In Solidarity with Maui: Taking Action for Wildfire Response, Recovery, and Prevention
This collection was created in partnership with Honuʻāina Nichols (they/them/ʻoia) , a queer kānaka maoli, kiaʻi wai (water protector), and haʻi ʻōlelo (orator), living on the island of Oʻahu. Honu serves as the Climate Education Coordinator at Loko Ea fishpond in the North Shore of Haleʻiwa, and is a NACRP (National Association of Climate Resilience Planners) facilitator, member of the Young Climate Leaders of Color 2023 cohort with the People's Climate Innovation Center, and a Center for Native American Youth 2023 Champion for Change. We offer our gratitude to Honu for their time, energy, and extensive expertise.
Not even six weeks after Canada reported its worst recorded wildfire season—with smoke reaching all the way to Europe and over a third of U.S. residents (120+ million people) under air quality alerts—widespread wildfires erupted across Maui, Hawai'i’s second largest island. Beginning August 8, 2023, the Maui fires have claimed more than 10 square miles of Maui's total area of 735 square miles. One of the deadliest wildfires in over a century devastated Lahaina—a city of great cultural importance and the former capital of Hawai'i when the islands were an independent kingdom. The Lahaina fires have claimed over 100 lives, burned over 2,000 acres, and damaged or destroyed over 2,000 buildings, including homes, businesses, cultural centers, and historic sites. Today, fires across the island are not yet fully contained, despite being described as preventable and predictable.
In addition to the immense losses of life, history, community, land, and infrastructure, these fires have contributed to widespread issues that impact all of us. Wildfire smoke clouds North American summers, making air unbreathable. For those forced inside, mental health, exercise, work, care access, food access, and physical health become more challenging. For those exposed, wildfire smoke can lead to extensive health complications—from worsening asthma, COPD, and heart conditions, to endangering pregnancy, and increasing the risks of heart attack, stroke, lung cancer, and cognitive decline. Wildfires overburden healthcare, emergency, and other urgent services; contribute to housing crises; and lead to cascading economic losses by disrupting supply chains, damaging or destroying businesses, farmland, and factories, and clogging and cutting off freight arteries.
Our health, well-being, and ways of life are intimately connected with our environment. Our climate impacts us, and with climate change fueling rising temperatures and increasing droughts, wildfires and other ecological disasters are not going away. It is time for wildfires to shift from the sole responsibility of disaster management and responders (and everyone else’s backburner) to a critical, cross-sector action area for all involved in health, well-being, equity, and justice.
This collection is designed to stand in solidarity with Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) and Maui survivors, while supporting changemakers in all fields ready to advance equitable well-being through wildfire response, mitigation, and prevention. Improving wildfire—and other ecological disasters—response and prevention sits in the broader context of community resilience, climate justice, and health equity. Because ecological disasters and climate justice impact many aspects of life—from physical and mental health to housing, transportation, and food systems—action can take many forms. Actions should center the leadership and lived experiences of those most impacted; take root in collective action and community-driven solutions; support cross-sector collaboration and multi-solving; and cultivate transformative change across levels of impact and spans of time.
Below, delve deeper into key action areas—and discover related leaders, resources, tools, datasets, maps, policy briefs, and stories—surrounding the 2023 Maui wildfires, wildfire prevention and response, and intersectional topics. When in doubt, look to local leaders, Indigenous communities, and those most impacted to guide solutions and calls to action.
Solidarity with Maui Wildfire Survivors
Immediate actions during and directly following ecological disasters must be taken in solidarity with those most impacted, follow their leadership, support their solutions, and uplift their voices. Currently, the Lahaina fire has claimed 114 lives and 850 more are missing. Search and rescue efforts are ongoing, and food, water, electricity, internet access, and other basic needs continue to be a challenge. Lahaina's large im/migrant populations--including Latinx, Filipinx, and others--are struggling with resource access, lost documentation, translation, and fears of deportation. The disaster response has been slow, and many community members are experiencing significant mistrust of governmental relief efforts, so local residents have set up mutual aid networks and translation services to support each other.
In addition to immediate shelter concerns, many local residents are at risk of being permanently displaced. This is due in part to gentrification, fires exacerbating the pre-existing housing crisis, the cost and long-term impacts of recovery, and predatory investors attempting to purchase land from vulnerable residents and businesses in Lahaina. Locals are also fighting an attempted water grab. Kānaka Maoli are especially wary of exclusion in recovery efforts, despite being best-positioned to guide renewal efforts due to their ecological and cultural knowledge, and longstanding leadership in the community.
Lahainaʻs pre-colonial history is particularly important for people to know because it reveals the deeply unnatural roots of this so-called "natural" disaster. Lahaina used to be a wetland. It was the heart and capital of Hawaii before statehood, before we were a territory, before we were illegally annexed.
For years, Maui residents have been under water restrictions, while hotels and resorts, which are top water users, remain exempt. Kanaka Maoli have been calling for our water back for years with no action. [Now, there are] misleading water stories, [attempts] to persuade the public to start questioning kalo farmersʻ water rights, and pitting Native Hawaiians and community members against each other during their greatest time of need. -- Honuʻāina Nichols
What we can do:
- Directly support Maui survivors who are impacted by the fires; lists created by local organizers, such as Directly Donate to Maui ‘Ohana, lift up local residents who are having difficulties accessing formal aid and for whom the aid has been inadequate
- Share resources for survivors and donate to on-the-ground organizations providing support (see Key Leaders and Initiatives below)
- Sign and share the Stop Maui Land Grab Petition to help combat predatory investing
- Support Kānaka Maoli land and water rights, and combat anti-Native narratives, such as blaming Indigenous farmers for inadequate water for firefighting
Center and support Kānaka Maoli leadership, Indigenous knowledge, and cultural practices
Ensure Kānaka Maoli and other BIPOC residents are prioritized in response efforts, as well as early discussions regarding recovery and renewal
Key leaders and initiatives:
Keeaumoku Kapu and Uʻilani Kapu — Nā Aikāne o Maui Cultural Center and Puʻuhonua (place of refuge) in the center of Lahaina (Venmo link for direct contributions to these local organizers)
Roots Reborn Lahaina — Assistance for Im/migrant families and individuals
CERENE (Center for Resilient Neighborhoods) — Collaborative community-led resilience initiative in Hawai'i
Maui County — Disaster Relief Program
NAMI Hawaii — Maui Strong Support Groups
Hawai‘i Community Foundation — Maui Strong Fund
Center for Disaster Philanthropy — Maui Wildfires Recovery Fund
Nā Hale O Maui — Community Land Trust program
Multi-Solving for Public Health and Climate Justice
In order to be most effective, ecological disaster response must advance public health, equity, and justice across sectors and settings, instead of working in silos. Ecological disasters directly impact health and well-being, and social determinants of health make up many of the same factors associated with communities’ capacity to prevent, respond to, and recover from ecological disasters. Because public health and climate justice are inherently linked, they should be addressed together through multi-solving—working across sectors to address multiple challenges with single policies or investments.
The fierce and rapid spread of the Maui fires has been attributed to a combination of severe droughts (and higher temperatures and lower rainfall), “stronger-than-usual” hurricane winds, Hawaiian Electric’s failure to deploy a public power shutoff plan, and pre-existing conditions, including the prevalence of unmaintained, non-native grasses in areas where the economy has shifted from predominantly agriculture to tourism. These factors—heatwaves, droughts, stronger hurricanes, and other environmental challenges—also impact public health. In turn, public health factors like care infrastructure, affordable housing, social capital, and economic sustainability impact local communities’ ability to prevent, prepare for, mitigate, and respond to ecological disasters like wildfires. For Maui, advancing public health and climate justice together might include: increasing affordable housing, improving disaster planning, cultivating belonging for marginalized residents, and expanding equitable economic opportunities beyond tourism. It’s also imperative to acknowledge and address long-standing historical legacies of colonialism, racism, exploitation, and exclusion that continue to impact Hawai'i today.
Climate and human rights are interconnected. Climate change as a term somewhat decenters the role of American occupation in this crisis. Drought in Maui is very much the result of water diversion and theft. And climate change is very rarely spoken about in the context of imperialism/colonialism, but you could not have the preconditions for climate change—mass industrialization, globalization, commodification of natural resources etc.—without stealing native land and dispossessing native people of their historic role as land stewards (via methods of genocide and forced relocation.) -- Honuʻāina Nichols
These legacies of harm are not unique to Hawai'i, nor are they unique to any one sector in particular. Public health, planning, disaster management, food systems, economics, social work, etc. all have histories of exclusion, discrimination, and harm to marginalized communities. This is especially true in wildfire response and prevention, as it relates to environmental racism, environmental ableism, climate colonialism, redlining, and other spatial and environmental inequities. Changemakers have the opportunity to work across silos to reverse decades of harmful legacies and cultivate equity and justice.
What we can do:
Recognizing that recovery will take years, continue to support and amplify recovery efforts in Maui in the coming months and years
Learn more about the relationships between health disparities and climate change, and health equity and climate justice
Acknowledge and work to address the long-standing legacies—rooted in colonialism—of racism, ableism, sexism, and classism in public health, planning, disaster management, social work, and related fields
Multi-solve: address multiple challenges with each policy and investment
Address systemic, historical, and surrounding causes of vulnerability for both disasters and health issues
Improve data and data-driven guidance and investments surrounding wildfire prevention, as well as wildfire impacts like smoke and economic disruption
Cultivating Resilience and Community-Driven Renewal
Actions to prevent and respond to ecological disasters must center community resilience and equitable, community-driven renewal, rather than top-down recovery. Top-down recovery and outsider “rescue” narratives are often unsustainable and unwelcome—they frequently lack cultural and local context, fail to establish community buy-in, and undervalue community strengths, assets, and power. This is especially true in BIPOC communities.
Solutions that are community-driven and center partnership, shared ownership, and lived experience are more sustainable, effective, and efficient. Ultimately, addressing the underlying community circumstances—as identified by the community—will increase communities’ pre-disaster capacity to manage disasters in a way that advances equitable well-being for all. When centered around equity and justice, community-driven processes tap into expansive reservoirs of energy, skill, knowledge, and leadership to help us shift from a response and recovery mindset to one focused on resilience and renewal. For renewal in Maui, this could include centering Kānaka Maoli, BIPOC, disabled, and other marginalized voices, following Indigenous leadership, making space for the local community to drive the conversation around recovery and resilience, and addressing underlying factors and legacies contributing to inequity and injustice in Hawai'i.
This greed is only going to continue if we donʻt stop it. Right now, on my home island, there are disaster capitalists that are meeting with elected officials, salivating at the models, trying to figure out how to exploit the situation and rebuild Lahaina in a way thatʻs unrecognizable to anyone with any roots there. --Kaniela Ing
What we can do:
Learn more about community resilience, vulnerability, and capacity building
Learn more about shifting from response and recovery to renewal and resilience
Leverage community-driven planning, assessment, and solutions to cultivate equity, justice, and well-being
Advocate for shared ownership, shared stewardship, and shared investment in community challenges and solutions
Join the National Association of Climate Resilience Planners and tune into the next Vision Power Solution series
Advocate for flexible funding that supports nonprofit resilience
Building Momentum for Transformative Systems Change
Actions surrounding ecological disasters should build momentum for transformative change, not flashpoints that fizzle out. Wildfires—along with other climate change indicators like rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms—are not going away. Rather, they are expected to continue to worsen until sufficient efforts are made in prevention and mitigation. The actions we take today must spur not only the changes directly in front of us, but the transformation of systems decades into the future.
Shifting our focus to long-term issues, solutions, and impacts involves capturing and maintaining today’s momentum for tomorrow’s cultural and systemic transformation. This might look like shifting power dynamics, mindsets, narratives, and/or cultural norms, and must include confronting and addressing all of the areas where we remain stuck as a society, including racism, ableism, sexism, and the ongoing legacies of colonialism.
[There is] no environmental justice without social justice. The state is CULPABLE, America is CULPABLE for this disaster. The scale of loss [in the Lahaina fires] could have entirely been prevented. The climate crisis is here and is the end-stage expression of colonial capitalism. No one will be safe from the fires and floods and those who are already hit the hardest are the people who have been crushed by this system.
Please support the return of [stolen] lands... The original land stewards must be supported in reawakening land practices that harmonize with the way of life. Not just in Hawaii but all over the world. -- Honuʻāina Nichols
What we can do:
Supporting Indigenous sovereignty movements, including the movement for Kānaka Maoli / Hawaiian sovereignty
Learn more about Policy, Systems, and Environmental (PSE) change, and commit to considering the systems impacts of every action taken for the Maui fires—and other future disasters
Advocate for decolonizing and indigenizing environmental work by adopting Indigenous frameworks and practices, such as prescribed low-intensity burns for fire management
Support Indigenous communities’ sovereignty, self-determination, and self-definition, including their self-definition of well-being and their own forms of assessment—like the Āina Connectedness Scale and the Wicozani Instrument
Ultimately, all actions should come together to advance equitable well-being for all people by centering lived experiences, partnership, and collective action; multi-solving across sectors (i.e. public health, housing, environment, and mental health); spanning multiple levels of impact (individual, social, community, institutional, cultural, and systemic); and maintaining continuity across frames of time (i.e. immediate, near future, future, and intergenerational). Together, we have the power to create lasting change. Join us in sharing these actions and standing in solidarity with Maui.
The solution to climate change is principled struggle—together.
-- Honuʻāina Nichols
Please reach out with any suggested actions, resources, stories, or tools you think should be included here. We are committed to advancing health equity and climate justice at all stages of disaster response, renewal, and prevention. We would love to hear from you and partner in this work together.
Serin Bond-Yancey (they/she) is a Disabled, queer, multiply-neurodivergent, antiracist accomplice and communications, equity, and accessibility professional. They are the Senior Communications and Design Consultant at IP3, and a Staff Editor for Community Commons.
Honuʻāina Nichols (they/them/ʻoia) is a queer kānaka maoli, kiaʻi wai (water protector), haʻi ʻōlelo (orator), living on the island of Oʻahu. While completing their undergraduate in Political Science, International Relations and Environmental Policy at UC Santa Barbara, Honu worked as a grassroots organizer for the campaign, UCDivestTMT, at school, home and has traveled to Washington DC to advocate on behalf of the sovereignty of their people. They are a current member of the YCLC and NACRP program working to build community power for a climate resilient future in their hometown. They are accountable to their lāhui (nation) across Hawaiʻi but feel their kuleana (responsibility) calls for them to be working at traditional loko iʻa (fishponds). They currently serve as the Climate Education Coordinator at Loko Ea fishpond in the North Shore of Haleʻiwa.
Native Hawaiian Health, Well-Being