On the evening of August 8, hours after a wildfire ravaged West Maui, Maui County’s top emergency management official, Herman Andaya, texted his secretary to ask about the status of other fires across the island.

“Still burning,” she replied.

“Wow … Lol,” Andaya texted back.

The messages were released in mid-April as part of a new state report analyzing the government’s response to the fire that ripped through Lāhainā killing more than 100 people, making it the deadliest wildfire in modern U.S. history. Documents, text messages and interviews reveal slow, poor communication between government agencies, causing hours of delay for leaders, like Andaya, to realize the gravity and extent of the crisis.

Andaya, who resigned soon after the wildfire due to broad criticism for his lack of qualifications and his agency’s decision not to sound any sirens as the fire spread, was at a training in Honolulu the day it happened. The texts show that hours after the inferno engulfed the town, Andaya didn’t know if any homes had been lost and thought only a single business had been leveled. The fire burned more than 2,000 buildings, displacing thousands of people.

To Alyssa Purcell, a Native Hawaiian archivist from Oʻahu, the lack of urgency in top officials’ response to the community’s struggles feels familiar.

“It’s a pattern,” she said. “This is not new. And I think the text messages show that there’s such a desensitization on their part to our needs that there’s nothing else that we can do at this point except go to the highest possible platforms and stages that we possibly can.”

Two days before the report came out, Purcell flew to the United Nations headquarters in New York City to speak at the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, urging those present to support the self-determination of Native Hawaiians like herself.

The 2023 Lāhainā wildfires exposed a systemic disregard for Indigenous rights,” said Purcell, who is a member of the Ka Lahui Hawaiʻi delegation, a group working to advance Native Hawaiian sovereignty. “Hawaiian families are struggling with disaster capitalism, where corporations and developers are using the aftermath of the fires to acquire land, develop properties, and initiate projects that are not in line with the needs of Indigenous communities or sustainable practices.”

The wildfire’s unprecedented destruction underscored the stakes of the group’s decades-old appeal for international support for Native Hawaiian self-determination. In her remarks this year, Purcell called for the U.N. to relist Hawaiʻi as a non-self-governing territory. That list includes more than a dozen territories — Guam, French Polynesia, and New Caledonia, to name a few —  whose people still haven’t yet achieved self-government, either by obtaining independence or choosing to join another country.

Read the full article about Indigenous peoples by Anita Hofschneider at Grist.