My Time as an Intern at the Legislature


By Hema Kealohanuikaiama Watson, Grade 11 Hālau Kū Māna New Century Public Charter School

E oʻu mau poʻe heluhelu mai kahakihi ā kahakihi, aloha!

This past legislative session, I had the opportunity to intern for Rep. Jeanné Kapela at the state capitol. During my time with her, I was able to conduct my own personal research and reflect about where I stand and what I’d like to do with my future.

As part of my work, I was tasked with finding bills and tracking them. I even had the opportunity to offer testimony on a few measures. I recognize that some may consider this process mundane, but it holds extreme value – especially for me and others.

Photo: Hema Watson and his fellow KONO peers
Hema Watson and his fellow KONO peers with Rep. Daniel Holt. – Photo: Courtesy

This legislative session was historic for our lāhui, as we are set to receive a record amount of funding and benefits:

  • $600 million was allocated to the Department of Hawaiian Homelands. This significant amount of aid will provide the support that our Hawaiian people deserve and need.
  • Our education systems will be receiving a well-deserved upgrade of $10 million for fans and cooling units.
  • Over $130 million will be spent on better teacher pay (with $32.5 million for teacher shortage differentials).
  • $2 million to address menstrual equity in public schools.

Another major highlight of the legislative session was being able to provide my manaʻo on SB2021, a measure that would increase the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ pro rata share of the Public Land Trust revenue. When I heard SB2021 was being considered by the House, I took action and made sure to write a letter to every House member to ensure that my voice (and the voices of my peers) was heard.

That turned out to be one of the best ideas because when the bill was being debated on the House floor, Rep. Daniel Holt stood up and used part of my letter in his speech urging his colleagues to support the measure.

It felt powerful to hear my words, to hear my name recognized, and to feel our collective voice expressed through my words and Rep. Holt’s ea.

On May 3, 2022, I was able to visit the capitol to watch hundreds of bills be considered during the final reading. Ka Leo O Nā ʻŌpio (KONO) invited me and some of my peers to witness this important day in the legislative session. We learned a lot about the process and found it within ourselves to grow and find new answers.

We, as Kānaka Maoli, must make those first moves to become literate like our kūpuna, becoming educated and steady people of this land. We cannot let these high tides wash our resolve or dreams away like small grains of sand.

It may seem easy to look at my progress and applaud it – or look at it and not care – but I am a Hawaiian. I am Kanaka Maoli, a part of the Kānaka Maoli, and a part of who I am lives in this lāhui. Furthering my studies and strengthening my confidence in running this system assures my success and therefore my people’s success. Hāʻawi aku, hāʻawi mai: What you give is what you receive.

A hui hou, mālama pono!