(BIVN) – Native gathering rights and the origins of the Hawaiʻi County Game Management Advisory Commission were presented during a recent GMAC meeting in Hilo.
Terri Napeahi, substituting for Palikapu Dedman of the Pele Defense Fund, explained to the current commissioners on April 15 how GMAC was created 7 years ago, and the original intention to create home-rule oversight of Hawaiʻi Island resources.
Napeahi also explained to the commissioners that the cornerstone of Hawaiian traditional and customary rights to hunt and/or gather is found in Article XII Section 7 of the State Constitution, which reads:
The State reaffirms and shall protect all rights, customarily and traditionally exercised for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes and possessed by ahupuaʻa tenants who are descendants of native Hawaiians who inhabited the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778, subject to the right of the State to regulate such rights.
Napeahi also told the commission that they should be working on a game management plan, even without state help. She pointed to the County legislation that was enacted with the help of then-council chair Dominic Yagong that led to the creation of GMAC.
“You work closely with the hunters and fishermen,” Napeahi said. “You should allow them to help you, help them, [to] manage it well. [The Department of Land and Natural Resources] is enforcement, they’re not managers. That’s their job.”
“And how are you gonna do that, if you don’t have a plan,” Napeahi asked.
Napeahi said Pele Defense Fund has been working on an exemption for Native Hawaiian gathering rights for a long time. “Why are we not doing that?” she asked. “Because game management plan is not available.”
“I stood in a courtroom with a lot of the hunters and fishermen that have violated regulations, from fishing with a small net or even a spear,” she said, recounting how one man “took his son to go show him how to spear in a little pond; DLNR took them to court. Now, there’s no separate court for our customary practices. You go to criminal court. Did you know that? Our hunters and fishermen go to criminal court, they stand with all the criminals. Now, how does it make me feel as a Hawaiian, standing there knowing that it is my right, and I have to be in front of a judge telling me you can pay for violating a rule and regulation. Rule and regulation is different from state constitution. This is not being abided by. And it should start here at the Game Management Advisory [Commission]. And this is what we are here for today.”