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Navigating change: Lele Aloha organizers call for unity in shaping the future of Lahaina : Maui Now

Organizer, Archie Kalepa at the Lele Aloha Hoʻulu Lahaina Unity Walk (1.20.24) PC: Wendy Osher

The man behind Saturday’s Lele Aloha Hoʻūlu Lahaina Unity Walk took a moment to share his thoughts on the future of Lahaina and all that has transpired since the devastating wildfires of Aug. 8, 2023.

At the end of a nearly four-mile walk, community organizer Archie Kalepa addressed a crowd gathered at Launiupoko saying, “The depth of our grief and the warmth of our aloha is overwhelming. Today marks a different kind of point in the history of this place.”

Reflecting on the night that Lahaina burned, Kalepa described his feelings as “powerless.”

“I couldn’t even get home. I couldn’t stop it—none of us could. None of us as individuals, as teams, as units, or as brigades could stop it. None of us who have spent our entire careers, our entire lives ensuring the safety of others—we couldn’t stop it,” he said of the wildfire fueled by 80 mph winds and dry grass that fed the fire and kept it low to the ground, outpacing the efforts of firefighters.

There are at least 100 known fatalities from the event, following a search of the five-square-mile burn area. Kalepa said the community continues to mourn the loss of family members and friends, as well as “structures that framed the memories of who we are as a people of Lahaina.”


“We walk together beside the ash today—in remembrance, pain and aloha—together. Lahaina is bearing the burden. All of Hawaiʻi is suffering,” he said.

Organizer, Archie Kalepa greets participants at the Lele Aloha Hoʻulu Lahaina Unity Walk (1.20.24) PC: Wendy Osher

Looking at the rubble that remains, Kalepa posed the question:

“If I could not have stopped it; If our crews, our most courageous, skilled and selfless first responders I know, could not have stopped it—What is required of us now, in the aftermath to continue to walk forward?”

“There are many answers that we do not have today, but I do know this, deep in my naʻau—we will not get there alone. We need the kind of strength and the kind of power that we can only find in one another, in unity,” said Kalepa.

The unity walk extended seaward to shores of Lahaina where the waʻa (canoe) community across Hawaiʻi gathered. Members representing the canoe Makaliʻi from Hawaiʻi Island joined in the walk, and Polynesian Voyaging Society CEO Nainoa Thompson was present at Launiupoko. The tragedy in Lahaina prompted him call for the return of the Polynesian voyaging canoe, Hōkūleʻa, before continuing on its circumnavigation of the Pacific.  


“We cried, because it was the only thing we could do,” said Thompson when he first saw images from Lahaina.

Thompson said Kalepa called him in mid-August asking him, ‘Can you please bring Hōkūleʻa home because we need its light to find the way out of the storm?’ And then he said, ‘But it’s going to be okay, because we are going to change the world… we are going to restore everything that people think we cannot,’ according to Thompson’s account, “so that Lahaina can become a symbol and the reality of what can be done when people come together.”

“Our belief of these canoes being here—and it’s beautiful that we’re all together, here for a single purpose—[is to] aloha, honor, and pay respect to this place, its ancestors, its history, its strength, its courage, its community… to those we had lost that I don’t know, aloha all of them. That’s why we’re here,” said Thompson.

Thompson said that while some may be in disagreement, unity could still be achieved.

“You have an infinite amount of decisions to make, fast. Everybody cannot be communicated to all the time. There’s going to be disagreement, but that is not the definition of unity… We can disagree, but we come together around simple things—love of this land of our ancestors, love of home, love of family, and fight and protect the dignity and the responsibility to make sure that every single child has a future that’s health, that’s clean, that’s safe. This is Lahaina,” said Thompson.


Kalepa said that seeing the deep sea voyaging canoes gathered in Lahaina was a grounding moment for him.

Lele Aloha Hoʻulu Lahaina Unity Walk (1.20.24) PC: Wendy Osher

“I have sailed many voyages, many thousands of miles on the decks of those canoes, and in-between as a lifeguard, as a big wave surfer, as a waterman. I’ve learned the critical lesson time and time again—the lesson of how important it is to understand and respect the ocean that surrounds you, to know the rhythm of the swell in your gut, to trust in your crew like your life would depend on it—because in the chaos of a storm, your life is literally in their hands, and yours in theirs,” said Kalepa.

He said being on a canoe teaches a navigator to understand their surroundings.

“We have to pay attention, look around our canoe. This island is the canoe. We are at the center of rapid environmental change. We see that erosion is impacting West Maui at a rate of 44% faster than the rest of the state. Our water is scarce. Our land is dry. We have to pay attention,” he said.

“We as a people have been voyaging for thousands of years. We understand voyaging. We understand storms. In Lahaina, we’ve been sailing in a different kind of storm for the past 150 years. This has been the storm of westernization, industrialization and colonialism. This is the storm that reached a peak on Aug. 8,” said Kalepa.

Lele Aloha Hoʻulu Lahaina Unity Walk (1.20.24) PC: Wendy Osher

Kaipo Kekona, a Lahaina resident and co-founder of the Nāpili Noho Community Service Center said, “Our town has been built on foundations that speaks volumes to the levels of success of the Hawaiian people. We’ve embraced the differences and the different resources that have come in—some good and some bad, but it has in every way contributed to who we are today. I hope we can hold on to those kinds of values that we share.”

“As we move forward, let us not forget the losses that we took in order to get where we are. Let us build our foundations once again, stronger than before. Let us turn to Ka Malu Ulu O Lele and what it represented. Let us have a firm relationship with our ʻāina, not as a commodity, but as a ʻohana (family),” said Kekona.

Kekona described the pressures that Lahaina and its people are facing and how it is difficult to talk about hopes for the future when there’s difficulties surrounding housing and stability.

“Our ʻāina—this town that we talk about today—is a mother for many of us, and she is destroyed. She is in despair, but we’re going to make that better… Wherever we go from here, I hope that what we do and what we build, brings pride to the people we lost… and when my kids grow older… they’ll be proud of what we’ve done. They can be proud to call Lahaina home,” said Kekona.

Kalepa also used analogy in describing the destruction left behind.

“Our Lahaina is broken. We need to mend her. The fire exposed underlying wounds from the last 150 year storm for the world to see. The decades of rerouting Lahaina’s life-giving water to feed industry instead of ʻāina (land)—that left crisp grasses and arid lands, literally tinder that fed the flames,” said Kalepa.

He continued: “The impossible cost of living that compressed thousands of our families into homes that no longer exist. These issues have come to the surface, showing themselves in the urgency in the wake of this storm. The people of Lahaina—we know how to sail through a storm. This is living proof. We are still here—resilient. We know how to sail through a storm, and ensure our future of generations will survive; but what we must remember, as a people, is how to sail around a storm.”

“We’ve been using the magnetic compass and the western compass, but that is not navigational principles of this place—of our people. In the western compass, we have leaned on tourism and economic development. As two of the four cardinal points, we must abandon the idea that these can orient us on our path,” Kalepa said.

Like their ancestors before them, navigators aboard the canoes that sailed to Lahaina’s shores on Saturday utilized the stars as a compass.

“At the center of that compass is our canoe, our island, our Lahaina, and each of us here has a responsibility for the navigational houses that make up this star compass—community, ʻāina, health, healing. We are ready to place ourselves back within the Hawaiian star compass—a compass that is based around the values of our people and of our place,” said Kalepa.

Kalepa said the future he envisions is one where people are connected, “no matter what race, no matter where you come from. It’s about falling in love and having respect for this place, and being a true part of this community,” he said. “It is important for all of us to have a voice. More important than ever in creating a sail plan for the way forward. We have to make sure we hear from all those who can help change this place for the better… We have one chance to get this right.”

“If we rebuild Lahaina only for Lahaina, we will fail. We have to rebuild Lahaina for all of Hawaiʻi, so that Lahaina can be the example of how we need to move forward for all of Hawaiʻi,” said Kalepa.

In addressing those who gathered and those watching online or via broadcast stream, he extended a list of thanks. “To all of you who came here to walk with us from the other side of the island, mahalo. Mahalo for standing with us today, and every day since the fire. Thank you. To the leaders from Lahaina, those who have been our teachers for many years, and those who have risen in the aftermath, you inspire me. Thank you. To those who helped bring supplies from the sea when there was no access to drive in—Thank you. To all of those feeling the growth, reverberation of this unity movement, listening from your homes, witnessing a commitment to the compass of our ancestors, you are invited. Join us. We need you,” said Kalepa.

“To all the people of Lahaina, our community, our family, I love you. We are Lahaina, and we are claiming the kuleana to shape its future, our future. Lahaina is not lost to us. We are Lahaina,” said Kalepa.

Lele Aloha Hoʻulu Lahaina Unity Walk (1.20.24) PC: Wendy Osher
Source: Maui News

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