Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell (May 14, 1937 - March 15, 2012) best known as "Uncle Charlie", was a Native Hawaiian leader, cultural practitioner and kahu who played a key role in many native Hawaiian causes and protests starting in the 1970s, supported sovereignty and was widely recognized as an expert in Hawaiian culture.
Uncle Charlie was born in Napili, Maui and was the youngest of six kids. As a young adult, he worked as a tour driver and field worker at HC&S. In his early 20s, Uncle Charlie was employed as a Maui police officer, spending some time on Molokai, and later in his career as a vice officer. After 15 years with the department, family members say he retired after sustaining an injury in the line of duty.
In the Fall of 1973, Uncle Charlie’s was credited with developing and heading the group, ALOHA, Aboriginal Lands of Hawaiian Ancestry, which played an active role in the fight against the Navy’s use of Kaho’olawe as a bombing range.
He is also credited with playing a key role in planning the occupation of the island on January 4, 1976, when he and dozens of others set out in boats to Kaho’olawe from Ma’alaea Harbor. According to a proclamation issued on Uncle Charlie’s behalf, the movement led to the return of Kaho’olawe from the federal government to the state, and partial cleanup of the island.
One of his most notable accomplishments was when uncle Charlie led the opposition to the exhumation of native Hawaiian burials at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua building site at Honokahua during the 1980s. As a result, the exhumed remains were returned, and the developers agreed to move the hotel site further mauka, keeping the burial site preserved.
Uncle Charlie wrote two songs dedicated to the place and the burials of Honokahua including: “Honokahua Nani E” and “Ka Ho’ailona,” both recorded by the Pandanus Club.
Uncle Charlie later served as a member of the Hawai’i advisory group for the US Civil Rights Commission; and was chair of the Maui/Lana’i Islands Burial Council since its establishment in 1990, where he continued efforts to improve public awareness and respect for ancient graves. He also served on the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Maui Upcountry Community Plan in 1990.
In 1991 Uncle Charlie brought national awareness to the cultural importance of the shark after the state of Hawaii authorized a shark hunt following a fatal shark attack off Maui. He stopped the eradication of sharks, citing the animal’s revered importance to local families.
“You cannot disagree with his lasting impact,” said grandson Adrian Kamali’i. “His living was not in vain.”