In the Extinction Capital of the World, A Native School Is Restoring Indigenous Forests
March 13, 2023
ISLAND OF HAWAIʻI-Botanists Reid Loo and Nāmaka Whitehead speak about the Indigenous plants of Hawaiʻi Island as though they are speaking about relatives. As Native Hawaiʻians, they are. They remember what certain plants looked like as babies, where they've traveled to and from, and the folklore of those relatives they never got a chance to meet.
"We recognize a shared ancestry with our islands and all of the species, the landforms, the weather forms, and everything else that exists upon our islands," said Whitehead, a senior natural resource manager for the Kamehameha Schools, the largest land steward in the state of Hawaiʻi. "They shaped who we are as Hawaiʻians- every single one of them- and therefore, they're all critical to our identity."
Since British explorer James Cook landed on Kauaʻi Island in 1778, invasive species have afflicted the Hawaiʻian ecosystem-from early European settlers and American missionaries who introduced new diseases and colonial attitudes, to pigs and goats the colonizers brought with them that fed on Indigenous vegetation. In more recent times, a fast-killing fungus wiped out thousands of Hawaiʻi's sacred ʻōhiʻa trees, and the tourism industry that took root in the 1960s has exponentially driven up the cost of property and rent, resulting in disproportionate levels of homelessness among Native Hawaiʻians.