Connor Arakaki, Contributing Photographer

Over the past several weeks, Indigenous student leaders and other cultural affinity groups have been organizing fundraiser events in response to the summer wildfires in Maui. 

At the start of fall semester, Maui native Kala‘i Anderson ’25 (Kanaka Maoli) and Hawai’i locals Joshua Ching ’26 (Kanaka Maoli) and Jairus Rhoades ’26 (American Samoan) — all members of the student group Indigenous Peoples of Oceania — organized the fundraising initiative. However, as the semester continued, the fundraiser evolved into a collaborative effort, involving the Chinese American Students Association, Japanese American Student Union, Kasama and Native and Indigenous Students at Yale. 

On the evening of Aug. 8, a series of wildfires broke out in Lahaina, Maui, along with other parts of Western Maui. Due to the island’s historically arid environment, along with high winds from recent Hurricane Dora, the wildfire rapidly spread throughout the island — most of all, on the coastal town of Lahaina. 

The Hawai’i state government issued an emergency declaration hours later, on the morning of Aug. 9. The next day, President Joe Biden issued a federal major disaster declaration on Aug. 10 in order to secure federal funding for relief. 

The Lahaina wildfires alone claimed 99 lives and have displaced at least 7,200 Maui residents.

From the Lahaina wildfire alone, the Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates that over 2,200 buildings were destroyed, many of which were cultural or historical preservation sites, as Lahaina was chosen as the capital of the Hawaiian kingdom by King Kamehameha II in 1820. According to FEMA, the overall damage caused by the wildfires has been estimated to be $6 billion. 

The August wildfires have been named the deadliest natural disaster in Hawai’i and modern U.S. history. 

For Ching, executive director of IPO, the purpose of the fundraising efforts was to spread awareness of the historical causes of the wildfire. Ching called the wildfires “a reckoning with the colonial histories and legacies of tourism, of water diversion, of climate change, that all culminated into this moment of devastation and tragedy.”

Indeed, numerous sources have found the wildfires to be caused by Maui’s extractive agricultural history, during which sugar plantations destroyed restorative waterways and created competition for water rights on the island. These land and natural resource issues were later exacerbated by the proliferation of golf courses, rental homes and hotels on Maui for the sake of Hawai’i’s tourist economy. 

Native Hawaiian sovereignty groups have been fighting for water restoration and control on Maui for decades.

In order to engage the University community with this history, Rhoades decided to direct and organize a benefit concert spotlighting Pasifika arts, hosted at Sudler Hall on Nov. 4. Performing arts groups at the concert included forms of Pasifika dance such as hula and Siva Samoa, and traditional songs of Hawaiian sovereignty, such as Pule A Ka Haku and He Mele Lāhui ʻO Hawai’i, written by the last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian kingdom, Queen Liliʻuokalani. In addition, Lux Improvitas, The Alleycats and WORD performed at the concert in solidarity with the impacted communities of the Maui wildfires. 

Rhoades believes that music and the performing arts have been a medium for understanding personal identity and history and, prior to the concert, said that he hoped the benefit concert would similarly be a medium to understand the historical context of the Maui wildfires. What’s more, Rhoades credits supporting student organizations, such as NISAY, JASU, Kasama and CASA, for contributing to fundraising efforts and creating diverse ways for the Yale community to support wildfire relief efforts. 

“As far away as Yale is, I want the benefit concert to create an atmosphere that gets conversations started and gets people wondering how they can give back to Hawai’i’s community,” Rhoades said. “We have people selling artwork, bags, food and we’re hosting the benefit concert — we’re actively gathering different types of engagement for students to support and fundraise.”

For family weekend, the Yale Symphony Orchestra, the Yale Glee Club and the Yale Concert Band hosted a benefit concert on Oct. 7 to aid the reconstruction of ‘Aha Pūnana Leo, a Hawaiian immersion school that stewarded the growth of Hawaiian language and culture. 

In addition, on Saturday, Oct. 28, CASA organized a sale of li hing mui candy containing salted dried plum powder — a popular snack in Hawai’i. On Halloween at the Asian American Cultural Center, Kasama sold halo-halo, a Filipino iconic dessert frequently made in Hawai’i, to support Maui wildfire relief efforts. 

Later in November, JASU will be selling tote bags and NISAY will be selling beaded earrings in support of the Maui wildfires, per the leaders of IPO. Additionally, IPO will be selling Hawai’i local snacks and stickers at a separate fundraising event at the end of the month. All proceeds from these cultural affinity groups will be donated to the Hawai’i Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund. 

Before the benefit concert, many Pasifika performers told the News that they felt called to support the Maui community in light of the wildfires and emphasized how the concert bridges performing arts across Indigenous communities. 

For the concert, Angela Chen ’26 decided to perform Siva Samoa, a traditional dance of her home community in American Samoa that she has been practicing since childhood. 

“I hope that events such as this concert will spark more interest and participation in Polynesian arts. There’s so much variation — whether in song or dances — that I think [students] don’t see as much here at Yale,” Chen said. “This isn’t a problem that the Hawai’i community has to bear alone — it’s important for different Pasifika cultures, especially within Polynesia, to band together to fundraise for Lahaina and the wildfires.”

Echoing Chen, Hawai’i local Erin Nishi ’25, who performed at the benefit concert, wrote to the News that although she is from the island of Oʻahu, she feels “strongly connected” with the community and culture that makes up all of the islands. 

Along with other YSO members, Nishi decided to perform string quartet and piano duo arrangements of Queen Lili‘uokalani’s music, including songs that were composed during her imprisonment in ʻIolani Palace and the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom. 

“We wanted to showcase some of these songs [written by Queen Lili‘uokalani], which deliver a powerful message about standing together during times of crisis,” Nishi wrote to the News. “The Queen’s music remains important because it inserts into the world of music the essential themes of Hawaiian culture, kinship and hope.”

The benefit concert’s attendance was free, however, event organizers and speakers from IPO encouraged audience members to donate in support of wildfire relief efforts. According to IPO leaders, the benefit concert alone raised more than $3,000, of which all proceeds will be donated to the Hawai’i Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund.

After attending the concert, Anderson said that he’s encouraged by the positive reception of the benefit concert, and hopes the event is a gateway to Pasifika issues such as Hawaiian sovereignty, which IPO will continue to support throughout the school year. 

“I was surprised by how many people were reposting IPO’s videos and posts to promote the benefit concert, and by the turnout of people at Sudler Hall — there were many faculty members and graduate students, which was so encouraging to see,”Anderson said. “After the concert, I believe that the student body is more aware of Pasifika students and community issues at Yale. Not only because there are more Pasifika students at Yale now, but because these Pasifika students are involved in making a community.”

The Hawai’i Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund aims to provide financial resources to support the immediate and long-term recovery needs for the people and places affected by the devastating Maui wildfires. In distributing these funds, the HCF is working in close collaboration with state and country leaders, nonprofit organizations and community members to better understand evolving wildfire relief priorities.