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Koret Fellowship Program

Abby Suster
Abigail Suster

Environmental Studies major, class of 2019

This summer, I interned with the Cultural Resources Management (CRM) Department of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.  My daily activities included archival and conservation work, such as documenting, preserving, and cataloging historic building plans.  In CRM, archaeologists and preservationists worked on studying historical sites, mapping them, and implementing preservation plans or cultural interpretation plans.  I was able to join in on this varied field work.

We would hike through diverse terrain in the park, using GPS coordinates to find various culturally and historically significant sites.  We would then map them either on graph paper or with a 3D scanner, and take the maps back to the lab for further documentation and study.  From information gathered in the field, we were able to make GIS (three-dimensional) maps of the sites, signifying where in the park the sites were located, what cultural significance they had, and if it was possible to curate educational signage around them for park visitors.

Throughout my time working at the park, I learned about Hawaiian culture by mapping the sites, visiting the museums and interpretation centers in the park, and in everyday conversation with coworkers, some of whom were born and raised in Hawai’i.  It was an amazing experience to learn stories about the Hawaiian gods and goddesses, while simultaneously getting to map incredibly important cultural sites to Native Hawaiians.  I learned the importance of the connections between the environment, culture, and spirituality of Hawai’i.  It was an eye-opening experience to see the connections many people felt with their land, and the importance of preserving the land for religious and cultural reasons.

For me, this drove home the importance of needing to protect not only the land within the national park, but the land that Native Hawaiians have called home for centuries.  In the future, I hope to work with a non-profit organization that protects land rights and land sovereignty for native inhabitants.  I believe it is incredibly important that through the industrialization and development of the United States, and in other countries, that indigenous peoples are included in conversations about conservation or development.  More often than not, many corporations and groups exclude the voices of local peoples, taking important cultural land and either developing it, or imposing rules and regulations in the usage of the land in order to conserve natural ecosystems and services.  There are numerous challenges that come with this type of work, but it is important that we allow indigenous voices to lead discussions in what happens with their land and their livelihoods.

Working in Hawaii this past summer has opened my eyes and inspired me to work harder to make sure colonized communities have proper representation and rights in conversations about their environment.  Especially in places like Hawaii, the environment is a central focus of many people’s livelihoods and culture, and it must be protected.  I am very grateful for the opportunity to have volunteered with Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, and the generosity of donors who allowed me the opportunity to do so.  Without their help, I would not have been able to succeed and enjoy the experience as much as I did.  I hope in the future that I can pursue a  career path that protects the environment and disadvantaged communities, as well as be able to give back to the SCU community to show how thankful I am for the opportunities it has provided me with.