They are on the threshold of adulthood, living at a time when Hawaiʻi, America and the world are facing many daunting challenges. What concerns our ʻōpio today and why? How do they think these problems can be solved? Six high school students offer candid responses.

Photo: Sophia Perry
Credit: Shaun Chillingworth

Sophia Perry

Kamehameha Schools Hawaiʻi | Grade 12
Conservation and Sustainability

Healthy living means having access to, among other things, clean air, water and land. To protect this ideal, we promote conservation and sustainability. But the Western idea of conservation is typically concentrated on reversing damage already done by man. It is a reactive approach involving, for example, recycling and picking up litter. The land is seen as a source of profit or a means of enjoyment.

In contrast, Native Hawaiians view the land as a source of life. As kānaka, it is our responsibility to take care of it: He aliʻi ka ʻāina; he kauwā ke kanaka. The kānaka perspective acknowledges that the land can thrive without us, but we cannot thrive without the land.

When we talk about conservation and sustainability, it’s more than just recycling cans, using solar energy and putting trash in garbage bins, although every green effort, however small, helps. To really become a self-sufficient, conservation-minded community, we need to first shift the paradigm — to help people develop a love and appreciation for the land, to have an aloha ʻāina perspective.

The best way to do this is through education. An understanding of the history and moʻolelo of places in Hawaiʻi encourages a deeper connection, allowing one to regard the land as something more than just a spot to hike, surf, build a house, or have a picnic. It is this strong relationship, built on the combination of education and personal experience, that will allow residents to truly see Hawaiʻi as their special home. And this understanding will empower everyone to do his or her part to protect and preserve it.

Photo: Pakalana Hao
Credit: Hi’ilei De Aguiar Kubi Sproat

Pakalana Hao

Kanu o ka ʻĀina Learning ʻOhana | Grade 11
Homelessness/Affordable Housing

Home is my safe place. It’s where I look forward to relaxing after a long day. Having a home helps to define us. It’s an extension of who we are.

I have great sympathy for people who don’t have a home. I imagine their lives aren’t what they dreamt of when they were younger — that they don’t have a sense of security because they don’t know where they’re going to eat their next meal or where they’re going to sleep at night.

There are many reasons why people wind up being homeless. One reason is they made poor choices and started hanging out with the wrong group. Maybe they got addicted to drugs and are committing crimes to pay for them. Their families tried to help them, but they’re either not accepting that help or their families gave up because they aren’t making a sincere effort to change.

But I think everyone deserves a second chance, and the first step to end homelessness is the availability of permanent, affordable housing. People trying to turn their lives around need to have that stability.

The state could release land or private landowners could donate land for affordable housing. Tax and other incentives could be provided to developers interested in those projects. We as a community must hold politicians accountable for what they say. When they’re running for office, politicians often promise to build affordable housing, but when they get in, they put that on the back burner. Instead of just complaining and calling police officers to move homeless people out of their neighborhoods, citizens should educate themselves and be an active part of the solution.

Photo: Kawena Abrigo
Credit: Lehua Abrigo

Kawena Abrigo

Saint Louis School | Grade 12
Racial Unrest

When I was growing up, my parents taught me to always say hello to my grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins when we arrived at family parties and to say goodbye to them before we left. That became second nature to me, and I’ve since learned if you treat people with courtesy and respect, you’re going to have positive interactions with them.

I think stereotyping is the main reason there is racial unrest in America. Young people sometimes believe negative things about certain ethnic groups because of what they read, see on TV and social media, and hear from role models, including rappers and athletes. But stereotypes and assumptions need to go out the window. Instead, those on opposing sides should come together and really listen to each other. Right now, there is too much talking going on and not enough listening with open minds.

I’m proud of all the races I represent: I’m Filipino, Hawaiian, German, Italian, African American and a Native American of Cherokee descent. Many of my friends are also of mixed blood, but we never think of ourselves that way. We’re just…people.

Everyone doesn’t share that view, and change isn’t going to happen overnight. Honest communication is important. It takes time and patience to build trust and gain a clear understanding of other people’s backgrounds and opinions. We can’t change the past, but we can change the present.

Don’t pre-judge; accept others for who they are. If you do that — no matter the color of their skin, hair or eyes — you may find that you’ve made new friends who have more in common with you than you thought was possible.

Photo: Mahina Kaomea
Credit: Saint

Mahina Kaomea

Kamehameha Schools Kapālama | Grade 12
Food Sovereignty

Centuries ago, Kawainui, the place that first inspired my commitment to food sovereignty and ʻāina restoration, was a 400-acre fishpond fringed by extensive fields of kalo, maiʻa, ʻuala and kō. The pond once fed families throughout Koʻolaupoko, but today it lies dormant, overrun by invasive plants and surrounded by suburban sprawl. Many kānaka have forgotten it was a fishpond and instead refer to it as a marsh.

As we work towards a food-sovereign future, reclaiming, rebuilding and revitalizing our Indigenous methods of local food production, in places such as Kawainui, is critical because 90% of Hawaiʻi’s food is currently imported from overseas.

In a food-sovereign future, we will need more farmers and fishermen to oversee the production and balance of land and water ecosystems. We will need lawmakers and economists to prevent overdevelopment of lands and help make agriculture and aquaculture fulfilling, economically viable professions. And we will need educators to transform the way we relate to and understand ʻāina — not as a natural resource to be exploited but as our kupuna, and that which feeds.

Rebuilding the structures that have fed our people for generations — such as māla, loʻi kalo and loko iʻa — will take both individual and collective action. ʻOhana can easily plant enough huli in a 10-by-10-foot area in their backyards to eventually yield 100 pounds of kalo. Or if we prefer to work alongside others, there are many places where we can mālama loʻi kalo or loko iʻa in our communities.

Whatever hana we choose, in turning our hands towards the earth, we will find that in growing meaʻai, we are also growing ourselves as we assume our kuleana as stewards of aloha ʻāina.

Photo: Tehani Kekuawela
Credit: Darissa Kekuawela

Tehani Kekuawela

Kamehameha Schools Hawaiʻi | Grade 9
Climate Change

Emission of greenhouse gases is the biggest contributor to climate change. These gases trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere, causing global warming by thinning the ozone layer that protects us from full exposure to the sun. Greenhouse gas emissions are primarily caused by human activities, including burning fossil fuel for heat, electricity and transportation.

Because the Earth is getting warmer, ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising. Record heat waves in California and Oregon have started massive wildfires that are destroying millions of acres. That makes a bad situation worse because plants and trees are great sources of oxygen.

We can’t rebuild the ozone layer, but we can stop more damage from happening by being less reliant on cars and buses that run on fuel, and choosing to walk, ride bikes or drive hybrid or electric vehicles instead. We can switch to wind and solar power, and reuse and recycle as much as we can to reduce emissions that result from manufacturing.

Food production also affects climate change. Machines and trucks are required to raise animals and process, transport and store meat and dairy products. In comparison, planting a fruit and vegetable garden at home doesn’t require fuel and electricity, you don’t have to drive to the supermarket and you don’t have to buy produce that came to Hawaiʻi on ships that release greenhouse gases.

Everyone needs to kōkua, and I welcome volunteers for the Aloha ʻÄina Keiki Club that I created. My goal for the club is to teach children about climate change because efforts to save our planet should start at that young age. Kids can be the superheroes for the Earth.

Photo: Iokepa Guerrero
Credit: Andy Hawes

Maui Iokepa-Guerrero

Saint Louis School | Grade 11
The Pandemic

What concerns me the most about the pandemic is people’s health and safety, especially our kūpuna, who are at high risk of getting sick. In Hawaiʻi, we enjoy going outdoors and gathering with friends and family, but now, to stay healthy, we can’t always be with our loved ones.

My school is on a distance-learning model through at least the first quarter, and although I miss seeing my friends in person, we’re lucky to be able to text and use Instagram, Zoom and FaceTime to keep in touch. My hālau, Nā Pualei O Likolehua, meets weekly on Zoom for hula classes. And every day, we participate in a new initiative called Lāhui Kānaka while we’re at home with our ʻohana. For about 10 minutes, we chant and pray for mauli ola.

Even though my hālau is not physically together or on Zoom, we gather in mind and spirit exactly at noon for Lāhui Kānaka. Knowing that everyone, including our families, is putting their mana into it at the same time connects us and helps us stand strong.

The pandemic has caused a lot of pain and suffering, and we are not out of the woods yet. There is so much uncertainty; our lives might never be the same, and that’s a scary thought. But it’s important to be positive.

One good thing I’ve noticed from people being on lockdown is that the ʻāina is healing itself. The ocean is cleaner, and sea turtles are starting to nest in areas they haven’t been before. Seeing that is also healing for me; it brings me peace, happiness and hope.

Who Will Decide Our Future?

Michael Wedermeyer Artwork
Art By: Michael Wedermeyer

With so much at stake in our pae ʻāina and beyond, this may be the most important election in any of our lifetimes. Our votes will help to decide our collective future for generations. In this issue’s cover story, Our ʻŌpio Speak Out, the next generation of lāhui leaders share the hopeful future they envision and proactive solutions to the problems we face.

This self-portrait by Kamehameha Schools Kapālama senior Michael Wedermeyer reminds us that while our ʻōpio may not be old enough to vote in this year’s election, they are looking to those of us who can vote to make pono choices and elect leaders who will uplift our lāhui and address urgent social and environmental issues today for the good of the generations that will follow.

Michael’s piece captures the literal and figurative interface between kanaka and ʻāina in our modern world. How do we as kanaka of today maintain a healthy dynamic with our ʻāina so that kanaka of tomorrow can appreciate this land of our kūpuna in the same way? We cannot escape this kuleana. It is embedded within our DNA. We must face that responsibility.