of decision-making power and relationships (often familial) to lands and waters that have sustained communities for centuries. This seminar connects organizations engaged in land back efforts on the island of Kauaʻi through a community land trust, Kīpuka Kuleana, and across the Hawaiian archipelago, their growth and challenges with the work of partners seeding land returns across the U.S. continent and the Pacific.  What lessons do these cases offer collaborative efforts to care for and govern the commons, and for restoration of justice, in these shifting times?