Papa Ola Lōkahi


“No Hawaiian leader wants to lead a nation of sick Kānaka.”

First uttered by Hawaiʻi Island activist Palikapu Dedman in 1998, these words have served as a beacon on Papa Ola Lōkahi’s path toward creating and maintaining a thriving lāhui.

For more than 2,000 years Hawaiʻi supported a flourishing population of robust, vigorous, pleasantly appointed Kānaka living in a state of lōkahi and pono. Our kūpuna achieved excellence as fine artists, scientists, natural resource managers, diplomats, educators and leaders.

Foreign contact and colonization disrupted the physical, economic and spiritual balance of Kānaka Maoli.

Papa Ola Lōkahi (POL), the Hawaiian Health Board, was established in 1989. Our genealogy goes back to the E Ola Mau – The Native Hawaiian Health Needs Study, which made recommendations that still provide the benchmarks for Hawaiian health and wellbeing. It provided the catalyst for the development of a Native Hawaiian Health Care System that can be sustained for the lāhui, no matter the form of government.

The subsequent Native Hawaiian Health Care Act, passed by Congress in 1988 and reauthorized twice since, creates three initiatives.

Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems. Five health care providers serve six islands to provide primary, behavioral health and dental care or referrals; outreach and case management; traditional Hawaiian healing modalities; health promotion, healthy lifestyle groups, and much more.

Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program. Since 1991, more than 300 awards have been made to Kānaka Maoli students in 20 different medical, health, or other allied health disciplines. While scholars may attend any accredited school in their discipline, when each is ready to enter the workforce, she or he is assigned to a health facility in a medically underserved community in Hawaiʻi. More than half of the alumni continue to serve their communities long past the required service obligation. Significantly, the earliest cohorts have produced many who have risen to positions of leadership in the medical, public health or Hawaiian communities.

Papa Ola Lōkahi. As a community-based non-governmental entity, our kuleana is to “raise the health status of Native Hawaiians to the highest possible level.” We achieve this through strategic partnerships, programs and public policy. POL also serves as the body with which the federal agencies shall enter into consultations around the issues of Hawaiian health policy and health care.

POL is the kauhale around which the interdependent hale of workforce development, data and research, policy, education and training, communications and community engagement co-exist.

The Native Hawaiian Health Care Improvement Act also names the Office of Hawaiian Affairs as a member of POL. It is our privilege to continue our collaboration in support of the wellbeing of our people. Each month this column will share good work of each of these hale, our partners and other community initiatives that contribute to the health and wellbeing of Native Hawaiians and their families.

E ola, e ola, e ola nā kini e!