SCAIR staff’s Christmas 2019 food box distribution in El Cajon, San Diego. - Photo: Melanie Edmonds
By Kawehi Brandow Diaz

Native Hawaiians descend from a rich history of skilled navigation and we, as Kānaka Maoli, continue to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors by navigating beyond the pae ‘āina Hawai‘i. For many years Hawaiians have settled and planted roots in faraway places where subsequent generations continue to thrive. The drive for resettlement beyond Hawai‘i is influenced by a continually rising cost of living as well as a desire to access additional educational and employment opportunities.

According to the 2010 US census, there were 1.2 million Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders living in the United States. Of that number, just 52% of Native Hawaiians resided in the state of Hawai‘i while nearly 48% resided on the US continent, primarily in the state of California. After Hawai’i, California had the second-highest reported population of Native Hawaiianas at 20%. Given this history and supporting data, there is a great need to connect Kānaka Maoli who are living beyond our ancestral territory to support services.

One organization addressing this need is the Southern California American Indian Resource Center (SCAIR). SCAIR is a non-profit with offices in San Diego and Ventura that operates as a one-stop-shop training center with a wraparound approach to services. SCAIR services American Indian, Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian families living within urban and tribal communities throughout the counties of San Diego, Imperial, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Sonoma.

SCAIR San Diego and Ventura provide Career and Educational Training, Computer Training, Mental Health Counseling, and Emergency Supportive Services to eligible participants through the Native NetWORKS and the Howka Programs.

The Native NetWORKS Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act program is made possible through the Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration’s Division of Indian and Native American Programs. Native NetWORKS offers a full range of employment services to assist unemployed and underemployed individuals to become self-sufficient by obtaining and retaining employment, or by gaining technical skills to further their career. Native NetWORKS also supports program participants trying to secure employment by providing work supplies, bus passes and technical training fees.

Howka, which means “hello” in Kumeyaay (Tribal Nations within the San Diego area), is funded through a Community Service Block Grant Program (CSBG) from the Northern California Indian Development Council in Eureka. The Howka CSBG Program connects qualified Indigenous families with a variety of emergency services, including rental, utility and transportation payment assistance, clothing and food vouchers. Through the Howka program SCAIR also distributes boxed food and gift cards to families in need during the holidays and in emergencies like the current COVID-19 pandemic. SCAIR’s COVID-19 emergency gift card distribution in Ventura and San Diego Counties in late March assisted 225 families.

Additionally, the San Diego SCAIR center provides Tribal TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) Program services, K-12 youth services, a designated American Indian Education Center (AIEC) through the California Department of Education and Tobacco-Use Prevention Education (TUPE). Youth in the AIEC and TUPE Programs may receive academic tutorial services, cultural education and mental health counseling.

SCAIR resource centers are also spaces for supporting communal bonds and kinship among the Native community we serve. When not in a time of social distancing, SCAIR Centers also offer a space for community members to promote culture and language workshops. Providing a welcoming space is needed for urban Indigenous populations; SCAIR Centers provide safe meeting places and encourage cultural exchange.

We live in a time of so much uncertainty, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent report by the Bureau of Labor, the number of Americans applying for unemployment increased from 1.4 to 7.1 million in just 3 weeks. Although the entire nation has been adversely affected by the economic turmoil and health-risks related to COVID-19, the risk to Native communities is disproportionately higher due to being historically underserved economically and medically.

Fortunately, for California Hawaiians, there are resources in place to help address these issues. Connecting our people to critical support resources may be more important today than at any other time. The needs of Native Hawaiians extend beyond the border of our traditional homelands. We are great in number and reside in many places throughout the United States and the world. Our needs are always evolving and SCAIR is here to mālama Kānaka Maoli families in California.

For information about SCAIR services and how to qualify, visit our website at or follow SCAIR on Facebook. To inquire about offering culture or language workshops contact Kawehi Brandow Diaz at or call (805)765-6243.

Resource Advocate Kawehi Brandow Diaz and her son, Lautaro Diaz. – Photo: Leslie Lopez-Medina

Fredricka “Kawehi” Brandow Diaz is Kanaka Maoli and Diné. She grew up in Hilo, Hawai‘i and in various parts of Arizona and New Mexico. Kawehi received her BA in Hawaiian Studies from Kamakakūokalani Hawaiian School of Knowledge. She resides in Port Hueneme, California with her family and is the Resource Advocate at SCAIR Ventura.