Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reflections from a Native Daughter. . .119 years later

Today marks 119 years since the illegal "overthrow" of Hawai'i by the United States government. Hawai'i, an independent and sovereign country succumbed to the greed of business men and a government which viewed the strategically placed island nation as a pawn, a necessary acquirement to establish U.S. power in the Pacific.  As with any instance of colonization throughout history, the indigenous people suffer greatly and it has been no different for our kanaka maoli (native people).  By all accounts, Native Hawaiians were industrious people, advanced in many ways, with a rich history and culture. While it is true that several cultural groups populated the islands in1893, the effects of colonization and the subsequent loss of lands, language and traditional cultural practices had the greatest effects on the native people of Hawai'i. 

Today, Hawaiians make up less than 30% of the state's inhabitants and yet we are over-represented in the following areas: incarceration, homelessness, domestic violence, reliance on public assistance, high school dropout rate, teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, children in foster care, poverty, low college attendance and post-high education and high rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and overall poor health.  This begs the questions of "why?" and "what can be done about it?".  In recent years, we've seen a cultural renaissance of sorts, a movement towards embracing and encouraging native practices: 'olelo Hawai'i (Hawaiian language), hula, la'au lapa'au (native healing), music, gathering practices, Hawaiian history and preservation, the art of the lua, lo'i kalo and other native plants, Hawaiian crafts and a growing, albeit divided, sovereignty movement-for the indigenous people of Hawai'i to exert some form of self-governance and self-determination over lands, industry and native practices. 

Although I'm a Native Hawaiian, born and raised in Hawaii and a graduate of the Kamehameha Schools, I didn't truly embrace my culture until I chose to learn more about the history of my land, my people and my culture.  I took 'olelo Hawai'i and Hawaiian history in college and it was under the tutelage of kumu (teachers) at BYU-Hawai'i and studying Native Hawaiian rights at U.H. law school that I truly developed an appreciation, love and passion for my heritage and understood that I had a stewardship to my people-to educate, malama and serve.

Whatever your take is on native issues in Hawai'i: the Overthrow, the Akaka Bill, keeping Kamehameha Hawaiian and wherever you stand on the sovereignty spectrum- whether you are Hawaiian or non-Hawaiian, patriot, cultural warrior, opposition, new to the subject matter, Hawaii resident or world observer. . .most people agree on one thing. Hawai'i is a special place. What makes it special, however, is what is referred to the world over as 'the aloha spirit'. One of my favorite bumper stickers reads, "No Hawaiians. No Aloha." Think about that.

Look, here's my take as a Hawaiian, an advocate for native rights and sideline activist. If I want to contribute to my people, to my society, I have to take care of the following kuleana (responsibilities): 1) take care of myself-make sure I live a 'pono' (good/right) lifestyle, 2) take care of my 'ohana, 3) contribute to my community (Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian). Like it or not, this is our homeland and we have to malama (take care) of it and one another. Kanaka Maoli or not, you can do something-get educated, listen, be open-minded, learn the language, take a history class, learn a craft, work in the lo'i kalo, take hula, learn from the kupuna (elders), teach your keiki. . .the future of our lahui (nation) is the responsibility of us all. What are you willing to contribute?

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