Tipping the System to Benefit Native Hawaiians: Systems Mapping in Action

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Photo: Palama Lee

By Pālama Lee, Ph.D.

The current system reinforces injustices perpetuated against Native Hawaiians, disconnects them from their culture, and limits opportunities for their families to thrive.

In 2019, Liliʻuokalani Trust (LT) engaged over 300 stakeholders across five islands to identify the forces they see helping or hurting the ability of Native Hawaiians to break the cycle of poverty. The manaʻo they shared is represented in the LT Systems Map. Highlighted are four interventions that have the potential to change the lives of Kānaka and the lāhui and contribute to a more equitable society.

Liliʻuokalani Trust Diagrams – Long Description

Heal Trauma

Recognizing the suffering of others and connecting people to sources of healing impacts “Easing Pain” (Map theme/loop). This has the potential to heal emotional and spiritual harm, improve mental health, and move kamaliʻi and ʻohana to a place of greater wellbeing (Changing the Story).

Strengthen ʻOhana

Connecting kamaliʻi and ʻohana to navigators (individuals who foster healing and community strength) and finding ways to increase “Family Time,” strengthens ʻohana. This potentially increases ea (self-determination) of individuals and ʻohana and their ability to meet basic needs.

Kūpuna and Keiki

Connecting kūpuna with keiki perpetuates traditional Hawaiian values and ʻike which grounds youth and provides them with valuable knowledge, skills, and wisdom. This contributes to “Living Aloha” and “Connect to Self, Connect to Community” while reversing “Kūpuna Pushed Aside.”

Strengthen Collective

Fostering Hawaiian culture and language and using aloha to combat efforts to exploit Hawaiians, unleashes “People Power” in a positive and effective manner. An example of this is the use of “Kapu Aloha” to create pathways such as resistance and solidarity for many Hawaiians.

Each of the interventions, alone, is not enough to create sustained systems change. Implemented together, they have the potential to push the system in a direction that benefits Hawaiians.

At Liliʻuokalani Trust, we use these four interventions by:

  • Sharing them and the systems map across the pae ʻāina;
  • Nurturing collaborative spaces to work collectively to lift these interventions;
  • Remembering “Aloha” is key, people power, instilling trust and vision, and self gifts; and
  • Integrating them in our programs and services to support LT’s Strategic Plan

It is our belief and hope that this new version of the system will be one which fosters thriving Hawaiian children and uplifts their wellbeing. We extend an invitation to all to use this work and to reach out to us at vfuata@onipaa.org.



Pālama Lee is blessed to have worked for the Liliʻuokalani Trust (LT) for nearly 10 years. He is a clinical social worker and an evaluator and researcher who offers a culturally responsive lens to illuminate the wellbeing of our lāhui. He received his MSW and PhD at UH Mānoa. He is the Director of Research, Evaluation, and Strategy at LT.