‘Keep Lahaina Local’: Catholic Apostolate Works to Protect Hawaiians After Tragic Fire

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CV NEWS FEED // In the wake of the Maui wildfires, the leader of a Catholic apostolate on the ground in Lahaina is calling attention to a long-term priority: protecting locals from outsiders taking advantage of the tragedy.

The Vulnerable People Project is focusing its efforts on three things, VPP President Jason Jones told CatholicVote from Maui on Wednesday:

  • Getting necessities to those displaced by the fire,
  • raising funds to help pay for the funerals of those who lost their lives, and
  • protecting locals from losing their property.

“There’s an effort in Hawaii to get the names and numbers of the people from out of state that are preying on these people,” Jones said. “We need to fend them off. We need to protect the people of Lahaina.”

VPP was in Lahaina within 24 hours after the catastrophic wildfire leveled the city. Working together with the Hawaii-based EPIC Ministry, VPP is distributing necessities like clean water, generators, food, and toiletries.

“The Knights of Columbus have also stepped up to help the victims,” Jones said. “Next, VPP will launch a fundraiser to help pay for proper burials and funerals.”

But Jones says that after arriving in Maui, he quickly saw the longer-term need of protecting locals from being ousted from the place they call home.

“We need to keep Lahaina local,” Jones said. “We need to stand with the kanaka and the kamaʻāina. The native Hawaiians and their families who’ve been knitted together in this community for over 130 years need to be protected.”

The Associated Press recently reported on local fears of permanent displacement following the tragedy:

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A fast-moving wildfire that incinerated much of the compact coastal settlement last week has multiplied concerns that any homes rebuilt there will be targeted at affluent outsiders seeking a tropical haven. That would turbo-charge what is already one of Hawaii’s gravest and biggest challenges: the exodus and displacement of Native Hawaiian and local-born residents who can no longer afford to live in their homeland.

“I’m more concerned of big land developers coming in and seeing this charred land as an opportunity to rebuild,” one Lahaina evacuee told the AP. New developments “that we can’t afford, that we can’t afford to live in — that’s what we’re afraid of.”

Jones has heard similar concerns, and he shares them. “The fires are still burning and they’re still looking for bodies, and these predators are descending like vultures,” he said. “We need to protect Hawaiians. They’ve been here for generations – since before Hawaii’s statehood. This is their home, and the idea that you can just tell them to pack up and move to Cleveland lacks empathy.”

The threat of land-grabs by non-local developers is real enough that some officials have spoken out strongly against it. Hawaii Gov. Josh Greene this week warned mainland companies against buying Lahaina properties in the wake of the fire and encouraged locals to report outside offers.

Jones believes many Americans still do not realize the gravity of the situation on the ground. Tourists arrived in Maui directly after the worst of the devastation, Jones said, and many were taken by surprise at the damage.

Jones said the lack of understanding is due to media coverage that has failed to convey the severity of the tragic fire. He also noted that President Joe Biden seemed to downplay it.

“This island just suffered the most devastating natural disaster in its entire history. It’s the worst wildfire in at least a century in the United States,” Jones said. “An entire town burned to the ground – not just two buildings, an entire town gone. A beautiful historic town. You have whole families dead. I know of one family found in a car.”

“This should be hitting America almost in the way 9/11 did,” Jones added. “And I’m not seeing the media treat it with that kind of urgency – I find that startling.”

The people of Hawaii are confused and dismayed by the underwhelming national response to the tragedy as well, Jones said:

It’s bewildering to see how the media treats this, but also the president. When Biden was questioned he couldn’t even say “My heart goes out to the people of Lahaina.” He just said “No comment.”

An entire American city was destroyed. That response is just unimaginable.

If some are downplaying the incident, Jones believes others should be all the more engaged. “All of us need to work together to make sure Lahaina’s people are cared for and protected,” he said. “Americans around the country need to raise their voices and stand with them.”

Readers can find out more about the Vulnerable People Projects work in Hawaii by clicking here.

The post ‘Keep Lahaina Local’: Catholic Apostolate Works to Protect Hawaiians After Tragic Fire appeared first on CatholicVote org.

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