An Important Legacy of Papahānaumokuākea: Part I


Photo: Kekuewa Kikiloi

Photo: Pelika Andrade

By Kekuewa Kikiloi and Pelika Andrade

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is recognized as a model for Indigenous co-governance in the United States and globally. Comprising 10 island fragments, atolls, and coral reefs that extend 1,200 miles Northwest of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau, it is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world. While the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is one of four co-trustees that manage this remote region, Native Hawaiians have been actively involved in marine conservation advocacy and helping towards cultural integration in the management framework of this region for the past 24 years through a hui known as the Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group (CWG).

The CWG originated out of the Reserve Advisory Council, an advisory body formed with the creation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve (i.e. the base layer of marine protection for the region) that was established in 2000. In the beginning, it was just a small working group led by William Ailā Jr. and later Halealoha Ayau to help get Native Hawaiian input into the council’s recommendations for management. The group eventually increased in numbers, to include different Hawaiian activists, scholars, cultural practitioners, educators, and environmental conservation advocates that in many cases had historical ties to the region or had firsthand experience there.

Some of the notable kūpuna that were involved in those early years, but have since passed on, were: Uncle Buzzy Agard, Aunty Laura Thompson, Uncle Eddie Kaʻanāʻanā, Uncle Walter Paulo, Aunty Wilma Holi, Uncle Kawika Kapahulehua, Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell, Dr. Carlos Andrade, and Dr. Marion Kelly. Other important veteran leadership came from people that we are fortunate to still have with us today such as Aunty Vicky Takamine, Uncle Paka Harp and Aunty Tammy Harp, Dr. Pua Kanahele, and Dr. Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa. These individuals sacrificed their time and energy to help build a strong foundation of community involvement for this culturally significant region.

Cultural expeditions were critical in the early years for us to try and understand this forgotten part of our homeland. The voyaging canoe, Hōkūleʻa, played an important role in this cultural reconnection by taking a group of cultural practitioners called Nā Kupuʻeu Paemoku (“to regenerate the islands”) to the first two islands – Nihoa (2003) and Mokumanamana (2005) to perform ceremonies on the islands to start this process of reconnection. The group was under the direction and guidance of Aunty Pua Kanahele, and members represented different island genealogies from the main Hawaiian Islands in their prayers and offerings. In addition, the Polynesian Voyaging Society and Hōkūleʻa led a voyaging expedition in 2004, under the educational banner “Navigating Change.” They traveled all the way up the archipelago to Hōlanikū (Kure Atoll) and back to raise awareness about ocean protection and the importance of these islands. In all these cultural trips, Hōkūleʻa played a critical role by allowing Native Hawaiians to experience this magnificent oceanic portion of our archipelago in the same manner our ancestors did.

Cultural values and spiritual connection have always been the foundation of the CWG’s achievements. The group helped to neutralize industrial fishing threats in the region by developing “Native Hawaiian Sustenance Fishing” definitions that rooted the practice in cultural values and closed any loopholes that would allow for large extraction to take place. These definitions were shaped by the kūpuna fishermen in the group who had firsthand knowledge of the sensitivity of the resources in this area.

These are just some of the early recollections of Native Hawaiian community involvement in Papahānaumokuākea.

Kekuewa Kikiloi and Pelika Andrade, are co-chairs of the Papahānaumokuākea Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group (CWG). The CWG provides advice and recommendations through OHA to the Monument Management Board. Read Mai Ka Pō Mai at