Congratulations to NAPALI’s 2023 Cohort


Founded in 1998, the National Pacific American Leadership Institute (NAPALI) has hosted 24 annual leadership training sessions, producing over 330 fellows. Past NAPALI participants include educators, business leaders, politicians, bureaucrats, community organizers and more.

In June, the 2023 NAPALI cohort concluded with the addition of 12 new fellows selected from around the U.S. and the Pacific. Fellows gathered in Honolulu for a 10-day self-discovery leadership and community servant retreat.

The fellows represented professionals from a variety of fields such as academia, community service, technology and screenwriting. Pacific Islander representation among the fellows included Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan and Chamorro.

The retreat entailed intensive 14-hour-long days of presentations, workshops, and team building sessions. Presenters included professors from around the Pacific, community leaders, cultural practitioners, and business leaders, speaking on themes such as cultural identity, awareness, acceptance, and sensitivity in our personal and professional lives. These talks were excellent reminders to be mindful about keeping our cultures alive and better incorporating them into our lives – and how easy it is to fall into daily routines and let culture fall by the wayside.

Presenters also spoke on professionalism, leadership, government, and morals. In particular, a lesson on becoming a master orator by retired Judge Thomas Kaulukukui resonated with the group. Captivated by his oratorical skills and thankful for his recommendations, the cohort went on to incorporate his teachings throughout the duration of the program.

On the subject of government, passionate conversations took place. In the geopolitical landscape of the Pacific, island peoples (Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian) are important stakeholders with much to lose. Other conversations included the U.S. federal government and its capabilities past and present – a reminder that we are under the control of the U.S. government, for better or worse.

Professor Palakiko Yagodich shared a powerful story about his fishing net. His story was one of family tradition – the arc of separation from his net, native lifestyle, and being reunited. He spoke about the importance of passing traditions and culture on to the next generation. He said firmly, “I do this for my people.” And he followed up rhetorically asking, “If not me then who?”

This reinforced the idea that we need to take charge to make our communities better. The idea of community betterment could be as small as picking up trash at the beach park or as large as running for the neighborhood board. Most importantly, it requires one to be proactive.

It was comforting to learn that other Pacific Islander groups share similar issues with our Native Hawaiian community and that we are not alone. It was inspiring to meet other Polynesian community organizers and speakers who are making a difference by putting in the effort required to solve issues such as housing, employment, income, healthcare, education, incarceration, and recidivism.

When our time together ended, we boarded our metaphorical canoes to return to our communities with the ʻike acquired during the retreat. Mahalo to the NAPALI board and organizational team, and the guest speakers who donated their time and energy.

In a nation where our issues commonly go unacknowledged and fall to the wayside in the national narrative, the space NAPALI created is needed more than ever for both the truths and harsh realities to be given dialogue about the challenges faced in our Pacific Island communities.