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Colonization Made Hawaii a Tinderbox — Poster of the Week

Decolonize Indigenous Land

Gina Savage

Silkscreen, Circa 2020

Alameda, CA


CSPG's Poster of the Week links the rapidly escalating climate crisis with legacies of colonization. Indigenous groups have been warning of this for years. Destruction of natural ecosystems in pursuit of settler colonial capitalism has not only massively damaged Indigenous communities, such as those in Hawaii and California, but also ignored the valuable knowledge Indigenous people have about how to care for and live harmoniously with the natural world.

In Maui, Hawaii, the death toll from last week's fires has reached 111—and with 1,300 people still missing the number is sure to increase. Thousands of residents' homes and businesses were reduced to ashes. It is the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in over a century, and the deadliest event in Hawaiian history. Lāhainā, once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, was destroyed. Survivors are unable to search through the debris or drink local tap water due to a high risk of toxic contaminants, leaving residents in a state of fear and uncertainty.

The fires first started when winds from Hurricane Dora hundreds of miles away blew over a power line. Hawaii's outdoor siren warning system of 80 alarms was never activated by officials, leaving local residents and visitors no time to escape.

Lāhainā historically held large amounts of water. However, British and American colonization decimated the region's resources along with its culture. In the 1800s, agriculture shifted from the native plants to sugar plantations—one of the most water-intensive crops in the world. Large colonizer estates were also built. When 300 U.S. Marines illegally invaded Hawaii in 1893, they overthrew the constitutional monarchy, and banned the Native Hawaiian language. The overthrow was organized by U.S. investors and sugar plantation owners, led by Sanford Dole who became the president of Hawaii after Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown.

Plantation owners and military bases dominated and exploited the land, water, and people. In the 1960s, following the 1959 confirmations of U.S. statehood, Hawaii was radically transformed to meet the needs of mass tourism. Major changes to the landscape and economy severely damaged the natural ecosystem. The current climate crisis exacerbated these changes, resulting in the present devastation.

Native Hawaiians have long grappled with the the challenges posed by settler colonial occupation. However, the recent disaster has intensified concerns that the redevelopment of Lāhainā might occur without the participation of Native Hawaiians. While the community of Maui is still grieving the devastation, real estate developers are already exploiting this crisis to try and obtain cheap land to build luxury properties. This raises the troubling prospect of perpetuating a discriminatory housing crisis, which has already forced many Native Hawaiians to leave their homeland, often relocating to places like Las Vegas. It will take years to rebuild the infrastructure. The destroyed lives and artifacts of Hawaiian history are irreplaceable. But residents need aid and support now!

Donate to the mutual aid funds below to provide resources and support to Maui fire victims:

And support the work of Indigenous organizers to continue to protect Hawaiian land:

Give the land back to Native Hawaiians and all Indigenous nations. Stop contributing to the climate crisis!



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