Māori whānau in Hawaii hurting as jobs lost in pandemic

By Mare Haimona-Riki

Thanks to Covid-19 Māori staff at one of Hawaii's top tourist attractions, The Polynesian Cultural Center in Oahu, have lost their jobs and have had to come home. Many of them are students at the neighbouring Brigham Young University. 

Talent management director Seamus Fitzgerald (Ngāti Kahungunu) says that all but five Māori students at the center have had to return home (continuing classes online), and describes this event as devastating.

“We have furloughed more than 300 employees and we are currently in a reduction of labour and 80 people will be laid off…. It's been devastating for the Polynesian Cultural Center and all attractions on the island of Oahu,” Fitzgerald says.

Source / Te Ao Tapatahi

This devastation has taken the form of financial hardship for members of the tourist-reliant community.

The Turangi-raised father of six says he has even had to take up an old hobby of fishing in order to provide for his whānau.     

“We used our stimulus check to buy fishing gear, so I took up fishing just to put meat in our freezer … my friends and I go fishing three to four times a week until things go back to normal.”

“I’m the only one working in my home at the moment so we go to foodbanks weekly,”  Fitzgerald says. 

Source / Polynesian Cultural Center

Hawaii has over 3,000 confirmed cases and 30 deaths and Fitzgerald says that those numbers are rising daily. Although there is no travel ban, Governor David Ige has reinstated the 14-day self-quarantine rule as of today (August 11). 

“We have looked at New Zealand as an example throughout the world. Nothing is better than watching rugby games and seeing 20,000 people with no masks on and we envy that in the States, especially here in Hawaii and it is a reflection of leadership.”

Fitzgerald says the safety of the center's staff is paramount and will be the deciding factor for when the center will reopen.

“We have fingers crossed for December but it will probably be more like January.”