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Machado remembered for Native Hawaiian advocacy

Former OHA trustee died Monday after decadeslong career in public service

Colette Machado, a former OHA trustee who spent decades serving on government and community boards, died Monday at age 71, friends and officials confirmed, recalling her tough spirit and dedication to Native Hawaiian causes. RICHARD COOKE photo

Friends of former Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Colette Machado will tell you she was the classic local aunty — the kind with a big heart who could turn tough when it came to fight for a cause.

“She could take a punch and she could throw a punch, but always for the full purpose of justice for the people and to protect the land,” said Stacy Helm Crivello, who worked with Machado while the two Molokai women were serving in the public sector and grew to be friends.

“Of all the leaders of our generation, she was a tita,” said longtime Molokai physician Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli, who described Machado of his best friend of more than 40 years. “And she demanded not just respect, but that you do the best work and you take care of your families at the same time.”

The 71-year-old Machado died Monday at Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu after being hospitalized since January, Aluli said. Friends and colleagues of the longtime community activist and OHA trustee remembered her decades in public service and passion for Native Hawaiian causes.

Machado was first elected to the OHA board in 1996 and spent 24 years with the agency before being ousted by Luana Alapa in the 2020 elections.

Colette Machado (from left) poses for a photo alongside Stacy Helm Crivello and Davianna McGregor. RICHARD COOKE photo

But long before that, she was stepping into the ring over issues that included the U.S. Navy’s bombing of Kahoolawe, Aluli recalled.

When the doctor came to Molokai in 1976, the movement to protect Kahoolawe was heating up. Aluli was one of the “Kahoolawe Nine,” the first group of protesters to land on the island on Jan. 4, 1976 when the island was off limits under the military. After George Helm Jr. and Kimo Mitchell disappeared off Kahoolawe in 1977, galvanizing a generation of Native Hawaiian leaders, Aluli and Machado bonded under the common banner of “aloha ‘aina.”

Aluli said Machado championed the research and the consent decree that allowed the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana to access the island for religious purposes and conservation projects in 1980. “She was the key,” the organizer who even brought in Native American activitists to consult on making claims for the protection of land, he said.

When the U.S. government finally put a stop to the bombing and turned the land over to the state in the early 1990s, Machado was one of the first members of the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission.

Aluli also recalled how they worked together to teach youth about taro cultivation on the East End of Molokai, training about 30 to 35 kids and their families over the course of three years. He and Machado traveled to Keanae, Wailua, Hanalei and other local communities to observe taro culture and bring home lessons.

Colette Machado (front, center) participates in a strategic planning session to create the Molokai Land Trust, of which she was the first president, according to Richard Cooke, a founding member. RICHARD COOKE photo

He said Machado’s life was reflective of the island she was born and raised on.

“She was such a fighter, such a disciplinarian, such a teacher, leader, such a visionary,” Aluli said. “She will be missed. She really had the spirit of the kupuna from the area and ongoing spirit to train the generations to be as strong as their ancestors were on Molokai and elsewhere.”

Crivello recalled Machado’s blend of kindness and toughness. She wasn’t afraid to back down from a challenge, “but her heart for others was real,” and she often gave without boasting.

“Besides being a dear friend, she’s always been a warrior, a mana wahine for her people, her islands and especially her island home, Molokai,” said Crivello, a former Maui County Council member who’s now a community liaison in the Mayor’s Office. “She was always one who responded to those in need, especially her Native Hawaiian families or individuals.”

Crivello recalled the time that Machado saw a family from Molokai living homeless on Maui.

“She brought them home, she cared for them, and had them pick up themselves and try again,” said Crivello, who only found out Machado had done so after the family told her.

Crivello, who lost her brother George Helm Jr. amid the Kahoolawe movement, also described Machado as “key” to working with the government to stop the bombing of the island.

She said some of Machado’s biggest impacts can be seen on their home island of Molokai in the businesses she helped restore and the schools she helped support. She credited Machado with helping to secure millions in funding for Molokai schools.

“There were so many different projects that she has a fingerprint on. But most important was to stand proud of our true identity and how the land and its people are interdependent, and that’s to me the message she carried,” Crivello said.

After decades of serving on OHA and community boards and commissions, Machado also had a passion for encouraging the next generation of leaders, said Jacob Aki, who got to know Machado as a young intern at OHA in 2015. He described her as “one of my biggest supporters” when he ran for Honolulu City Council in 2020.

“One of her big things was making sure that the next generation of leaders are given the opportunities that they need to thrive, and she was always pushing young folks to take up these leadership positions,” said Aki, who lost in 2020 but is now the communications director for the State Senate.

“From her decadeslong experience serving our community, fighting for the various land struggles to over 20 years in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, she took all of that and really invested in our next generation of leaders. I just feel fortunate that I was one of those that she took an interest in.”

Aki said that Machado was more than a mentor — “she really was that aunty that cared about you.” When his first son was born during the pandemic, Machado called to check in on his wife and new baby. Even while battling health issues, she made sure that Aki had transportation or a place to stay when he visited Molokai.

Officials expressed sadness over Machado’s passing on Monday.

“I am thankful for her years of service, her dedication to the people of Molokai along with her commitment to and her advocacy for Native Hawaiians across Hawaii,” said State Senate Majority Floor Leader Lynn DeCoite, who represents East and Upcountry Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe. “My heartfelt condolences to her ohana. She will be greatly missed.”

Current OHA Board Chairperson and Maui Trustee Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey said Monday evening that “we are shocked and saddened” by Machado’s passing.

“She was a true mana wahine who spent her life in service to the Native Hawaiian community and she will be dearly missed,” Lindsey said in a statement. “Although this is a sad day at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, we will continue the work that Colette so passionately undertook as a role model in serving Native Hawaiians.”

Hawaii News Now reported that the family said in a statement, “She is celebrated as a fearless leader and is fondly remembered for her generosity and aloha for ‘ohana and the people of Molokai.”

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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