Preservation sought for Kalaupapa


POSTED: Friday, April 24, 2009

More than 70 people gathered last night to share their experiences in Kalaupapa at a meeting on the future of the former settlement for Hansen's disease patients. The overriding sentiment: “;Don't change it.”;

The purpose for the National Park Service workshop at Bishop Museum Atherton Halau, one of 12 public meetings, was to look at what the place will be when the remaining 20 patients are gone.

Speakers emphasized that the remote Molokai peninsula is foremost a Hawaiian place. People lived there for 800 years before the kingdom of Hawaii created a quarantine settlement for Hansen's disease (leprosy).

The spirituality of the place, often linked to Christian missionaries, particularly Father Damien DeVeuster and Mother Marianne Cope, who served there, is also rooted in its Hawaiian history, said Tony Lenchenko, whose great-grandparents are buried there.

“;I'd like to see the history told about how inventive, how creative, how happy people who lived there were,”; said Pauline Hess, whose mother and other relatives were patients. “;Suffering is part of the story, but so is joy and coming together as a community.”;

The 1980 law creating the national park provides that native Hawaiians be given preference for jobs there, but Esther Kiaaina, whose great-grandparents are buried in the settlement, said the top jobs are still held by non-Hawaiians. She said the park service should work with Hawaiian organizations to create training initiatives that raise Hawaiians to decision-making positions.

About 90 percent of the 8,000 patients sent there between 1866 and 1969 were of Hawaiian ancestry.

The National Park Service owns 23 acres of the peninsula. The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands holds 1,247 acres, which are leased to the park service through 2041. Concerns were raised last night about the prospect that homesteads would be developed there in the future.

Kalaupapa is currently home to about 80 people, including the 20 former patients who are guaranteed lifetime residency and medical care under state law. Also working in the settlement are state Department of Health employees and about an equal number of park service workers.

The number of visitors to the settlement currently is limited by law to 100 per day, but geography and minimal airline service are the real limitations.