Creating Radical Knowledge to Advance Native Hawaiian Wellbeing

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In 1909, Queen Liliʻuokalani created her trust for the wellbeing of children of Hawaiʻi. The Liliʻuokalani Trust (LT) has taken bold steps to end the cycle of poverty by promoting thriving through its transformative programs, systems change efforts, and community collaborations. Walking alongside these programs is research and evaluation to help us make data informed decisions while advancing research to understand our impact to achieve our strategic vision.

LT’s research on Native Hawaiian (NH) wellbeing is a counterbalance to typically Western frameworks that normalize Euro-American perspectives, experiences, and values. For too long, public and private systems that report data on NHs paint a grim picture of what is not working, and sometimes worse, suggest something inherently deficit about NHs.

Puanani Burgess, a Waiʻanae kupuna, reminds us to, “move beyond the ue wale nō, the sad and awfulizing stories about Hawaiians and look for the hope,” by searching for and describing positive trends in the data and reauthoring our narrative.

In 2017, LT partnered with Kamehameha Schools, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Consuelo Foundation, and others to gather a community of disruptive thinkers to talk-story about wellbeing grounded in a NH worldview.

After two days, Kūkulu Kumuhana emerged as a holistic, relational wellbeing framework with six dimensions: 1) Ea – self-determination; 2) ʻĀina Momona – healthy and productive land and people; 3) Pilina – mutually sustaining relationships; 4) Waiwai – ancestral abundance and collective wealth; 5) ʻŌiwi – cultural identity and native intelligence; and 6) Ke Akua Mana – spirituality and the sacredness of mana.

Since 2017 we have socialized Kūkulu Kumuhana at gatherings, shared it at Hawaiʻi and national conferences, and deepened our understanding of how it frames research and evaluation within NH contexts to advance radical knowledge about NH wellbeing. Our recent July 29 gathering at Kaiwakīloumoku at Kamehameha Schools drew almost 90 community members who engaged with these dimensions through hands-on experiences with NH traditional cultural practitioners and generated new insights on how the dimensions advance wellbeing for NHs. We even had a surprise hōʻike by Ulu Aʻe kamaliʻi who offered a chant about Kūkulu Kumuhana.

As we navigate toward ancestral abundance, a few key learnings from Kūkulu Kumuhana have shown us that advancing NH wellbeing must:

  • privilege NH ways of doing, being, and knowing
  • be grounded in the presence and wisdom of our kūpuna
  • include diverse community perspectives, and
  • advance the ea of NH ʻohana and communities while pushing against colonial and oppressive narratives about us.

For information on Kūkulu Kumuhana visit https://onipaa.org/research-and-evaluation.