TV REVIEW : Native Hawaiians: Trouble in Paradise

In a world where the relentless wheel of progress tramples native peoples and native flora on a daily basis, it should come as no surprise that there's trouble in paradise, too. But that makes it all the sadder.

"Troubled Paradise," a film by Academy Award winner Steve Okazaki on KCET Channel 28 at 9 tonight, tells of the plight of native Hawaiians who are fighting for their spiritual and economic lives in the face of the spread of civilization.

Okazaki's film is narrated by Amy Hill in a slow, deliberate style and, perhaps to be expected, it is decidedly one-sided. The "other side" in this all-too-familiar story is hardly heard from.

There are about 210,000 pure and part Hawaiians living in the islands and they make up about 19% of the state's population. Yet, they also:

* Have the lowest median family income of all the state's ethnic groups.

* Represent the highest percentage of unemployed and incarcerated.

* Have the highest infant mortality rate in the nation and the lowest adult life expectancy in the state.

In the first portion of "Troubled Paradise," Okazaki shows the native islanders' relation with the land and the poverty-line existence that many of them lead. Says one native Hawaiian: "To be an American, many people left behind a hard life to find a better one. We had a good life and had a hard one imposed on us."

In the second portion, Okazaki shows how many native Hawaiians have organized to fight rampant resort development and other incursions.

The state of Hawaii, for example, is planning a huge geothermal electric power development near the Kilauea volcano that native islanders, who regard the volcano as a deity, oppose. Says a protester: "You can't put a meter on my god." Says another: "To tap into the volcano is a desecration."

The geothermal development has been put on hold, awaiting an environmental impact study. But the deity may have the last word, as the volcano has been very active in recent months and is threatening to overrun the development site in lava.

To stem the tide of development, many native islanders think their best option is to break away from the state and form their own nation, as American Indians have done in the West. To do nothing invites disaster. Says a native Hawaiian: "If you kill the spirit of an indigenous person, you really have killed the person."

Troubled paradise, indeed.

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