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Tourism and Indigenous Rights in Hawaii, USA

The growing tourism industry in Hawaii is leading to crowding, pollution, resource pressures and edging native residents out of important economic and cultural spaces including fishing, and agriculture.


Many Hawaiians depend on the tourism industry for their jobs and while tourists spend $10 billion annually, much of this money leaks out of the state. Despite the importance of tourism to the economy, Hawaiians have opposed inappropriate resort and golf-course development and their urbanizing effects. Reasons include the foreign ownership of the industry and its negative impacts on local communities (

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Tourism and Indigenous Rights in Hawaii, USA
Country:translation missing: en.countries.united_states_of_america
State or province:Hawaii
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict: 1st level:Tourism Recreation
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Military installations
Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Specific commodities:Tourism services
Project Details and Actors
Project details:

As documented by Alfred Crosby and other historians, the original people of Hawai`i, the Kanaka Maoli, numbered 800,000 when Captain Cook landed in 1778. A century later, only 40,000 survived. Kanaka Maoli now make up 20% of the Hawaiian population. After 200 years of racism and systematic impoverishment, the Kanaka Maoli lead Hawai`i in mortality and homelessness ( In 1964, the state leased Makua to the Army for $1 for 65 years until the year 2029. The lease allows the military to use the beach for maneuvers, but in doing so, it infringes on the community's public access rights.

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Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:1900
Company names or state enterprises:Hawaiian Community Development Association
Relevant government actors:Governor of Hawaii, Office of Hawaiian Affairs , Hawaii Advisory Council to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Hawaii Ecumenical Coalition, Environmental Justice Initiative, Cultural Survival, Hawaii Tourism Authority, Ka Lahui Hawaii (a native Hawaiian sovereign nation), Native Hawaiian Legal Council
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
"The Aloha industry. For Hawaiian women, tourism is not a neutral industry." (1)
Forms of mobilization:Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Impacts of the project
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: displacement, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Migration/displacement
New legislation
Under negotiation
Development of alternatives:Some out-of-court settlements have been reached with developers. These agreements seek protection of indigenous sacred sites and burials; unimpeded access to the mauka (mountain) and makai (ocean) cultural and subsistence resources; establishment of community-based indigenous organizations and job training for local people; and support of Hawaiian cultural and environmental restoration programs. In 1989 the Hawai'i Ecumenical Coalition issued "The Hawai'i Declaration on Tourism." This declaration stressed that a state of emergency existed for Hawaiian people and for the fragile island environment. It emphasized that tourism did not benefit the poor and the native Hawaiians; that tourism was a new form of exploitation; and that it was not an indigenous practice. The proposed rectifying actions included: return of the lands held in fiduciary trust by the state to the Native Hawaiian people; an immediate ban on further resort development in rural communities; and assistance to foster a community-based economy as an alternative to tourism (

The temporary downturn of international tourism and the devastation caused by hurricane Iwa on Kaua'i in 1993 encouraged a brief dialogue among tourist officials and Hawaiian grassroots groups to explore the rebuilding of the visitors industry from a community perspective. The proposed plan by Hui Ho `Okipa O Kaua'i called for the establishment of Hawaiian community development corporations and Hawaiian cultural centers. In 1993 the Hawai'i Ecumenical Coalition issued a one page flyer on "Responsible Tourism," proposing "A Hawaiian Point of View" on tourism. This statement indicated that mass tourism and commercialization must give way to a more sensible recognition of the dignity and the needs of the Hawaiian people. This requires respecting the Hawaiian culture and the Hawaiian Islands, and promoting more ethical business practices. Tourists should have better opportunities to learn about Hawaiian people. Exploitation should be avoided by the industry and investments should be made to improve the conditions of Hawaiians (

Native Hawaiians are working to undue the false images of Hawaiian culture that have been created through the tourism industry. Education, especially of young people, is a major component of this "decolonization".
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Many people have already been displaced and their way of life disrupted to make room for tourism
Sources and Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Tourism and Native Hawaiians
[click to view]

(1) The Aloha Industry: For Hawaiian Women, Tourism is Not a Neutral Industry
[click to view]

Fox, C. (2017, December 07). Everything You Need To Know About The Viral Protests Against A Hawaii Telescope. Retrieved from
[click to view], 2018. Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism
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Kelleher, Jennifer Sinco. (2018) “Activists Delay Rebirth of Hawaii Hotel with Elvis Ties.” USA Today,
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Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Hawaii nation
[click to view]

Hawaii Ecumenical Coalition
[click to view]

Cultural Survival
[click to view]

Tourism’s Negative Impact on Native Hawaiians, By Rev. Kaleo Patterson
[click to view]

Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation Handbook
[click to view]

Other documents

Hotel and resort development along coastline
[click to view]

Oahu tourist map
[click to view]

Hawaiian rights activists line Kuhio Highway
[click to view]

Peace protest
[click to view]

[click to view]

Hawaiian National protesting in the streets Protesting against continued illegal American occupation of their lands
[click to view]

Other comments:This is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan
Meta information
Contributor:Bernadette Grafton, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment , Updates were provided March 30, 2018, by Marlotte de Jong, [email protected],
Last update23/07/2018