Vernon Kapuaʻala has played soccer for most of his life. He started playing the game at the age of 6 and continued on to play high school and collegiate soccer. After getting married and having children, Kapuaʻala became a dedicated “soccer dad” and started coaching both club and high school soccer.
For years, Kapuaʻala has been running soccer leagues and tournaments on his home island of Maui and getting scouts to look at local players for U.S. national teams.
In his down time, he watched international professional soccer games and was taken by the pregame ritual of players singing their national anthem and saluting their nation’s flag.
He envisioned Hawaiʻi sports teams singing Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī as their national anthem instead of The Star-Spangled Banner and flying the Hawaiian flag as their nation’s flag rather than as a state flag.
Kapuaʻala said that growing up he never really connected with his culture and history – but after hearing a lecture about the illegal overthrow and occupation of the Hawaiian Kingdom, he began to see Hawaiʻi as a nation.
And that started him thinking that maybe he could establish a federation of Hawaiian soccer teams to represent Hawaiʻi as a nation on an international level.
In a 2020 interview published by the American Pyramid, Kapuaʻala talked about his path to understanding that he was not just ethnically Hawaiian, but a Hawaiian national. He said he realized “that my country’s international identity and my nationality has been preserved and remains intact,” and saw that his kuleana to the lāhui could be realized through Hawaiian national football teams.
“Athletes represent Hawaiʻi [internationally] in surfing and canoe paddling, why not in soccer? What makes it a Hawaiian sport is who we are and how we play it,” Kapuaʻala said.
Kapuaʻala and his wife, Trisha, founded Hui Kanaka Pōwāwae, the Hawaiian Football Federation (HFF) as a nonprofit organization. In most countries, soccer is known as “football.”
Then they established a board of directors for the nonprofit and scouted ʻŌiwi high school soccer players from across Hawaiʻi to create the first-ever Hawaiian National Teams (Nā ʻĀlapa Hawaiʻi).
In addition to the rigorous training and conditioning required of all serious athletes, players with Nā ʻĀlapa Hawaiʻi are also immersed in Hawaiian language, culture and history.
More than just developing athletic prowess, Hui Kanaka Pōwāwae has a mission to improve resiliency and the overall wellbeing of Native Hawaiians. Their website states that “Through our National Team Program, we are working to produce meaningful impacts on the physical, emotional, and mental health of our players, their families, and the Native Hawaiian community at large – by creating a space where Hawaiian National Identity can be recovered, reclaimed, reconstructed, collectively expressed and shared.”
“Māori Football has been doing it since 2016,” Kapuaʻala said. “Kids might be aboriginal, but may not be [culturally] connected otherwise. Weʻre building the connection.”
Through HFF, Native Hawaiian soccer players are able to represent their native land and compete internationally under their own flag.
HFF has four teams (male and female, under-16 and under-18) with 20 players per team that were selected from a pool of nearly 300 Native Hawaiian soccer players. HFF hopes to form adult men’s and women’s teams in the near future.
Hui Kanaka Pōwāwae has also created and maintains a database of Native Hawaiian soccer players from within Hawaiʻi as well as Hawaiian players who live outside of Hawaiʻi.
There is no cost to players to be a part of HFF. Trisha Kapuaʻala writes grants to obtain financial support for the program, and the players themselves help with fundraising online. Hui Kanaka Pōwāwae is run by volunteers with just one paid staff member, Ian Mork, who is the program’s technical director.
In May 2022, HFF announced a formal partnership with Māori Football Aotearoa for the purpose of competition and cultural reciprocation between Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Hawaiʻi. In November 2022, Hui Kanaka Pōwāwae announced that 38 players from the islands of Maui, Kauaʻi, Oʻahu and Hawaiʻi, had been selected to represent Hawaiʻi in international competition in Aotearoa in July 2023.
In preparation for their first international competition, in early June HFF held training camps on Oʻahu for their players.
The men’s U-18 and women’s U-18 Hawaiian National Teams will tour Aotearoa from July 17-27 to compete in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) and in Kaikohe to the north. While there, the players will attend a match of the International Federation of Association Football Women’s World Cup scheduled for July 20 to Aug. 20 in Aotearoa and Australia.
And in 2024, HFF will host Māori Football Aotearoa here in Hawaiʻi.
Kapuaʻala believes that Hawaiian athletes will become modern symbols of national pride. And when Kapuaʻala talks about building a “national team” he emphasizes that it is about nationality, not race. “We’re not political,” he said. “This is a patriotic exercise.”
For more information go to: https://hawaiianfootball.com/.