Leading by doing


A new generation of Hawaiian leaders are rising to the challenges facing our islands and our planet. E Hoʻokanaka features these important new voices.

Photo: Haunani Kane
Haunani Kane – Photo: Jason Lees

Ka Wai Ola sat down with Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) Assistant Navigator and Science Coordinator Haunani Kane and asked her to share her manaʻo on leadership.

Kane, who sailed 5 legs of the Worldwide Voyage received her PhD in Earth and Planetary Sciences from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She is currently a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Researcher working at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. Her research is focused on better understanding how islands within Papahānaumokuākea will response to sea level rise and storms. In addition to her work with PVS, Kane is also a member of ʻOhana Waʻa and Nā Kama Kai, a youth organization that teaches ocean awareness, safety and conservation.

Reflections on Leadership

“The leaders I most admire lead by doing. They are quiet, but when they speak what they say is profound. From Nainoa (Thompson) I learned to dream big and how, when things seem impossible, to find the courage and strength to persevere. I was fortunate to do two sails with Uncle Bruce (Blankenfeld). He is so good at leading people. He inspires his whole crew to work hard all the time – and they do it just because they want to make him proud.

One of my most memorable legs of the world-wide voyage was sailing home in 2017, and being part of a team with strong, focused and amazing wahine. Pomai Bertleman was our captain and Kaiulani Murphy was our navigator. It was the first time in the history of Hōkūleʻa that there was both a female captain and navigator. I got to see that women can lead in our own way. We don’t have to do things the same way as men to be successful.”

Culture and Science

Haunani Kane on the Hōkūleʻa during the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage – Photos: Polynesian Voyaging Society and ʻŌiwi TV

“Our culture drives us to ask questions. When we see a problem, we seek solutions because the issue is important to our people. When you think of science that way, when you seek solutions knowing there’s an impact on people you care about, that’s the way of doing pono science.

When I’m out on the ocean that’s when I feel the most connected to my kūpuna. It’s a space where you’re navigating and using lots of math and science; there’s critical thinking, observation and recall. But it’s more than that. There’s a spiritual and cultural element. At times things happen that you can’t explain. You start to step into that other realm and you realize it’s coming from somewhere deeper and that you’re making a connection. It’s hard to explain.”

Paying it Forward

“Nainoa invested time in us with the expectation that we will do the same for future generations. This summer, I taught an oceanography class at UH. I tried to connect everything I taught the students back to Hawaiʻi. If they can relate what they are learning to their home, then they can relate it to their own lives.

One of my passions is helping young people learn in ways that are non-traditional: Teach them about the ocean by being out on the ocean; teach them about the mountains by being up in the mountains. A ʻclassroom’ is not a set of walls, but any space where learning takes place.”