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
NameTourism and Indigenous Rights in Hawaii, USA
CountryUnited States of America
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 CommoditiesLand
Tourism services
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsAs 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.

The state continues to promote growth by subsidizing conventional tourism development, and is planning for a de facto population of 1.8 million, including 262,000 visitors daily, and 12.6 million tourists annually, with a total of 131,000 hotel rooms by the year 2020 (

Thirty years ago, at statehood, Hawaii residents out-numbered tourists by more than two to one. Today, tourists outnumber residents six to one, and they outnumber native Hawaiians thirty to one. On a worldwide scale, Hawaii has the greatest projected expansion of tourism, as the state anticipates a tidal wave of 12 million tourists annually by the year 2010. Hawaii ranks sixth in the world in tourist visits, with most of them coming from Japan and North America.
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Start Date1900
Company Names or State EnterprisesHawaiian Community Development Association
Relevant government actorsGovernor of Hawaii, Office of Hawaiian Affairs , Hawaii Advisory Council to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersHawaii Ecumenical Coalition, Environmental Justice Initiative, Cultural Survival, Hawaii Tourism Authority, Ka Lahui Hawaii (a native Hawaiian sovereign nation), Native Hawaiian Legal Council
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
"The Aloha industry. For Hawaiian women, tourism is not a neutral industry." (1)
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseMigration/displacement
New legislation
Under negotiation
Development of AlternativesSome 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 as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Many people have already been displaced and their way of life disrupted to make room for tourism
Sources and Materials

Tourism and Native Hawaiians
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(1) The Aloha Industry: For Hawaiian Women, Tourism is Not a Neutral Industry
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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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Hawaii nation
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Hawaii Ecumenical Coalition
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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
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Oahu tourist map
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Hawaiian rights activists line Kuhio Highway
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Hawaiian National protesting in the streets Protesting against continued illegal American occupation of their lands
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Peace protest
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Other CommentsThis 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
ContributorBernadette 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