Community Outreach Update: Ola I Ka Wai Initiative
by D. Kapua Sproat Visiting Assistant Professor

The Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law’s Community Outreach Program develops and facilitates outreach programs to both Native Hawaiian youth and community members.  Our newest endeavor – the Ola I Ka Wai Initiative – involves creating and publishing a primer on water rights and issues, along with community outreach to disseminate such information to rural Native Hawaiian communities. 

Ola I Ka Wai. In island communities like Hawai‘i, water is the source of all life. Water is also a foundation of our indigenous culture, and is a kinolau (embodiment) of the Akua Kāne (one of Hawai‘i’s principal gods).  Due in no small part to this sacred origin, water in Hawai‘i is a public trust resource, which means that it is held in trust for present and future generations. Despite this important designation, for many years, water in Hawai‘i has and often continues to be managed as a commodity, to the detriment of Native Hawaiian rights and interests. 

In June 2007, the Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law received funding from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in support of its Ola I Ka Wai Initiative. Despite strong constitutional, statutory, and common law protections for Native Hawaiian rights and practices, these entitlements are often ignored as citizens lack the financial and other resources to enforce them. Through this effort, the Center hopes to provide educational resources and capacity building for rural Hawaiian communities regarding water rights and issues. 

This project provides training for students and legal assistance to grassroots communities, and will include the publication of a water rights primer along with community outreach to disseminate such information.  To maximize outreach and access to this information, the primer and other information will also be available on our website in a downloadable version.

Over the next year and half, we will conduct six workshops: one on Kaua‘i and Maui and two on O‘ahu and Hawai‘i Island.  The object of these workshops is to provide information on water rights and issues (including the State Constitution and Water Code), discuss current strengths and weaknesses in implementation of water laws, learn about hot ground and surface water issues on each of the islands, and propose potential legal and other strategies for communities to protect and restore their streams and communities. This statewide effort will help to inspire and enable rural communities, small family farmers, Hawaiian organizations, environmental groups, and Hawaiian Homesteaders, all whom have an immediate interest in preserving and protecting Hawai‘i’s ground and surface water resources today and into the future.

Second year law student Malama Minn is partnering with Assistant Professor Kapua Sproat and others in support of this initiative.  For more information, including adding your name to a list of individuals interested in receiving information about this effort, email nhlawctr@hawaii.edu or call (808) 956-8411.  Mahalo!