Lloyd “Ikaika” Pratt wasn’t surprised when the Hawaii Supreme Court recently decided that the state’s interest in managing parkland overrode Prattʻs right to practice his traditional religion.
“It’s a bunch of BS,” said Pratt, who was convicted of camping without a permit in a closed area while caretaking a Kalalau Valley heiau in Kauai’s Na Pali Coast State Park. “It’s not right. It’s just them controlling us Hawaiians again. They’re trying to squash us.”
Kauai attorney Dan Hempey has filed a motion asking the state Supreme Court to reconsider its May 11 decision, which paves new ground in cases involving Native Hawaiian defendants engaged in traditional practices protected by the state Constitution. A majority of the justices ignored legal parameters the high court had previously set for considering such cases. Instead, they upheld a lower court’s imposition of a vague test that analyzes the “totality of the circumstances” in balancing various interests.
In Pratt’s case, he says the totality of circumstances includes retribution by state Department of Land and Natural Resources rangers. Pratt says rangers had long known he was camping periodically in the valley to clean up and tend the heiau, and that he had planted food to sustain himself during his stays. But things changed when he told state and county officials that rangers had given alcohol to underage women in the park and left a minor girl in his custody after arresting her father.
“That’s when they turned on me and came after me and put me in a helicopter and flew me out,” says Pratt, who spent 26 days in jail while awaiting a hearing. “They were trying to put me away for five years in jail.”
Pratt says his conviction is especially grating because he must compete with tourists for a limited number of five-day camping permits in the park. Adding salt to the wound, Kalalau Valley has long had a resident population of illegal campers who are rarely prosecuted.
“They’re still living in there, happy and having fun, and the state knows about it and won’t do anything about it,” he says. “Instead, they come after me, a Hawaiian kahu [priest] who is cleaning the heiau, pulling out lantana.”
Pratt believes the state engaged in religious discrimination against him. “Everybody has a church in Hawaii they can go to that’s not regulated, except us Hawaiians. No one else has to ask for a permit to clean or repair their church. But the Supreme Court never addressed the issue of freedom of religion at all.”
Ultimately, Pratt says, the courts ruled against him because the state is afraid of setting a precedent that would allow Hawaiians to use and inhabit parks without obtaining permits. “They’re putting me as an example to everyone, to make them scared to exercise their rights. They wanna put us in a box and tell us when to walk and talk and practice our religion. I think it’s time for us Hawaiians to stand up and say we’re not taking it anymore.”
Pratt, whose Hawaiian name, Ikaika, means “strong, powerful,” says that despite the high court’s ruling, he plans to keep fighting for Native Hawaiian rights. “I don’t have that name for nothing.”