Photo: Native Hawaiian Research Hui
The Native Hawaiian Research Hui conducted a roundtable session, "Developing Indigenous-focused Indicators of Wellbeing Among Native Hawaiians," at the U.S. Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Governance Summit in Arizona in April. (L to R): Dr. Brandon Ledward (KS), Nina Murrow (Queens), Dr. Samatha Keaulana-Scott (POL), Dr. Pālama Lee (LT), Dr. Randall Akee (summit organizer and roundtable moderator), Kanilehua Kim (Queens), Wendy Kekahio (KS), and Keith Makaleʻa Gutierrez (OHA).- Courtesy Photo

By Keith Makaleʻa Gutierrez, OHA Research Manager

It was a hot Arizona morning in the Sonoran Desert. The surrounding homelands of the Tohono O’odham Nation were illuminated by the bright Tucson sun, while a cleansing smoke feathered across the main ballroom.

Our hosts, the U.S. Indigenous Data Sovereignty Network (USIDSN) and Pascua Yaqui Tribe, opened the summit, welcoming our small group of Native Hawaiian researchers and evaluators, and all summit participants, with a traditional Yaqui and O’odham welcome.

The traditional blessing ceremony opened the U.S. Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Governance Summit. Over 400 Indigenous leaders, scholars, researchers, policy experts, advocates, and allies gathered for the convening dedicated to Indigenous data sovereignty and Indigenous data governance.

Attendees hailed from Native American Tribes, Tribal government organizations, government bodies and universities. Also present were Indigenous representatives from Canada, Aotearoa, Australia, Hawaiʻi, and the U.S. The mixed-medium format virtually hosted scores more of participants across the globe.

To date, it was the largest in-person gathering dedicated to Indigenous data sovereignty and Indigenous data governance.

The two-day summit had a packed agenda that included keynote speeches, roundtable sessions, oral sessions with presentations, a tribal leader panel, cultural performances and the launch of the inaugural USIDSN Data Warriors Awards and Scholarships.

We attended as the Native Hawaiian Research Hui (NHRH), one of two groups representing Native Hawaiians. NHRH includes Kamehameha Schools (KS), Liliʻuokalani Trust (LT), the Queen’s Health System (Queen’s), Papa Ola Lōkahi (POL), and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). The hui’s moʻokūʻauhau dates to 2020, when KS, LT, and OHA saw a need for increased research and Native Hawaiian data collaboration during the early days of the pandemic. Queen’s and POL joined in the following years.

NHRH’s work focuses on collaborative projects surrounding access to, and dissemination of, Native Hawaiian data in research, evaluation, public health, and overall wellbeing.

At the summit, NHRH conducted a roundtable session, “Developing Indigenous-focused Indicators of Wellbeing Among Native Hawaiians,” moderated by one of the summit organizers, Dr. Randall Akee. Akee, also Native Hawaiian, was interested in NHRH’s collaboration on the ʻImi Pono Hawaiʻi Wellbeing Survey and the Kūkulu Kumuhana framework.

The ʻImi Pono Hawaiʻi Wellbeing Survey examines wellbeing from a holistic, Indigenous, and strength-based perspective. The survey instrument, data dashboard, and research products draw heavily from the hui’s experience working with Hawaiian communities by providing meaningful data to tell a more complete story of wellbeing among Native Hawaiians and Hawaiʻi residents.

Now in its fourth year, the annual survey utilizes the Kūkulu Kumuhana framework to center Kānaka Maoli perspectives across six wellbeing dimensions: Ea (self-determination), Pilina (relationships), Waiwai (knowledge and wealth), ʻŌiwi (cultural identity), ʻĀina Momona (healthy/productive land), and Ke Akua Mana (spirtuality) to address social inequalities and support collective efforts for Native Hawaiian research, evaluation, advocacy, and programming.

Developed through a separate partnership that includes several NHRH organizations, the Kūkulu Kumuhana framework aims to elevate Hawaiian knowledge, principles, and practices.

Our presentation highlighted how we practice Native Hawaiian Data Sovereignty through our work by showcasing a project that utilizes the Kūkulu Kumuhana dimensions in the ʻImi Pono Hawaiʻi Wellbeing Survey as an act of Ea. Centering Hawaiian voices in Hawaiian community-driven research projects grounded in Hawaiian concepts of holistic wellbeing demonstrates our self-determination over ourselves, our data, and our work.

By intentionally grounding survey questions and publications in concepts like ʻāina momona and Ke Akua mana, we underscore how, through this act of ea, we can counter deficit-based narratives about Native Hawaiians often found in euro- and western-centered perspectives.

Networking with the broader Indigenous data sovereignty community led to thought-provoking discussions – including the diaspora and building pilina beyond the homeland.

“Our work in NHRH is aligned with the powerful message shared by Māori keynote speaker Kirikowhai Mikaere who said, ʻthe data we collect should transform the lives of our people.’ As a hui, we are data designers for our people and our aim is for our data to illustrate the beauty and wholistic wellbeing of Kānaka that is intrinsically connected to akua and ʻāina,” said Dr. Samantha Keaulana-Scott of Papa Ola Lōkahi.

A keynote speech by Māori Data Iwi Leaders emphasized that by ensuring Māori voices are heard and valued, the next generation won’t only hear the narrative of deficit statistics and can recognize the massive contributions that Māori make to their community and nation.

This resonates with our own experiences in Hawaiʻi as we grapple with a similar colonial history where research is often extractive.

In all, the summit proved an amazing, inclusive, and productive event. The format allowed broad reach and participation from a global audience and helped build a sense of kinship amongst the various Indigenous communities represented.

Just as we do at home, the summit ended with cultural protocol to close the event and honor the time and space we shared as one community of Indigenous people, leaving us with strengthened resolve to continue exerting our self-determination and ownership over our own places and data. We look forward to elevating the work of our communities through future collaborations with NHRH.

For more information on USIDSN, visit their website at: