Feature: Native Hawaiians frustrated with federal government over deadly wildfire

By Hazel Reyes (Xinhua) 16:47, August 18, 2023

HONOLULU, United States, Aug. 17 (Xinhua) -- Spray-painted "X"s now marked both buildings and vehicles along Front Street, the once vibrant heart of Maui island's Lahaina, just 10 days after a devastating wildfire razed the historic town to the ground.

The "X" marks, stark against the backdrop of smoldering ruins, carried a heavy message: the haunting prospect of human remains concealed within with their identities shrouded until advanced forensic tools or the keen senses of cadaver-sniffing dogs could be employed.

Amid the acrid remnants of destruction, an atmosphere laden with grief enveloped Front Street as the odor of charcoal assaulted the nostrils of relief workers and returning residents.

Lahaina, once the crown jewel of Maui's tourism trade, stands no more, while more questions are raised by local residents, most of them being Native Hawaiians, as to where are aids from the federal government and if they can trust Washington's promise, among others.

Frazzled nerves and exhaustion are taking a toll on the countless volunteers who provided food and supplies donated in the first few critical days of the worst natural disaster in modern Hawaiian history.

Nearly 100 percent of the food, water and supplies collected were privately donated and those desperately needed necessities were delivered by privately owned Hawaii Food Alliance (HFA) trucks, according to local residents.

For years, Chad Buck, owner of HFA logistics, has been cautioning against Hawaii's unpreparedness for a disaster. Tragically, his concerns were validated on Aug. 8 with Maui's wildfire catastrophe, which claimed at least 111 lives by Thursday.

Buck's trucks became a lifeline, shuttling pallet after pallet of vital supplies to the perilous and restricted zones on the island's west side -- the areas most desperate for aid. However, most of the supplies were not provided by government agencies which have been accused of incompetence.

It's fortunate that local government agencies reached out to Buck nearly immediately for help and his reputation in the community smoothed the way to get things done quickly with multi-layers of quick-moving cooperation not usual in laid-back Maui.

In an interview with Xinhua on Wednesday, Buck attributed the success of his efforts to the community, acknowledging their contributions in providing the supplies his trucks have delivered to those in dire need.

"This was Ohana to Ohana," he told Xinhua using the Hawaiian word for "family" to emphasize that the entire rescue operation sprung up naturally among those from a community where the Aloha Spirit of love, kindness and care shines through every hardship.

However, the government or well-known charitable agencies were still hardly to be found since the catastrophe occurred, said Kai Lenny, a world-renowned professional surfer, who was on the ground and verified the concerns voiced by Maui residents across the island.

"It was just like, day after day, 'Where are they?'" said Lenny. "I haven't seen one state, one county, one federal official at any one of the donation hubs where people are most suffering. People are sleeping in their cars. People are asking for specific items now."

Emotions and frustration reached a breaking point among Hawaiians and volunteers, days after leadership teams from the federal government and independent charitable organizations arrived and wielded authority and exerted influence over local government and regional counterparts.

Coupled with a storied past with the U.S. federal government because of the colonization and the annexation of the Hawaiian islands to the United States in 1898, even the most enthusiastic native Hawaiian supporters of America harbor some hesitancy in trusting Washington.

Still, many expressed hope that U.S. President Joe Biden's promises of help and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's arrival on the scene will bring real assistance to the former capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii and the island of Maui.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


Related Stories