Haleakala ranger criticized for cultural insensitivity

Published: Mar. 26, 2017 at 9:19 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 27, 2017 at 5:03 AM HST
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HALEAKALA, Maui (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Haleakala National Park ranger and a teacher from an Oahu public charter school got into a heated argument over cultural practice conflicting with park safety, and a video of the recent exchange is going viral on social media.

Kumu Imaikalani Winchester from Halau Ku Mana Public Charter School said he took 16 students on an educational trip to Haleakala on Maui. During the March 15 trip, the group went to offer chants as part of traditional Hawaiian protocol.

He said during a quiet reflection segment at the summit, a park officer approached the group and ordered them to stay on the marked path.

Winchester said they complied and continued on their journey.

But as they were getting ready to leave, the group stopped to use the restrooms halfway down the mountain, and that's when Winchester said a second park ranger approached them and questioned their visit. He said that was the last straw.

"For us to be treated like criminals, like threats inside a sacred place to our people, was very disappointing and discouraging," said Winchester.

In the cell phone video, the park ranger tries to explain to Winchester why she stopped the group.

"I just wanted to check to make sure who you were and what you were doing," she said.

"I believe we were wrongfully targeted," Winchester told Hawaii News Now. "Our purpose there was to awaken our kids to their responsibilities as kanaka. They're educated and privileged to be given this type of education."

The video has been shared more than 1,000 times on Facebook and garnered more than 50,000 views. However, park officials say it doesn't tell the whole story, and park rangers were simply doing their job.

"The group was approached because they went off trail and were in endangered species habitat," said Polly Angelakis, chief of interpretation and education at Haleakala National Park. "We do allow Native Hawaiians to come into the park to practice protocol and we have fee waivers for them. We instruct our staff and volunteers to give them the privacy and respect they deserve."

Winchester doesn't feel that was the case.

After about an hour of arguing, the ranger apologized and they went their separate ways.

Cultural practitioners say the incident could have been avoided with more education and a better understanding of Hawaii's history.

"I think as a larger society, we really need to support the establishment of a native Hawaiian government," said Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, director and senior professor at the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies.

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