Masthead image of tourism
S1 #4

All Is Not Well In Paradise | Kahu Kaleo Patterson (Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center)

On this episode our guest is Kahu Kaleo Patterson, an indigenous Hawai'ian priest and tourism activist. Kaleo joins us to discuss the ongoing tourism pandemic on the islands, grassroots organizing in Hawai'i, his decades of community activism and involvement, tourist entitlement and the abuse of sacred sites. He speaks to us about his spiritual work, including nonviolent direct action in the traditions of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, and the Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center that's come out of it. Finally, we delve into justice and reconciliation, peace and joy as an imperative for bringing about a better world.

Kahu Kaleo was born on Wahiawa, Oahu, Hawai'i. He has degrees from a plethora of institutions as well as anti-racism and community involvement training. He has worked as a professor and educator at the University of Hawaii, Manoa and the Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center. He worked for a decade with developmentally handicapped youth for the Hawaii State Vocational Rehabilitation program and has been a licensed priest or Kahu since 1986. Kaleo is the president of the Hawaii Ecumenical Coalition on Tourism, which has been fighting the good fight for almost thirty years.

To address cultural violence in a society or country, you gotta look at the things that are like pillars holding up that cultural violence. And you gotta just chip away at those pillars until that cultural violence falls.
The Ongoing COVID-19 Relationship to Tourism, Travel as Pilgrimage, Building on Sacred Sites, The Golden Age of Anti-tourism Activism, 30 Years of Protest, Justice and Reconciliation, Peace and Joy as Activism

Show Notes


Grassroots Organizing in Hawaii

128-Year Old War between the USA and Hawaii Military-Tourism Complex

Late 1980s Golden Age of Tourism & Resistance to it “All is Not Well in Paradise” Essay

Travelling as Pilgrimage

Tourism Consequences After 30 years - Still true? COVID-19 / Disaster Fallout and Solidarity

Tourist Entitlement and Treatment in the Industry Hoʼokipa - Hawaiian Hospitality

Sacred Site Abuse

Gandhi / Martin Luther King / Nonviolent Direct Action Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center Reconciliation Work

Peace and Joy

Can Tourism and Reconciliation Co-Exist?

Tourists and Tourism Workers Responsibility in Reconciliation



All is Not Well in Paradise - Kahu Kaleo Patterson (Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center)

Chris: Good evening Kahu Kaleo Patterson. Welcome to the End of Tourism.

Kahu Kaleo: The End of Tourism.

Chris: Could you tell our listeners and myself where you find yourself today? What the world looks like for you, where you are.

Kahu Kaleo: Yeah, well, it's interesting. We're um, I've got uh, an uptick in COVID 19 cases in Hawaii and, uh, the numbers are getting very high.

So, there's been another shutdown and, uh, you know, many of us think that the travel in the tourism industry is helping to feed into that again. And so, there's always, uh, an impact when we talk about tourism. And even with this pandemic, we're seeing impact, we're seeing government, catering to the economics of a tourism. Of course, militarization is the other big industry in Hawaii.

And the way that both those industries are being seen in light of pandemic and the benefits, uh, the treatment that those industries get is very problematic, we think. But other than that, I'm a priest in a small church in the middle of the island, a place called Wahiawa in an old plantation community.

And we've been doing a lot of food distribution in the community. You know, maybe five to 6,000 individuals a month being served six times a month. We're doing a food distribution a lot of people hungry and a lot of families in need; people with limited resources. So it's been like that for this last year.

So we're kind of coming to the end of a year and we've had about a hundred volunteers and over a dozen churches and organizations that are partnered in to try to provide some, uh, hope, some relief for families in a couple of the communities surrounding Wahiawa and Wahiawa itself.

And so it's been great to work with the community and to develop partnerships and to do things together, that's been very exciting for some of us, the ability to connect with people that we otherwise wouldn't really do things with. But, this pandemic has brought the hope of a new community, working together to take care of the needs of the poor and those who are not healthy or at risk right now.

And that kind of organizing - grassroots, organizing, when you have people working together helps to build a community and helps to create the possibilities of other ways of working together and learning about the issues.

And then we've got the Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center. We've been working with various Hawaiian groups, sovereignty groups and in churches on apologies and reconciliations. That's been a longstanding project with us.

That began with the United Churches of Christ, a big apology in 1993, and that we were part of. And we've been tracking the United Churches of Christ all this time. At that time, our tourism, conference, the Negative Impact of Tourism in Hawaii, was actually the impetus that led us to look at the churches more in terms of an apology, you know, for the history of Hawaii.

So, out of a tourism conference came a lot of education related to the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. And the United Churches of Christ was also asked to take on a tourism at that time. This was in 1989. Back in those days, the churches were surprisingly, uh, very concerned and involved in the impact of tourism in local communities, indigenous communities.

Places like Germany, oddly enough, was very, very close to us and brought us into Berlin one year to speak at the largest, uh, tourism gathering. Every year, there's the ITB in Berlin, the international tourism business exchange. And all the cheerleaders of tourism gathered there. I was invited to give a paper on tourism and human rights and the German churches actually flew us in and brought another guy, Cecil Rajendra from Malaysia, famous poet tourism poet and a good friend of Huanani-Kay Trask here in Hawaii who just passed away a few months ago.

She was a real advocate for, um, you know, looking at tourism in a real strong voice. And a lot of people still remember her and her activism in regards to tourism. So, at the moment we were also specific justice and reconciliation center has not only worked with the United Churches of Christ here in Hawaii on apology and redress.

We were also successful in having some redress come forward. In the last five or six years, the United Methodist Church, here in Hawaii, has also worked on an apology to native Hawaiians for their complicity in the armed overthrow of Hawaii. And this is, you know, it's a great resolution and they're hoping that in another year they'll be able to push that resolution to the national level. We have bishops that are supporting that resolution and the apology to native Hawaiians and outlines the United Methodist complicity with that overthrow.

Just last month, the United Churches of Christ, again, the Hawaiian churches this time drafted a resolution. It was passed by the Hawaiian Churches association and it was accepted by national. 70% of the delegates

of the general Senate of the United Churches of Christ accepted this resolution which is titled "Urging the End to the 128-Year War B etween the United States and Hawaii." And, you know, it's stirred quite a bit of controversy here in Hawaii, and we're kind of working through that, which is a good thing.

Good thing to have controversy every once in a while, but working through that and pushing all of the organizations to read the resolution, to sign on. And, that's the grind now. That's the work of moving everybody on this educational effort now. But that a resolution, uh, that will mean a lot to people who have been working on liberating Hawaii, freeing Hawaii from it's oppressive, occupied status .

So all of that kind of ties in with tourism. You know, the military, in the old days, we would say that tourism comes out of the infrastructure that was created for World War II, right? The big airports, the big bombers, you know, the military needing to transport people all over the world. It's a good study to kind of go down that track and to see how that infrastructure, and maybe even the defense contractors that began to invest in mass travel, global tourism, right?

So during a time of peace, we see tourism developed and being touted as a way to promote peace, but basically tourism is all about making money. A few people, you know, these elite multinational corporations, making a lot of money, right. There's nothing about international peace there, right?

I hope some of these things are still alive. People are still talking about some of these, these things. Now, the churches, yeah. Churches were very involved in the early days and, uh, Pacific island communities, grassroots communities, and very strong voices.

We learned a lot from the Pacific island communities and the Aborigines about the exploitation of indigenous people and communities as a result of global tourism descending and acquiring land and in developing hotels and you know we've studied the impact that these developments have had on communities and cultures and peoples and the great changes that that would occur not for the good, but for the worst. And so that's the story that we've been documenting here in Hawaii as well. In our Tourism Declaration in August of 1989, you know, in the preamble there's some strong words that the fragile environment of Hawaii and its people is tremendously impacted by tourism.

We had churches from all over the world and World Council of Churches, Catholic church. That's a good document. So, and it's got some really great statements on tourism. I was the co-chair of that conference with Haunani-Kay Trask and that conference created the organization that became the Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center.

Chris: Wow.

Kahu Kaleo: All those years, since 1989, we've really tried to dig into the tourism industry and to do the good, right analysis. We partnered with the Center for Third World Tourism in Bangkok. I was, uh, was a part of that organization, the board of directors. And we had a bunch of meetings all over the place, and we had people coming into Hawaii for about 10 years after that.

And there was just a lot of good work that went on. Part of the concern was the control of the WTO World Trade Organization, the World Banks and multinational corporations. That analysis is very important. I'm sure you folks have looked at some of that. That's some of the things that we've done in the past.

So in 1989, that was the golden age of tourism development in Hawaii. A lot of hotels were built during those times. We went up against a lot of bulldozers, projects and protests. You know, so that went on for a while in those days, but you gotta have good organizing and be able to sustain that kind of work.

Over the years, you know, the next generation is coming up, you really got to spend time educating the next generations that are coming up and there's still some good work being done. I heard today, I didn't go to church today. I took a day off, but some of my members, they said, "oh, we're, we're not coming to church today."

I said, "oh that's good because I'm not going to church either." I said, "where are you guys going?" They said, "we're going to the North Shore and we're going to protest a tourism group that's messing with our turtles." Right.

Chris: Wow.

Kahu Kaleo: ...With our turtles in the Haleiwa or somewhere on the North Shore. So, there's always something going on yeah, related to tourism... I'm going to stop there and let you ask some questions because I'd like to really try to address what you're working on.

Chris: Sure. No, thank you for that incredible introduction. I think that these are definitely strange times and these are conversations that people are being drawn to at the moment because of the circumstances of the industry, of the world. And to know that there's people like yourself and your colleague, recently past, that people can look to for not just examples, but leadership.

There was something I read recently in a great book called Joyful Militancy.

And it was saying how in the last 10 or 20 years in North America, or at least Anglo-North America, that so much of a sense of solidarity and mutual aid, the things that you described a little earlier that you're involved in on the grassroots level there have largely been forgotten because the history of these things has been forgotten, which is to say that people imagine themselves as being somewhat alone, generationally, in these struggles, young people, especially.

So I think it's incredibly important, the work that you're doing and especially as a leader and elder and Kahu in the place that you live. So in 1989, you, among your colleagues drafted and published the Hawaii Declaration on tourism, right? Some, four years later in 1993 you released an essay entitled "All is Not Well in Paradise."

Kahu Kaleo: yeah.

Chris: In that essay, you wrote about three major impacts of tourism in Hawaii. One, that it produces minimal economic benefit for Hawaiians. Two, that tourism amounts to a cultural invasion of the islands. And three, that tourism contributes to the destruction of land and environment.

Now, if you were asked to rewrite this essay to reflect the current times, would these three points remain a part of your writing and would there be any others added to the major impacts of tourism there?

Kahu Kaleo: Now, that's a good question. You know, I think our 30th anniversary has come up and you know, when we looked at that declaration, reviewed it again, we found that things had really moved along quite a bit, but then there was much more that needed to be done and that we had lost some ground or had gone backwards on some of those things.

This may not be a good thing, but there were no Hawaiian general managers of hotels in Hawaii back in those days. I mean, that was something that you could easily count, right? Zero, zero. Most of the Hilton, the Marriott's, you know all the big name hotels, you know, most of the general managers were either white or Asian, right, or European, right.

And you know, of course, multinational corporations are predominantly not from Hawaii, right? I mean, they're just transnational corporations, right. And so there was a big push because a lot of Hawaiians work in the industry, there was a big push that we supported the idea of a native Hawaiian hospitality association, to kind of look at the equity and employment in tourism industry.

And we considered that would be a good thing for Hawaiians to be more involved in leadership and guidance in the tourism industry. And so there was an association. Now, today there are many Hawaiians who are in a leadership in that upper echelon of decision-making in hotel development.

In fact, I think many organizations realized that that would be a good thing to have, uh, more Hawaiians instead of just having Hawaiians dancing Hula or playing music, or sitting behind the front desk. There was a time, 30 years ago when there were classes that were held in hotels, for executives, classes like Hawaiian 101, right.

And we pushed back and we said, "Hey, you don't need classes that's going to teach non-Hawaiians how to be Hawaiian. We just needed to hire Hawaiians and put Hawaiians in there and help train Hawaiians to run these hotels. Right."

Finally Hawaiians are very sensitive, more sensitive, are a better decision-makers. Community is by and large, better able to make decisions that are going to benefit the community.

We all knew that a lot of the money that's made in tourism doesn't stay in Hawaii. There's a lot of leakage. You know, I can't remember the exact figure, but maybe 10 cents of every dollar stays back in Hawaii and benefits the community. Something like that. Yeah. But, I hope there's new statistics floating around today.

So that was one of the things that happened. We've seen some hotel development and it's very sad. You know, the impact on cultural places, sacred places and impact on cultural resources like burial sites has a slowed down a little bit. There's not too much left to develop.

But there's always challenges. Every year there's challenges to open up lands and we have on the Waianae side of the island of Oahu where I'm from, we have very pristine valleys that we know that developers and investors are sitting on properties in those valleys, just waiting for the right politics and the right timing to develop. Right.

So we know that there's a lot of liquidity, a lot of money, a lot of invested investment out there. And it's just so hard for the community to stay on top of where the developments are. But there's a lot that needs to be done. And we really would like to see a major tourism conference in Hawaii will be a big help for us. And I, you know, if we could just pull that together, that would, I think that would be helpful to everybody, not just Hawaii.

But this is a issue that affects the whole world, global tourism, mass travel. And so I think that, that, that would be my push is let's come back to Hawaii. When we did that 30 years ago, we had native American Indians come, flew in and we had a big gathering and everybody went out for a couple of days to visit the places where there was tourism impact and to speak with families.

And then when everybody came back, everybody discussed what they saw and that's how the tourism document came to be. It came from participants who came to Hawaii and went out and saw and walked the land and spoke to the people and came back and shared what they saw.

A lot of the participants who came back then were also struggling with issues in their own home and had a lot to share. That was just a great opportunity to start a movement. And we've stayed in touch with a lot of those folks for a long time. And that tourism document went beyond just tourism and went on to look at the history of the dispossession and the exploitation of Hawaiian culture and the people, and went on to other things that became collaborations on social justice issues.

And you mentioned "All is Not Well in Paradise." I was tapped along with a woman to do an East Coast speaking tour, uh, Hawaiian sovereignty speaking tour. So we went to New York, all the major cities to talk about Hawaii, and that was a theme, "all is not well in paradise." And that's a big one.

That's a big one for us because everybody just smiles when you mentioned Hawaii, right? Everybody has these wonderful images and experiences of going to Hawaii. Hawaii is a wonderful place, but all is not well in paradise. That's such a hard message to communicate to people on the outside.

And so that's a big one. That's a big one.

Chris: All is not well in, in paradise. Hawaii is, you know, among many places in the world often considered by the tourism industry or tourists as paradise.

Right. What connection, if any, do you see between these sort of modern notions of pristine nature and the notions of paradise that come out of the Bible or the Christian world. And I ask in part, because I have very little background or understanding as far as the book is concerned.

Kahu Kaleo: Well, it's a good question. Many of the churches in the 1980s were already doing theology on mass travel and global tourism. Right. And theology on tourism is really a great, great study. In those days, we would talk about how global tourism and mass travel came out of the violence of World War Two right, the violence of war and defense contractors and the creating of machines that would move soldiers around and bomb cities. And, August 6th we just commemorated here in Hawaii, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

And every year we have ceremonies, in Chinatown. We do have a peace bell that's rung to remember that a very tragic period in history. So that beginning in the valuation of tourism with the violence of a war and conflict is very important to look at, how all all of that machinery was transformed into making money for a few multinational corporations and so on and so forth, and the movement, and they continue to move military around. Right.

But the other part of that was the idea that how are we promoting the idea of travel and tourism? There's just a lot, a lot of a hedonistic type of, lustful types of motivations that are being catered to, right?

And that people are traveling just to get their rocks off or traveling just to get away from something. Traveling just so they can be something different in another place. So a lot of very selfish reasons for traveling.

So the ideas of a pilgrimage, traveling as in terms of pilgrimage, right? Religious pilgrimage, spiritual journey, which has a very different set of behaviors and expectations and responsibilities, right? So you have spiritual journey, pilgrimage, and these are the kind of ideas that need to be fostered. Right.

You know, a lot of people, they hear about the impact of tourism in Hawaii. And they say, "oh, we don't want to, we don't want to go to Hawaii." Right. And the Hawaiians are like, no "come, come, come and come and visit us." Right. And that's the point, right. If you're not going to make any connection, spiritual... then don't come.

But you know, people, it's a very complex idea, but more so the ideas of "why do you have to get away, right? What are you running away from?" You know, even that, that has a lot of question and the idea of a vacation, right? I mean that a lot of people in Asia, a lot of people in the world don't have it. There's no concept for vacation, right? You work, work, and then, you know, the workers of the world and they don't have vacations right?

But anyway, so it's almost a sin to have that as a part of a Christian philosophy that we have to take a vacation every year. I mean, we should be moderating and pacing ourselves all year round. I mean, so vacation come becomes a time to do things that we wouldn't be able to do at home.

We have some of the clergy in the Marshall Islands, one of the Pacific islands, we would always joke about going to going to the Philippines and just doing it once a year, go to the Philippines and we can do whatever we wanted the Philippines, because it's beyond the 100 mile limit of our island, so we're not bound by any of the restrictions in Hawaii.

A lot of the Hawaiians go to Las Vegas. We've got a lot of big Hawaiian communities in Las Vegas right now. So, that's the analysis, the theology that people need to look at and how does that mesh with the biblical faith tradition. No, Jesus didn't take a vacation, but he did go up into the mountain and he would pray. He would commune with nature.


The Germans were feeling very guilty about tourism and that's why the Churches got involved. They were seeing a lot of Germans traveling for things that they didn't feel was spiritually appropriate or theologically appropriate, or part of the faith tradition. Right. And so you have a lot of Germans, Europeans supporting the sex industry in Thailand and Korea. And so that's a big industry.

Then it was a lot of child prostitution was going on in the 80s as well. Right. And a lot of the Christian countries were feeding into that from the United States and Europe, and so that's a big one that really needs to be reevaluated. And so the phrase "end of tourism." Yeah.

There's a need for spiritual journey and pilgrimage and things that are more human and involve more interaction and the sharing of ideas and aspirations and the vision for peace and harmony, I think is what many of us would really support.

Chris: Right. So, I'd like to do a a kind of rapid fire a series of questions regarding some of the quotes that I pulled from your essay, "all is not well in paradise," So, this essay was written in 1993, so 30 years have passed. I'd like to speak to some of these quotes or mention them briefly and simply ask you if what you wrote still applies today, if it's more true than it was 30 years ago, and you can certainly feel free to elaborate if you like.

Kahu Kaleo: Yeah.

Chris: So the first quote arrives as such: "contrary to the claims of its promoters tourism. The biggest industry in Hawaii has not benefited the poor and the oppressed native Hawaiian people. Tourism is not an indigenous practice, nor has it been initiated by the native Hawaiian people."

More true, still true. Or has that changed?

Kahu Kaleo: Oh yeah. I think more true today. We have more homeless, more Hawaiians in prison, more Hawaiians that are poor and sick, you know, as I would say, very, very true. Yeah.

Chris: Okay. The next one arrives as such: "tourism is a new form of exploitation. As a consequence, the native Hawaiian people suffer the most. Their culture has been increasingly threatened their beaches and even their sacred sites have been taken over or intruded upon in order to build tourist resorts and related developments.

More true. Still true.

Kahu Kaleo: I would say more true. We have a parks that would be frequented by Hawaiian families on the beach, on the coastal areas that were once, when Hawaii was Hawaii, it was a place where Hawaiian families would go seasonally to fish and to spend time with family.

But Hawaiians can't do that anymore because most coastal areas are now owned by the state are converted into parks or a hotel development goes in, or a coastal golf course, access to the traditional fishing grounds are, are made very limited. So, during the pandemic, we have beaches that have been shut down and we have places that have not been open for over a year now, but we're seeing more restrictions on access to traditional places where Hawaiians still gather and fish.

And so that assertion is more true today than it was back then. Yeah.

Chris: Wow. The next one is "tourism brings and expands the evil of an economy, which perpetuates the poverty of native Hawaiian people and which leads to sexual and domestic violence and substance abuse among the native Hawaiian people. In addition, sexism and racism are closely interlinked with tourism." More true, still true, or has changed since then?

Kahu Kaleo: No, I'd say it's more true. We have a prison system that went through a major study about six, seven years ago. You know, it was a study on native Hawaiians in the prison and criminal justice system. Part of what this study said that there's tremendous racism and inequity in the prison and criminal justice system that Hawaiians are being profiled and targeted.

So we have a lot of Hawaiians in prison. And then once you get into prison, you stay in the prison. You know, even though you're only sentenced to five years, you'll end up in there for 20 years because of the way the prison system works. And some of that is directly related to the fear that society has towards keeping the tourism industry protected from crime and property damage.

We've done studies and studies have been funded on the impact of mega resorts on Hawaiian communities and family disillusion conflicts go rise up, increase in drug abuse goes up. The numbers that are not good whenever a big development goes up in a community.

Our prisons and our homelessness in our folks, young and old who are in drug rehab programs, which are filled to capacity. These are signs and indications, that things aren't getting better, they're, they've been getting worse.

Here on the Waianae Coast, all of our parks get filled with people who are homeless or houseless and it's just a rotation of evictions. Now, you know, we have most beautiful beaches in Hawaii, but this is a scenario in almost every Hawaiian community, people are houseless, having to live on the beaches and being moved around, you know, maybe once every three or four months, being evicted and having to go down to the coast to find another place or under a bridge.

This is the life now. This is a cultural violence that is accepted now. And I would say a good part of that's due to the the idea that tourism is helping somehow but it's not, it's not helping (as the dominant economic industry for Hawaii). It's not really of you know of any benefit to Hawaiians.

Yeah. It's a lot worse than it was when we did that assessment back then.

Chris: Wow. This is really a succinct and incredible essay that you wrote will be available to our listeners in the show notes on the website. After 30 years all is still not well and paradise and things have gotten, as you said, progressively worse.

Kahu Kaleo: You have the community getting progressively worse, but on the other side you have those that are the cheerleaders of the industry doing quite well. Yeah. And then now we have just a lot of absentee land owners. So, you know, it just kind of opens the door to everything.

Chris: I have a question about the last year or so in Hawaii and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. So in my experience living here in Oaxaca, in Southern Mexico, like most places in the world, we went into a serious and enduring lockdown. Being primarily a tourist town, it was an incredible sight. The streets were closed, the tourists and the tourism was gone, at least temporarily.

People had an opportunity local people anyways, to remember what it was like, or what it could be like to live in a place not dominated by foreign entitlement, we'll say. So I'm wondering, what was your experience in the last year regarding the pandemic, the lockdowns, the fallout and then now, what very much seems to be, to put it poetically, a viral return of tourism to the islands.

Kahu Kaleo: Yeah. 30 years ago, there were five to 6 million visitors coming to Hawaii every year. And the Hawaii Visitors Bureau which is a non-profit entity that's supported by the government and primarily the tourism interests in Hawaii were projecting 11 million tourists by the year 2000. So they were projecting a doubling of tourism from the late 1980s. And we couldn't fathom what it would be like to have 11 million tourists. I mean, in 1980s we thought we had too many tourists coming to Hawaii at that time.

Chris: Wow. For our listeners, approximately how many residents were there in Hawaii at the time?

Kahu Kaleo: At the time, I think about a million. You're thinking a small island, like Kauai, population, maybe 50,000 at most, and maybe 800,000-900,000 on Oahu. So 11 million visitors.

Now, about 20 years ago, we had an opportunity to sit in on a meeting of city and county municipal planners on from all of the islands. And at that time, the assessments that were coming in from all the planners was that the most major infrastructure in each island, like sewage, water, electricity, roads, even schools, most infrastructure to support a community was 20, 30 years behind in terms of maintenance and in terms of upgrading and, you know, all those kinds of things.

Right. But the, the most interesting statement was that no one had any idea how, how were we ever going to catch up? And in fact, there was some certainty that we were never going to be able to catch up with what the infrastructure needs are for the communities on all the islands.

Yeah. And that's still true today. I mean, it's just a survival. Now, tourism always gets the infrastructure that they need, you know the roads and the water and the harbors. Infrastructure's a big impact that gets left to the city and the politicians to handle. But of course they they just push all that money away. And I think a lot of it goes into the development of the economy. A lot of it goes to tourism to make sure that tourism stays strong, right? Community gets less and less each year. Yeah.

I was on the island of Kauai when hurricane Iniki hit and many in our community, after we were able to put things back together, the first three months, a lot of people lost their homes. It was a lot of work that needed to be done to clear the roads.

But the people came together. It was a good relief effort that community really worked together. But the people were really uh, warmed to the idea that the beaches were free, that there weren't many tourists on the island anymore.

And then so same with the pandemic. With the less traffic and having the beaches open again, it's like a breath of fresh air. It's a good feeling, be able to have space and to have time to think and not have to worry about the traffic and all those states.

Yeah. That's a big wake up call.

Chris: Yeah, certainly I can, I can imagine. And we'll see, I guess what happens now as measures and contingency plans, start to end restrictions start to be loosened.

Kahu Kaleo: Will say that when I was on Kauai, I worked a lot with three churches that I was a pastor. Many of my members worked in the tourism industry, desk clerks, rental car agencies, the back office, food and beverage and the stories of being mistreated by people visiting from far away lands, just the rudeness.

I'm not saying all visitors like that, but if you're working in the industry, it has a toll. Many Hawaiians that I spent a lot of time within the churches, they really didn't like working, I'll make that statement. I mean, it's so just imagine every aspect of tourism where Hawaiians are working and it's hard spiritually and emotionally for people to work in the tourism industry. It's a very demanding industry for people who are having that face to face contact with visitors. It can be very tough. Very tough.

Chris: I worked in the hospitality industry in Toronto, Canada for 10 years, and then here in Southern Mexico, in the tourism industry for five, and it just doesn't change the expectation and entitlement of getting to be on the other side of the table, in the sense that, most people are serving others throughout their week and their vacation is somehow a way in which they get to be on the receiving end of being served. Right.

Kahu Kaleo: Yeah. Yeah. We used to say the new plantation industry. So how do you, so this is where we come back to the theology about travel and what our behaviors and our protocols are. And reciprocity is a word that comes up over and over again.

Today the word "ho'okipa" is used as a word for hospitality. Right. So, you know, it applies to, when somebody comes off the plane, you got to give them a lei, right. And, uh dance a hula when the people are coming out of the gate, right. Or play some Hawaiian music, right. But in the old days, actually "ho'okipa" was a word that had more meaning than the word "aloha."

Okay. But "aloha" is a very, very powerful word. You don't use that with everybody. You use that, your grandmother, your family, right. You don't want to use it with someone you don't even know who's coming off the plane. Right. But, you know, anyway, but "ho'okipa" is a word that had even more meaning in the old days.

So, in the Pacific, you would go from island to island, right? Visiting people, maybe go a hundred miles or a thousand miles and just to look for a place to live. But whenever you saw an island, you'd be very careful how you would approach that island. You'd want to make a good impression and you want to be very respectful.

Okay. You would bring something, some gift and you would go and announce yourself and share, tell who you are and then we would say you'd bring a ho'okipa gift. And you would also understand that there's always a leader on an island or an elder, right.

So you would ask to see that person, right. You don't want to create any problems. So you got to make sure you go to the right person first and you just pay your respects. If you're coming from an island that just had a hurricane, right, you might ask for help, but it would help if you had developed a relationship prior to that, right?

And so "ho'okipa" was a word that meant reciprocity, where you wanted to make connections and you wanted to have good relationships even if there wasn't anything that you needed, you would do that because one day you might need help. Right? And so you want to have those relationships in other places.

But today's tourism there's none of that. You know, there's no expectations. People just come. So there's no incentive to be nice to anybody. No incentive to be kind, but anyway, that's part of the thinking that it needs to be done and people need to be educated sometimes how to do that. Yeah.

Chris: Yeah. That's, that's incredible really. And that practice of Hawaiian hospitality as you referred to it as, as reciprocity comes up against the kind of corrupted or perverted hospitality that exists in the hospitality industry.

So, I'd like to, if, if we can, touch on the Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center and your work. You mentioned a little earlier that the Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center was formed in part, out of the tourism conference in Hawaii in 1989, that it was formed as a result of the deliberation and the consequences of tourism at the time on.

On the Pacific Justice and Reconciliation website, it's written that the organization began as a progressive faith-based coalition in the 1980s, a project of the Hawaiian Council of Churches, addressing indigenous and native Hawaiian sovereignty and governance issues, responsible tourism, environmental justice, and peace and nonviolence through direct action, organizing community education and advocacy.

Could you, Kahu, offer our listeners a little of how the Pacific justice and reconciliation center started and how it's evolved since then?

Kahu Kaleo: So in eighties we were already wrestling with tourism issues on all of the islands and there were people that were wanting to do something and I was on Kauai, but I grew up on Oahu and we've had big issues with tourism and development and fighting development and militarization.

We have a valley right down. My family is from that valley and everybody was displaced from that valley. Military took over the valley and did the bombing in the valley. We would hear the bombing at night and see the training, and then there'd be fires in the valley. And this was a valley that was an old fishing village in the old days.

So I was Kauai and Hawaiians were standing in front of the bulldozers on hotel developments in the 10 years that I was there in the late eighties. And one of the first projects, and this was my first church I served was on Kauai. Within the first year, I was asked to help out with a hotel that was trying to add another wing to its development, but it would impact a sacred site, a city of refuge. And actually this area had five heiau temples, just a remarkable, cultural, historic area, and this city of refuge or pua hunua, the mouth of the Wailua River was being impacted by, already being impacted by tourists staying in the hotel and they just come up the back door and walk through the sacred site and leave a beer cans and trash and so that was number one.

But then they were going to build , another wing for the hotel that was going to destroy the integrity of the system of heiaus in this valley. When the Hawaiians build heiaus in an area there was often a view corridor between the different sites.

So, there may maybe at some point they would light fires and you could see what was going on. But, uh, this wing was impacting a view corridor between this city of refuge, a place of refuge and a navigational heiau across the road. And so anyway, we won on that issue, went to the state legislature, pushed onthat issue and I became the president of the first curatorship of a sacred site on the island of Kauai. And some, some of these curatorships were just being established by the state of Hawaii because a lot of historic sites were being impacted and they just really needed to protect these sites.

So that's how I got started. And it was kind of odd for a Christian minister to be protecting these sacred sites, some of which were sacrificial heiau but you know these were just like sacred sites in the Old Testament. I mean, they were part of our history right. And so, I did get into a little bit of trouble when we ended up having to take care of all these heiaus.

We formed an all-island coalition of Hawaiian leaders and church leaders. So, what we wanted to do is to bring more church leaders in this relationship and collaboration with the activists and it was quite a separation over the years due to the missionaries.

So we had a lot of education to do with people in the churches. So we formed the Hawaii Ecumenical Coalition, HEC, and it was a part project of the Hawaii Council of Churches. And then later, a group of us decided to take on the tourism issue in a big way, we became the Hawaii Ecumenical Coalition on Tourism. So this organization, produced the Hawaii declaration, but it also pushed out in trying to implement all of the recommendations that came out of the tourism declaration.

So you just can't have a conference and you have all these recommendations and you don't do anything. Somebody got to do all the recommendations. Right? So, since I was the co-chair, it fell to me, I got to follow through. So, we had a committee, we just went down the list. One of the first things on the list was, was go to all the churches in Hawaii and asked them to apologize. Wow.

For their role in the overthrow of Hawaii. And if they weren't involved in overthrow, well, how come you're not saying anything now. Right. So, so we did, we divided it up and I went to the Episcopal Church. I went to the United Church of Christ and we asked them to inventory their church lands because, you know, a lot of the churches had a lot of church lands and some of those land stolen land and land stolen after the overthrow. That's well-documented.

So we tried to push the churches and get them involved. And then we started doing a lot of community organizing and direct action organizing using Kingian and Gandhian techniques and strategies. And so we started getting arrested.

So we've been arrested, I've been arrested about 12 times from those days. And you know, we don't want to get arrested, but sometimes that's the only way you can get attention and move the agenda forward. And so we were already studying and doing nonviolent direct action organizing.

Then, as a church organization, we really wanted to begin working with the Hawaiian community and others on developing a movement and organizing slowly and looking at not just working with Hawaiians, but developing the sympathy of the larger majority.

You know, in any social justice, uh, social change movement, if we want big social change, you have to work on the sympathy of the larger majority. Right? So part of that involved using Gandhi and King, Martin Luther King, right? So we would go to all the Martin Luther King parades and we get involved with the Gandhi groups that were in Hawaii and we did all that networking.

And then we got arrested at the airport. This is a big tourism issue for us. Yeah. So in, I think it was 1999, a group of us, we had an all islands gathering. We decided we were going to do an action on the airport. You know, I set that up. I think 14 of us were arrested and the airport wasn't sure we're coming, but we came and they were quite confused.

Didn't know who was gonna arrest us, whether the police department or the Marshall's office or the Department of Public Safety or the airport anti-terrorism unit. So we actually made it all the way into the control tower and elevator is opening and going up and down. Finally, we got arrested and it was a good one.

We had some other activities, actions after that, and it was all very, very peaceful, but I think the next year, a couple of years later, 9/11 happened. The twin towers went down and we're still working on this issue. We're getting ready to go back and do another action. But after 9/11, we felt it was best to not have anybody get arrested because you know, you have Homeland Homeland security now, and everybody was quite tense.

And so we decided about that time, we were asked to teach some courses at the University of Hawaii. And this is a story is almost over now, but we started teaching Gandhi and King and Lili'uokalani. And we've developed that class, "Gandhi, King, and Lili'uokalani at the University of Hawaii" and in the power of non-violence, non-violent political alternatives.

So the reason we wanted to do this was we felt that this is going to be a long haul now, after 9/11. And we wanted to study all of the social change movements in the world, especially, uh, Indian country because of the 500 years of Discovery, Holocaust.

Native Americans and indigenous people all over the world have learned how to do non-violent direct action organizing, but in cultural ways, right, you have a lot of experience. So we did it, we studied the Western models - Gandhi, King.. So we wanted to study everything.

So that's when the University kind of said, well, "let's put our heads down for a while and see what's happening. We'll watch, watch for the good issues that come forward. And that's when we changed our name to the Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center. So that was our big shift. And we had just come back from the Vatican. We went to ask the Pope to rescind the Papal Bull of 1492. And you know, we ended up talking with a... the Pope, didn't want to see us.

So we ended up talking to the Cardinal Ratzinger who eventually became the Pope, but we've been commemorating the Papal Bull in Honolulu for years. So when we came back from the Vatican. Yeah, that was certainly after the anniversary of 1992, a couple of years after that.

Wow. We decided to open a Peace Center in Chinatown. Someone said, well, you're going to do peace work, you've got to have a peace center. So, we started putting peace centers on the ground. People would say, what's a Peace Center? Well, what do you got? You need help with peace? Let's talk about it, man. So we would just do peace work, open up these centers and just do peace work and in the community that we were in and just look at what was going on and work with the people and organize, right?

So anyway, that's our history. Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center. But one of the themes that we've always worked on is this reconciliation with the Hawaiians and the churches, and this whole mandate came out of the tourism declaration that we would ask the Churches to apologize.

So we haven't given up on that. We've visited every denomination in Hawaii. Most of the major denominations and a lot of them were very receptive. Today, we've got two denominations that have apologized and redress issues. We've spent a lot of time trying to organize projects that are related to doing some reconciliation between Churches and native Hawaiians.

We did a Cleveland project. For six years, we went to Caldwell, New Jersey, where the Sopranos' are from. Caldwell, New Jersey is where President Grover Cleveland was born and his cradle is still there. His house is still there where he was born, so that, so we decided we would make that our, our landing in New Jersey. In six years, we went and visited the historic site and met with the people of Caldwell, New Jersey.

After the second year, they started holding luaus for us, right? This is our way to educate them on Hawaii. Nobody knew anything about Hawaii or the overthrow. And then the second year we were invited to go to New York where a President Grover Cleveland was the Sheriff of New York, and then the mayor and then the governor.

So we, we did our rounds there for six, five years. But in that first year, we made contact with the grandson of president Grover Cleveland. And why, what was so important about Grover Cleveland? Well, he was a supporter of the Queen when she was overthrown.

So we had a great project and grandson came to Hawaii. We put them on a surf board in Makaha and had him paddle a Hawaiian canoe and took him to a luau. He ate everything, right. He was just a great guy, George Cleveland. And through him, we started projects in New York, New Jersey and in Hawaii, just educating people.

That's reconciliation work, yeah. He was able to visit the schools in Hawaii and the church schools. And so that's reconciliation work. And, uh, right now we've got this resolution, a UCC resolution that's been passed on ending the war. And so we organized to get everybody to read that and make a statement.

And we're saying that we need to end the war in Hawaii, the occupation that's been going on in Hawaii. But we want to go beyond that. We want to end all wars, all wars in the world, all wars today that have been ongoing for a long time, but all war. So that's our that's our most current project. And And tourism is a war, right? Tourism is a war we're fighting, too, right..

So, we're gonna follow up on the churches. We're hoping you're going to help us follow up on the churches and bring this issue back to life. It's a tough issue. People have a hard time seeing the relevance, but it's very relevant, very relevant.

Chris: Well, I wanted to ask you for our listeners sake and for my sake, what you think is the relationship between justice and reconciliation in Hawaii? These two terms are often used together, not just in Hawaii, but in many places around the world where these two things are being sought after, especially by indigenous people. Why do you think we find these concepts together?

Kahu Kaleo: Yeah. I'm glad you were able to find my website, our old website, because we did a resolution in 1994. In that resolution there's history, and there is a theology section that talks about justice and reconciliation.

Yeah. You just can't have reconciliation, gotta have justice. Those, those you gotta have, and hopefully you have justice first. They need to do reconciliation. Right. But nothing is ever as simple as it seems everything's quite complicated, but you got to have justice and reconciliation. Those have to be tied together.

A lot of times you can't have justice, right. Somebody cuts off your brother's arm. Right. You can have reconciliation, but you're not going to get his arm back. Right. But, you still got to do, do something related to justice. Right. And so justice and reconciliation, there's some good theology there.

Stolen nation resolution. It's on the website then there's also a sermon by Terry Kawata in one of our events. And I think it's on that website on as well. And he talks about justice and reconciliation now important that is. And he talks about it from the point of view of someone who's family, and he was also incarcerated or put in a internment camp, as a Japanese, as a Japanese American.

A lot of Japanese Americans were put in interment camps and there was a justice and reconciliation process for them, too. But it's interesting to study the relationship between justice and reconciliation. Now that's a simple answer, but what I want to share with you, what Jesus says, if you go to the altar and you bringing a gift to the altar and you have every intention to worship God and to do something honorific, but then Jesus says, if you remember that you have a grudge against your brother, right?

Okay. He said, go and reconcile with your brother, go and reconcile. What does that mean? Right. Well, in the Hawaiian language, a word used for reconcile is whole alone, "ho'olaulea". Now, "ho'olaulea", you know, means to make peace, but it can also mean to make joy, make joy with your brother that you have to reconcile with. Right?

So, that's kind of a flow. You you'll try integrating them with justice and reconciliation. Sometimes, it's not a one-for-one, eye-for-eye kind of a thing, right? It's more human than that. It's gotta be deeper than material or physical things. Right. So, you know, what Jesus is saying is make peace, make joy. It's got some deeper meanings, but at least we want to make joy with those that we may have hurt, you know, and that's not an easy thing to do.

It's probably harder than justice. Justice probably easier. Right. Because you can just do something, but you still don't have the relationship. Right. But making joy is much, much deeper and much, much harder.

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, to make peace with someone, at least I think in the way that I understand it or that I've been taught to understand it is to find a point between two worlds that induces or implicates the absence of war or the absence of conflict. This notion of peace as those things, but joy speaks to something much deeper.

It's not just the stalemate or the tolerance of the other, but the acceptance perhaps, and the willful or willing collaboration between worlds and perhaps in this case, culture. This is often something that I've seen referred to in what very little I understand about these worlds within religious communities interculturality or intercultural, uh, worldviews. For better or worse, this is often something that's also applied to the promotional or marketing strategies of tourism companies: inviting people to learn about other cultures or to engage in responsible or sustainable tourism.

But it often ends up being fairly superficial in the sense where people might learn that the word "Aloha" means "hello," or it's a greeting, when in fact, as you said, it has a much deeper meaning rooted in a distinct and diverse Hawaiian culture that many tourists either don't see or are hidden from, the hula marketing as you put it in your essay.

So I guess my next question is, do you think that what I'm referring to is interculturality and perhaps what you're referring to as reconciliation, do you think that these things can arise through tourism or are they incompatible?

Kahu Kaleo: I think you need another name. Tourism has its own definition now. So, with that current understanding of definition, I don't think it's possible to create a new world with using that term and what that term means today, because you have so much inequity built into that word and very little reciprocity. You have communities that are being impacted by tourism, by that word, by the concepts, by the players and the structures.

So I think you do need a different set of terms and models and ways of thinking about the way people travel and how people are living in the world now, especially after pandemic. How does tourism make sense after the pandemic? And what are the needs that arise as a result of the pandemic related travel?

When Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai all the hotels went down. Now there's a lot of, a lot of our local community workers where we're not working. Of course, we didn't have electricity or water for three or four months, maybe more.

But our group was able to pull together a tourism conference on the island of Kauai. It was titled something like "Shattered Dreams and New Hopes." Yeah, something like that. Right.

But there was a good plan that came up from the community that was community-based. Right. People are really excited about that and that's what needs to happen. Right. I mean, you almost want to take out the big guys at this point. Right. It's like South Africa, you can't just reform and oppressive government.

You have to replace it. You gotta overthrow it. So something has been so oppressive and so unjust and so evil for so many years. You can't, you can't reform it, but you just have to create something new. And I think that's what we tried to do on Kauai.

But I think after pandemic, you've got the same dynamic going on. It's a time to think about rebuilding, how would you rebuild or at least start the conversation? What would you rebuild? But we're projecting that the global industry is run by a group of people sitting in a boardroom around the table.

Right? In fact, it is. A couple of guys running the tourism industry worldwide, but how would you do that differently? So how would you divide up the unity that they have that's being used to exploit people all over the world and make money, right?

How would you break that group up, so that they don't have that kind of power again? Now the Catholic church was very, very critical of the global economy. There was a lot of, a lot of churches were critical of the development of the global economy. And sure enough, the global economy was, was very, very bad for the world.

Because that's the entity that has been controlling the development of tourism in the world, not communities, not people who have special relationships with the mountains and the rivers, right?

So it's a big, that's a big issue. You know, almost we worked with a guy from Australia who was working in Fiji and his, they had a concept that they were developing and they took two valleys and CG in one valley, they would develop a tourism model. It would be for the tourists, right. And the tourists could only go there, in that valley.

In the next valley, all the people that lived in their own village, they worked in that other valley. So in the morning, and so in this village, what they did was they, they did an inventory of what everybody could cook. Everybody that could have a fish. And they made a list of all the talent that they had in this village.

And that's how they developed the tourism arena in the next valley. They used all the people from one valley and develop a tourism industry that was isolated in the next valley. They wouldn't impact the community at all. Right. I mean, that was a interesting model. And you know, the idea was that you don't want these tourists running around all over the place.

Just keep them in that one valley. And I thought, well, there's some merit there. Yeah. And, uh, it's kind of like people going to Disneyland, right. Or people going to a mega resort, right. If you go to Disneyland or a mega resort that has a golf course also recommend most mega resorts have golf course their own golf courses. And then they have homes, rich homes around the golf courses, and then they have little shopping centers. Right. And then they have their own restaurants.

So the tourists don't have to go anywhere. Right. So they make all the money. So actually no money, very little money goes into the community. So that's the concept of tourism that we've seen for many years where they're protecting the visitors spending in the mega resort. And so Hawaii really doesn't get any, get any benefit from me from that model. But there's something to think about and that's the kind of discussion that needs to be looked at now.

Chris: So, we've been speaking for a couple hours now and I'm very grateful for, for your time and for your willingness to speak on these issues. I have one more question, so if, if tourism is an extension of the colonial project, if it is by and large exploitative, then, how do you think tourists, themselves and tourism workers can participate in a world where justice and reconciliation are at the forefront of the meeting between cultures?

Kahu Kaleo: I think that the world is full of contradictions and the world has to figure out how to work together to have sustainability be a real hope, reality.

But so in that discussion about sustainability. Saving the earth and climate change and all of that. I think the tourism discussion has a place there. Yeah. And we're already hearing about how air travel is very destructive on the environment.

And so there's some of that coming into this right now. Travel should be decreased, at least. And instead of just looking at carbon emissions, we should be looking at decreasing tourism emissions, right. And so, so the equity of economic development and tourism tries to sell is really not a true picture.

And so sometimes if you're studying in peace studies, you have like a dictatorship, right. The violence becomes cultural. It's accepted. Right. And we just, we just go along with it. Right. Okay. This is what's happened with tourism. To address cultural violence in a society or country. You got to look at the things that are like pillars holding up that cultural violence.

And you gotta just kind of chip away at those pillars until that cultural violence falls. Yeah. We've seen a lot of examples of that with women issues, right. Constant chipping away of how women have been exploited not treated as equal, but yeah I think there needs to be some stronger analysis of tourism and education.

Black Lives Matter in the United States really shifted the race question quite a bit. And I think it can happen with tourism. Tourism would be a great issue to see, you know, more traction on that.

Chris: So it's kind of crazy to believe, but when you organized the conference on tourism in 1989, I was four years old.

Kahu Kaleo: Wow.

Chris: So, you know, on behalf of our listeners, I want to offer a deep bow for your willingness to join us and speak to these issues. And I'd like to ask if there are any final thoughts that you'd like to share before we depart and how our listeners might learn about the over tourism situation in Hawaii and how they might find out about the Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center.

Kahu Kaleo: Well, like I mentioned earlier, we helped a group of a Hawaiians that wanted to have more "brown faces in high places," hospitality, native Hawaiian Hospitality Association. That was a good project. Everybody's got to do projects like that. Right. And just to bring some equity, race equity, racial justice equity into the economy.

You know, people are looking for ways to do things differently and yeah, there's openings and there's openings everywhere. Gotta get in there.

So stay in touch and I got some good people, younger people and uh, yeah. It's your turn, now. You were four years old, 30 years ago. So, now it's your turn. We're here to support you now.

Chris: Yeah. Well, none of this would be possible without elders like yourself. I hope you know that. Well, thank you once again, Kahu, on behalf of our listeners for joining us today and all of the information regarding the Pacific justice and reconciliation center is posted in our show notes and homework for our guests.

Kahu Kaleo: Thank you so much. I appreciate your time and making this possible. I want to get the information out, for sure. Blessings on you and your work and the people you're working with and God give you every mercy and every grace and every healing and every blessing and give you the new beginning that we're all desiring.

Chris: For you and your people as well.

Expand Full Transcript

More Episodes

View all episodes