Biocultural Restoration

Discussion Leader: Dr. Charles “Doc” Burrows

Recorder: Travis Idol

The discussion leader for this theme was Dr. Charles Burrows, known by his friends as “Doc Burrows” and recognized as one of Hawaii’s living treasures. For 20+ years, Doc Burrows has worked in the Kailua-Hamakua area on what is now known as biocultural restoration of Kawainui Marsh and the surrounding ahupuaa.

Biocultural restoration is a recent tem that is being used to acknowledge, describe, and promote the efforts to restore the deep cultural and social connections to places that provide not just products and services but also represent meaningful relationships various cultures maintain with the natural world. As such, restoring ecological systems is about much more than native biodiversity. The diverse values of these places to local communities and the connections they have to these natural systems are just as important to restore, especially for cultural identity and practice. Traditional and indigenous knowledge and wisdom are central to the goals, strategies, and desired outcomes of restoration. The alignment of the spiritual and the practical elements of biocultural restoration are embodied in our state motto – Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono (The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness).

From Doc Burrow’s presentation, Kawainui Marsh is ~900 acres in size. In the marsh and the larger ahupuaa, all major activities of life took place, including the management of a large fish pond, or loko ia. The marsh and some of the land around it, known as Na Pohaku O Hauwahine, is now owned and managed as a state park. Doc Burrows and others have worked with the state to develop a master plan for the marsh and the state park to promote biocultural restoration, educational opportunities, and accommodation for visitors who wish to experience this special place.

Churches and other nonprofits are partners in these efforts. Aha Hui Malami I Ka Lokahi is a nonprofit that serves as the official steward of Na Pohaku O Hauwahine and leads the biocultural restoration work here. On the other side of the marsh, there is a large heiau, a traditional Hawaiian place of religious practice, known as Ulupo Heiau. It is being restored by another nonprofit, Kauluakalana, just behind what is known as “church row” on Kailua Rd, a series of mostly Christian churches. Because Ulupo Heiau has become a refuge for the houseless, Kauluakalana has engaged with them to assist with the biocultural restoration of Kawainui and provide them part of the restoration they need in their own lives. The nearby churches and nonprofits that serve the houseless are partners in this effort, providing complementary services and support.

The work being done in and around the marsh is not the extent of Doc Burrows’ vision and efforts. In addition, he is helping to bring groups together to negotiate and enable a land exchange in Maunawili Valley, uplands connected to the marsh, to expand the biocultural restoration work, especially traditional agriculture and related land use systems. There is also another 1000 acres in nearby Kaneohe that is appropriate for expanding this work.There are many other examples of community- and nonprofit-led biocultural restoration around Hawaii. Although most of these projects are on public lands, some private landowners are also dedicating lands to biocultural restoration and engaging with communities to participate in and lead these efforts.

Vision: A sustainable future for Hawaii will be grounded in the biocultural restoration of landscapes to provide natural diversity and abundance that meets the personal, social, and cultural needs of Hawaii’s people.

Contributions of People and Communities of Faith: People of faith can

  • connect to this work by recognizing and nurturing shared values and outcomes for righteous (or pono) health and abundance of people and places

  • contribute directly as stewards in biocultural restoration efforts

  • provide services and support for those engaged in and benefiting from the work

  • lend voices of support to plans and policies to facilitate and support this work

  • promote these efforts in their own congregations and denominations

  • seek out and nurture partnerships with other groups to participate in this work

Partners in the Effort:

  • Nonprofits, especially Native Hawaiian groups, engaged in biocultural restoration

  • Faith communities can support these efforts in multiple ways, emphasizing the alignment of this work with the values and goals of our faith traditions and our own state motto

  • Social service providers are also important partners to help restore people and communities, and faith communities often have longstanding ties to these groups

  • Local and state government agencies, legislators, and other elected officials. They are important to help provide access and approvals for land, restoration plans, and funding to support the work.