Monday, June 16, 2008

Musings: Cultural Insensitivity

The rain started when it was still dark, but close to dawn, and it fell steady and straight — loud enough to drown out the crowing of countless roosters, heavy enough to delay our walk and hard enough to saturate the ground, where I planted taro last evening in the setting sun’s golden glow.

The glow of stardom is a place where actor Pierce Brosnan, who spends part of his time on Kauai, is accustomed to basking, and he again had that opportunity this past weekend when the Maui Film Festival fawned over him and KGMB news fawned over the fawning.

It seems the Maui Film Festival gave Brosnan its “Maverick Award” in honor of his “commitment to making movies that matter” as well as his “commitment to environmental justice for all creatures of earth.”

This is another example of one of Kauai’s rich residents being lauded for supposedly “doing good” on a large scale while he meanwhile makes life miserable for his neighbors.

I’m referring to his ongoing lawsuit with Cathy Ham Young, who is seeking to have Brosnan release water from his landscape ponds so she can irrigate her taro patch. The case is now moving through the courts.

As is typical of so many who come here for the beauty and lifestyle, but don’t give a rip about the culture, Brosnan seems clueless about the ramifications of his aquatic hoarding or the requirements of being a good land steward.

In gushing over his part-time life in Wainiha Valley, Brosnan is quoted as saying:

I'm Irish and this is a bit like Ireland but with the heat turned up. I love it and it has been great for my children to grow up in a rural neighborhood.

Apparently the heat hasn’t been turned up sufficiently for him to transcend his own petty aesthetic needs so that he can recognize water is crucial to the survival of the Ham Young’s taro patch, which helps to feed their family.

Brosnan wants all the pleasures of a rural lifestyle, but can’t be bothered to follow its most basic principle in return: being a good neighbor.

I’ve seen this sort of selfishness and cultural insensitivity play out over and over again in Hawaii, and it seems to surface frequently when the issue of disturbing iwi — primarily so a newcomer can build a house, hotel or otherwise profit from a land use — comes up.

In recent comments on this blog, I’ve had people (I’ll go with the plural, although it’s hard to tell whether it’s one anonymous or several) say, what’s the big deal about building over burials? They seem to take the position that unless tombstones are in place, the burials don’t really count, and so they might as well be tossed aside or built over. They frequently argue that the past shouldn’t impede “progress,” and have made the claim that activists are opportunistically “using” the bones, and even the kanaka maoli, to try and stop development.

This attitude ignores the fact that the native community has consistently initiated the outcry over the desecration of Hawaiian burials. Those who hold these views also fail to understand that for many kanaka, the issues of development and burial protection are inextricably linked, and they stem from the premise that the people who have occupied this land for centuries should have some significant say in what is done with it, especially when their ancestors are buried on it. These aren’t separate issues.

And it does seem, from the many kanaka I’ve talked to about this issue, that it’s even more offensive when burials are disturbed by an outsider whose primary motivation is making a few bucks.

What it all comes down to is exercising a little cultural sensitivity and respect. And even if you don’t agree, or it doesn’t happen to be your cultural belief, would it really hurt you to put aside your own wants — whether it’s for landscape ponds or a beachfront vacation rental — in order to honor the needs, wishes and traditional practices of those who have already lost so much?

I mean, geez, where's your compassion? Where's your heart?


Anonymous said...

I heard that it wasn't Brosnan who landscaped the place to divert the water; it was landscaped that way two owners ago.

does anyone know the real deal on that?

and if that is the case, did Cathy Ham Young raise hell with the previous owners as well, or just with Mr. Movie Star?

Joan Conrow said...

Regardless of who landscaped it that way, Brosnan could always move to release more water from those ponds. It doesn't have to stay that way. He knows there's a problem and that he could resolve it. Instead, he's choosing to fight in court to maintain the status quo.

And yes, the Ham Youngs have been struggling with various other selfish and clueless upriver neighbors over the years who have attempted to curtail the water flow to their loi, a use that is supposed to have the highest priority under state law.

Anonymous said...

How come when someone like Brosnan gets busted for drugs or for screwing an underage person the tabliods have a field day, but when they screw over some local we hear nothing? Maikai ole.

Anonymous said...

what do you all think of the fact that Teresa Tico, the big environmental lawyer, is Brosnan's attorney?

Anonymous said...

"The premise that the people who have occupied this land for centuries should have some significant say in what is done with it" is faulty.

The correct premise is that the people who currently own the land have every right to do whatever they want on it within current zoning/planning rules.

Relative to the beach house, the burial council has given approval...the most "hawaiian" part of the legal system operative in this situation. All other legal authorities have given approval.

The fact that some don't like it can be noted, but it is not material...they have no "standing".

He can inport a building crew from another island or the mainland...many wealthy people do this anyway. The house will go up sooner or later.

Now, the case of diverting water does have legal precedent, so I'm not sure who is within their legal rights there.

But the beach house...that's a done deal.

Anonymous said...

Brescia submitted a mitigation plan that would have involved moving the 6 or 7 of the remains that will be under the house, but the burial council said no.

Anonymous said...

They said "no" to moving them, but "OK" to building over them.

Anonymous said...

"This attitude ignores the fact that the native community has consistently initiated the outcry over the desecration of Hawaiian burials."

A small number of natives consistently initiate an outcry. They do not represent "the native community." Many native Hawaiians disagree with you that building over remains is "desecration."

Joan Conrow said...

I don't think you have any valid way of quantifying either the percentage of Hawaiians have spoken out against burial disruption or the numbers that don't think it is descretion.

As for Terri Tico serving as Brosnan's attorney, I can only speculate as to why she or Max Graham took that lucrative case, and it doesn't have anything to do with protecting Native Hawaiian water rights, or they'd be representing Cathy.

Anonymous said...

Neither do you, Joan. Maybe you should have said "some in the native community...", not "the native community", implying all or a majority of them.

The Buarial Council is the representative of THE native community in this regard. Their decisions are deemed as the definitive opinion of the majority of the native community.

Otherwise, why isn't there a massive outcry agianst the Council in this matter?

Manawai said...

I’ll withhold judgment on this until the Supreme Court rules on it. The right to flowing water in Hawaii is a well-chewed legal issue heavily influenced by Hawaiian custom. Witness the fact that Hawaii is the home of the longest running court case in U.S. history (McBryde v. Robinson). It was over water rights and the diversion of water for agriculture. If this woman has any historical claim to awai water through Bronson’s property, she will prevail in court. If she doesn’t, then she won’t and she’s barking up the wrong tree.

Joan Conrow said...

Gadfly, the outcry does come from the native community, as opposed to the non-native community, which is why I used that term. I never made any assertion as to how many people are represented within that community, as Anonymous did.

Further, there was a tremendous outcry against the burial council action. It was a lengthy and emotional meeting, and the commissioners were very conflicted. Some of them were crying.

The problem is that the Council has just two options under the law: move or build over. And with this case -- and many others -- people are saying those two options aren't adequate.

You probably weren't here when the Ritz Carlton was built at Kapalua, Maui, but they were given approval to move burials. By the time about 1,000 were taken out, the outcry had gotten so intense that the hotel was redesigned. So it's not always a done deal, and the fact that some people don't like it and squawk about it can and does make a difference in the outcome.

And there's always the chance that the so-called land owner will decide to do the right thing, even if it's not required by law.

Anonymous said...

OK...use of "the native community" vs "the non-native community" is valid, but carries forward the implication of vastly more objection than may actually exist. I would still have said "some in the native community". It's both more accurate and precise.

"The right thing" is very subjective.

It's my opinion that he is doing "the right thing".

It's also my opinion that since only 6-7 remains were found, the Council erred...they should have ruled to move them.

That would have brought all to a somewhat more satisfactory end.

Anonymous said...

This whole thing begs the question that, assuming no remains were found, would there still be such outcry in "the native community" about his building there?

How much of this is really motivated by anti-development with the bones being merely a convenient leverage point?

Anonymous said...

it comes from the non-native community as much or more than from the native community. Basically it comes from the serial activists of all races. Funny how the people complaining about the bones now are the same ones who have been trying to stop this house from day one.

Anonymous said...

Joan, you said, "I never made any assertion as to how many people are represented within that community...." But that's not true, Joan! You said, "...the native community has consistently initiated the outcry...." Either you need to go back to school and take basic grammar again, or you're now retracting what you said in the face of criticism. No, you don't need to go back to school; you knew exactly what you were doing and just wanted the uninformed reader to think that the "native Hawaiian community" is united on the issue of dealing with iwi. How can you say you didn't mean what you said! So much for jounalistic integrity.

Anonymous said...

That's a bit over the top. Her integrety is intact since she didn't say "the entire native community". Any implication was left, quite artfully, to the reader. I believe she was accurate but intentionally "imprecise". I've often used such artful language myself in many a report.

In any case, the law, and a degree of native community opinion, is on his side.

It remains to be seen if gadflys of serial activism (I like that!) will ruin picnic.

Anonymous said...

Off topic but...

is there a way in this blog system to indicate which posts have "new" comments since the last time I accessed the comments on a post?

I supposed it would require a cookie, but that's OK with me.

It's a bother to try to keep track of the last number to see of it's changed when one follows multiple posts and multiple blogs.

Joan Conrow said...

There is an option in comments under Choose an Identify that allows you to be notified by email of follow -up comments. That's the only way I know of to be kept apprised of new comments to a post w/o having to scroll through them all.

Anonymous said...

In other words, Tico and Graham are starfuckers??

Anonymous said...

Or you don't have all the facts and maybe just maybe Brosnan is right in this case.

Anonymous said...

"I believe she was accurate but intentionally "imprecise". I've often used such artful language myself in many a report."

it's sleazy no matter who's doing it. No doubt the ever amoral Gadfly would be a master of dishonesty.

Truth, whole truth, nothing but the truth. There's a reason that's the standard in court where honesty is paramount.

Anonymous said...

Joan, you must be doing something right to attract all of these blog trolls - correcting your grammar and nit-picking minutia instead of responding to your ideas. How frustrating, the drivel.

Anonymous said...

How did anonymous miss all the comments criticising Joan's actual ideas and conclusions?

Anonymous said...

The real problem with this medium is the nature of the beast…blogs. The person who writes the most words, makes the most statements, no matter how outlandish or erroneous, tends to “win” because most people don't care enough to attack point-by-point a myriad of misstatements, preferring instead to address only one or two. Most Internet trolls can't be bothered writing online theses and manifestos.

Anonymous said...

It will never happen. The US will never bow down to UN rules or "international court" decisions that try to dictate to us, such as control of the internet or one world religion, or ceding military authory.

Superpowers do whatever superpowers want to do. And we are still one of those in the UN.

Besides, if the caca bill passes, the fine print will eliminate natives from any further action in that area. They will have given up the point. Not that this was needed anyway.

Who was right or wrong or what "should be" is irrevelant. Hawaiians have as much chance of regaining control of these islands as do the Indians regaining control of AZ, for example.

Katy said...

I hate to say it, but I have to agree that the US will never give anything up on the strength of a UN resolution.

Look at Iraq.

I think a people can have the strongest legal case in history against US occupation, and the most heart-wrenching appeal, and the documents to show the legitimacy of their inherent sovereignty, and that and a few bucks will get them a caffe latte.

I say this because I think we need to be realistic about the nature of the struggle against empire - not just here in Hawai'i but all over the world.

Liberation has never been won in courts controlled by the imperialists, but in the battlefields and the streets.

I hope I'm proven wrong on this - I truly do.

Anonymous said...

If Hawaiian liberation must rely on battlefields and streets, than all is lost already. There arn't the numbers, nor never will be, of people willing to "walk the walk" with blood.

The dream may persist, but only as a dream. Kind of like "Indian nations" on their reservations.

The "nation within a nation" proposal of the pending bill is the only real hope and only real end game they have to win.

Pete Antonson said...

I agree; but, I would add: "Liberators" have more often lost in the streets.

Pete Antonson said...

The "I agree" above was with Katy's Post.

Anonymous said...

The gadflys of serial activism will forever continue to circle the steaming pile we call "civilization" which, in totality, is circling the drain.

They will forever buzz about seeking "justice", "fairness", "equality" in a world where such things are transitory, if appearing at all.

We're all bozos on this bus, as the Firesign Theatre troupe perceptively noted.

And the bus is on its way to going over the cliff. Alas, there will be no survivors.

Hey, but at least there's a free bar on the bus! Approaching "last call for alcahol", however.

Katy said...

I don't necessarily think liberation must be acheived with blood-shed, but that the struggle must be intense and based on a mass movement.

The "internal colonies" of the US (Native Americans, including those from Latin America, Native Alaskans, African-Americans, Kanaka Maoli, etc.) have little chance of winning liberation without the broad support of a cross-section of people. But I also think that the struggle will be aided peripherally by the loss of strength overall by the US as the nations of the world turn their backs on US hegemony.

That's what ultimately helped the non-violent liberation movement in India - England's ultimate inability to hold on to its empire due to universal stresses and war.

By the way, I believe that non-violent movements have often, if not always, been aided in acheiving their goals by peripheral armed conflicts drawing away the strength of their adversaries. (The anti-VietNam war mov't (the vietnamese armed struggle), India's independence movement (World War II), civil rights (the challenge posed by the Black Power movement.)

Anonymous said...

lets not forget the collective power of sovereign beings who act on universal principles of love and respect. the individual and collective struggles of history are part of the evolution of spiritual growth as a species. as we move beyond archaic institutions (military, nations, wall street, etc..) and practices(war, genocide, eco-destruction, religious fanaticism, excessive consumerism, etc..) we transcend the struggles and suffering of the human condition. we've come a long way but have oh so far to go. we don't have much time as our path is long and the days too short to move forward fast but with perseverance we progress. not in my lifetime will i see the end of this path but if we help others move along we have contributed. may you find peace along your path and blessings on your journey.

Pete Antonson said...

Anon 5:07, are you actually plaguarizing Sidharta Gautama?
'Cause he said most of that sometime around 500 BC.

Anonymous said...

And 2500 years later it still isn't working, so it must be a false lead.

About 2000 years ago the Bible stated that "the poor will always be with you" and "you will build houses and someone else will have occupancy", etc.

Now, that has continued to prove true down through the centuries with no end in sight as we look toward the future.

So, be a winner if you can, but acknowledge there has been and will always be losers, many of whom don't really deserve it, but that's just the way of the world.