BY SYDNEY ROSS SINGER – Do people belong in the environment?  A class action lawsuit being prepared by the Pele Defense Fund may help decide that question.  At issue is conservation versus public use of wild spaces.

When we think of conservation, we are supposed to have a warm fuzzy feeling that we are protecting animals, plants, and special places from people.  People are apparently the bad guys, and saving nature means getting rid of the people – even if they have lived there for centuries.

The indigenous peoples of Hawaii are now being threatened by conservation.  Hunting and gathering has been practiced in Hawaii for generations as a necessary part of survival.  Now, the Hawaii government is planning the eradication of the wild food animals and the plants that feed them, all in the name of conservation.

Hundreds of thousands of acres of Hawaii’s public lands have already been fenced off from public use.  Only scientists and government workers have unlimited access to these areas.  Eight foot high fences keep out hikers, bird watchers, nature enthusiasts, hunters, and gatherers.  Meanwhile, nonnative plants and animals are being poisoned, shot, trapped, and eradicated.

Apparently, the wild sheep, goats, pigs, deer, and cattle are no longer considered food but “invasive species”.  The fruit trees and vines, such as strawberry guava and banana poka (a type of passion fruit), which feed the wildlife and people, are also considered “invasive”.  As a result, the people who have relied on these food resources for generations are in trouble.

Many of these people are of Hawaiian ancestry.  Many are not.  All share the common culture of hunting and gathering.  And now,  faced with declining wild food resources and an ever rising cost of living, they are finding it too expensive to live in Hawaii any longer.

Recent headlines announced the increased exodus of local residents to the Mainland.  They are being chased away in part by government conservation policies that place nature above people, trying to erase centuries of food species introductions that have been sustaining the local culture.

Why kill wild foods, especially when the Hawaii government advocates for food self-sufficiency for our island residents?  Perhaps it’s because the hunting and gathering culture, like the so-called “invasive species” on which they survive, is no longer welcome in the Aloha State.

Conflict between indigenous peoples and conservation is a longtime problem.   According to Dr. Peter Kareiva, head scientist for the Nature Conservancy, one of the biggest threats to indigenous peoples around the world is conservation and the removal of people from the land on which they live.

Here is some history.  (References at the end.)

Yosemite was occupied by Miwok Indians growing crops, white settlers raising sheep, and miners seeking gold and other minerals. Not long after John Muir, head of the Sierra Club, built himself a cabin and a water-powered mill he decided the other occupants had to go.  Muir vigorously backed the expulsion of the Miwok.  The Yosemite model spread to other national parks, including Yellowstone, where the forced evictions killed 300 Shoshone Indians in one day.

In 2009, journalist Mark Dowie published Conservation Refugees, which estimated, “About half the land selected for protection by the global conservation establishment over the past century was either occupied or regularly used by indigenous peoples. In the Americas that number is over 80 percent.”

Estimates vary from five million people displaced over the last century by conservation to tens of millions, with one Cornell University professor estimating that 14 million individuals have been displaced by conservation in Africa alone.

According to Kareiva, “In the early 1990s, indigenous groups spoke out against these evictions at various forums, including at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio. As a result, conservation groups pledged to respect and work with the communities living in or around protected areas…But by 2004, the conflicts had only increased. That spring, the International Forum on Indigenous Mapping resulted in a declaration signed by all 200 delegates that the “activities of conservation organizations now represent the single biggest threat to the integrity of indigenous lands.””

However, not all the people of Hawaii are buying their tickets to the Mainland just yet.  They are preparing to legally fight for their land.  The Pele Defense Fund (PDF) is raising $40,000 for a class action lawsuit to save the wild for the people, and preserve the hunting and gathering lifestyle that is the peoples’ right.

According to Palikapu Dedman, President of the PDF, “All funds received by hunters  and supporters will go to immediate use for a retainer or down payment  to the attorney who will file a class action law suit to stop immediate  fencing and eradication  of deer,  sheep, goats, pigs and cattle on DLNR lands including NARS (Natural Area Reserve System) areas. We feel there is strong evidence of traditional and customary practices that have been grossly neglected in the designated fence lands to date, including Department  of Hawaiian  Home Lands. These funds will be kept in a litigation account with PDF and only used as such. Let’s all stand together and protect the resources and life style of our island for our keiki’s future. Hunting and gathering are the same.  It is not just a right but our responsibility.”

Pele Defense Fund can be reached at:

P.O Box 4969

Hilo, Hawai’i  96724

(808) 315-9996


1. Kareiva, P., Lalasz, R., and Marvier, M., “Conservation in the Anthropocene” Breakthrough Journal, No. 2, Fall, 2011.

2. Dowie, Mark. 2009. “Conservation: Indigenous People’s Enemy No. 1?” Mother Jones, November 25.

3. Agrawal, A., and K. Redford. 2009. “Conservation and displacement: An overview.” Conservation and Society 7(1): 1.

4. Dowie, M. 2009. Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples. Boston: MIT Press. 12.

5. Ibid.

6. Dowie, Mark. 2005. “Conservation Refugees.” Orion, November/December 2005.

7. Emerton, L. 1999. “Balancing the Opportunity Costs of Wildlife Conservation for Communities Around Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda.” Evaluating Eden Series discussion paper prepared for the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

8. Curran, L.M. et al. 2004. “Lowland forest loss in protected areas of Indonesian Borneo.” Science 303 (5660): 1000-3; Naughton-Treves, L., Holland, M.B. and K. Brandon. 2005. “The Role of Protected Areas in Conserving Biodiversity and Sustaining Local Livelihoods.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 30 (1): 219-252.