Na Kilo ‘Aina Day Camp
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Young children gather around a picnic table at Puaka‘ilima Surf Park in Kawaihae and listen to directions given by Nakoa Goo. He tells the keiki they will put paint on the rubber fish in front of them, and then they will press paper onto the fish to create an imprint of the fish, a process called gyotaku.
The kids, ranging in ages from 2 to 6 are excited to start, taking turns and sharing the rubber fish and paints.
This is Na Kilo ‘Aina, a day camp at Kawaihae, held to engage community members in caring for the shorelines and fisheries. While the younger children are engaged in gyotaku painting, the older children are out at the Kawaihae shoreline, learning about canoes and sailing. Another group of adult men are building two canoes, which will be available to the community for future sailing.
“We are the difference,” said Pelika Bertelmann, Hawaii Island extension agent of the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program. “We are doing this to help our community recognize our core relationship to place … to spark change, and to work toward a sustainable future.”
Bertelmann said the camp, held Oct. 5 to 11, was a pilot camp, the first in what she hopes becomes many more in the future. It takes a village, and many organizations came together to make the camp possible; Kailapa Community Association Hawaiian Homesteads in Kawaihae, Na Kalai Wa‘a, Ala Kahakai National Park Services, Nature Conservancy, Go Gonads, Na Maka O Papahanaumokuakea, Atherton Foundation, Conservation International Fish Trust and the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program.
Kehau Springer, of the Conservation International Fish Trust, said they wanted to support the community of Kailapa as well assist with the multi-generational fall camp.
“This camp is one of eight camps we have held throughout the state of Hawaii this year,” Springer said. “This is a hands-on learning experience they (the children) can’t get in a classroom. We bring kupuna, makua and keiki (different generations) together, as well as different experts from Kawaihae, and immerse them into what its all about.”
The activities planned for the Na Kilo ‘Aina day camp included shoreline walks, fish anatomy and roi and wana dissection, snorkel exploration, fish and coral identification, trail inventory, harbor and liquid robotics tour, gonad and fish reproduction workshops, swimming and talks with Kawaihae community members. Although the camp was designed for whole families to attend, Bertelmann said they recognized the hardship of working parents to take off a week of work, and so allowed for parents to commit to weekends while sending their children aged 12 and older to attend throughout the week.
Ka‘ena Peterson, a Kailapa community member as well as a camp volunteer, attended the camp with camera in hand. Impressed with how well-behaved the children were, she said she loved how the teachers and volunteers held the children’s interest.
“It’s so sweet that the older children take care of the younger ones. When the children were on the lauhala mat, they gave the leaders all of their attention,” Peterson said. “They have had all the tools to learn about dissecting fish, microscopes and all.”
The older kids, eager to tell about their experiences of the camp, were excited about what they had learned.
“We are learning Aloha Kai, taking care of the ocean,” said Jahphia Noah.
Although it was Pila Chong’s first day to be at the camp, he talked about how many different types of fish were in the ocean (from the fish identification class), as well as what sizes of fish to harvest.
Another attendee, Kilinahe Grace said, “We are learning why it is so important to know when fish are spawning. We need to decrease our catch if the fish are breeding.”
A.J. Aikau, a mentor at the camp said he came to help with the kids.
“I was born and raised around the ocean my whole life and I want to teach what I know about ocean safety to the next generation,” Aikau said. “I want to help keep the knowledge going.”
Mentor Uakoko Chong said the importance of maintaining marine life and helping the kids to observe more, was what she came to help with.
“Teaching kids to leave certain fish in the water so that future generations can have fish, too, is important,” Chong said. “And hey, we’re here at the beach this week!”
Bertelmann said one of the main reasons she has begun holding these types of camps is because her graduate work at University of Hawaii is on malama ‘aina with an ocean component.
“When I had kids, they didn’t know what was going on at the beach or in the ocean, or how destructive and unsustainable our fishing practices have been,” said Bertelmann. “We have been brought up in a system that has no accountability, and we lose sight of why we do things. It’s about recognizing that our core relationship to place is genealogy, and also what we see as sustainable. Our core value should be making good choices, not because we will have to pay a fine or get a ticket, but because it’s good for our ‘aina and our future generations.”
To hold a weeklong day camp like Na Kilo ‘Aina takes dedication and hard work. Bertelmann believes that Na Kilo ‘Aina (Observers of our Sustenance) is important to re-engage the people and to start a conversation, or to spark change.
“We’re just trying to find solutions to it all, to work toward a sustainable future,” said Bertelmann. “We don’t ever want to tell our people, ‘No, you can’t take fish from the ocean,’ but we want to say, ‘Yes, you can eat ‘opihi or manini … you just need to know when to harvest it.’”
She explained that if every home in Kailapa, the newest Hawaiian Homes community in Kawaihae, had 50- fish in their freezers for three months, then that amounts to 7,500 fish that could have gone through one reproductive cycle.
“How about just fishing for a week’s worth of fish?” she asks.
“It’s a small community that may have taken out that many fish from our reef system, but it makes a huge impact,” Bertelmann said. “This is about teaching our community members about choices and the more we talk to people, the more bad habits can be changed, and then we are all on the same page.”
Nahaku Kalei came to help Bertelmann with the camp. She said the kids were looking at reproductive cycles specific to the place (Kawaihae) and learning about the body structure and functions of the fish.
“They are getting some real in-depth training in gonads,” Kalei said. “And, they are learning about the relationship of harvesting aku during one part of the year, and opelu during the other part of the year. It’s about eating what is abundance.”
For future workshops and camps, Bertelmann hopes to bring in the farming community, which will complement the ocean community and resources. In addition, she would like to see Hale Akoakoa implemented, which would be a resource center where people could access information on coral and reef systems.
“It would bring information back to the community, highlight the whale and bird migration seasons, and also help our community members make choices that are good for the ‘aina and for our future generations,” said Bertelmann.
Meanwhile, over 120 participants throughout the seven-day camp learned about the resources of our ocean and learned how to continue caring for our land and ocean.
“I find this kind of camp enriches us, and teaches us a different way from school,” said Lauryn Chung. “It’s a creative way to learn that everybody enjoys, and doing hands on work helps us know where we are and helps us to survive.”