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Home » Discover Rackham » SEAS Ph.D. and Master’s Students Lead Efforts to Support Native Hawaiians

Drawing on the island community’s long-standing history of activism, organizing, resistance, and self-determination, Rackham and U-M School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) Ph.D. student Malu Castro is spearheading a pair of SEAS master’s projects focused on supporting one of largest Land Back efforts in modern history, as well as on fostering and maintaining food sovereignty through traditional subsistence agriculture on Moloka’i, the least developed and visited of the Hawaiian Islands. Castro and his students conducted three weeks of fieldwork on the island in collaboration with local partner organizations Sustainable Moloka’i and Moloka’i Heritage Trust in August 2023.

The Land Back project supports the acquisition of the 55,000 square acre Moloka’i Ranch, a former sugar cane and later pineapple plantation, which community opposition prevented from being transformed into luxury oceanfront houses in 2008. Castro and six SEAS students built evidence and resources for the community to start implementing an Indigenous rights process and framework, including conducting interviews with community leaders, elders, and activists.

In the food sovereignty project, Castro and his students worked with the local community to develop a structure and framework for local food distribution, reducing the community’s dependence on imported food by taking advantage of the locals’ extant knowledge of subsistence practices. The Native Hawaiian population sources about 30 percent of its food from hunting, fishing, and small scale farming, according to Castro, and this project aims to help them more efficiently distribute that food through a food hub.

“It was a magical and transformative experience for all of us,” says Castro. “The students experienced the power of engaging in a project in a place where you don’t live but where you’re working for a community, so you have an opportunity to develop deep relationships. Building these relationships and trust is the outcome of a good environmental justice project.”

Read the full story at the School for Environment and Sustainability.