Three Kānaka Maoli Selected as Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellows

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In early June, the First Nations Development Institute and The Henry Luce Foundation announced 13 new Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellows for their 2021 Cohort. Among the 13 new Fellows are three Kānaka Maoli recipients: Charles Kealoha Leslie, Charles E. Auliʻi Mitchell, and Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu.

Individuals selected for the Fellowship were identified for their passion, ingenuity and efforts to perpetuate Indigenous knowledge and strengthen their communities.

Native Hawaiian architect and mason Francis Palani Sinenci was one of 12 additional 2021 Fellowship applicants who received an honorable mention.

Created in 2019, the Fellowship is a two-year, self-directed enrichment program designed to honor and support Native leaders and thinkers who are working to further Indigenous knowledge creation, dissemination, and perpetuation in their communities. This is the second cohort of Fellows. Traditional mixed-media artist and cultural practitioner Lloyd Kumulāʻau Sing, Jr. was part of the Fellowship’s inaugural cohort in 2020.

There were more than 450 applicants for the 2021 Fellowship. Fellows are selected by an Indigenous advisory committee via a highly competitive peer-reviewed process. ʻŌiwi representation on the advisory committees to date includes Dr. Jon Osorio, dean of Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at UH Mānoa (2020 Cohort), and Dr. Kehaulani Watson-Sproat, CEO of Honua Consulting, a Hawaiian-owned cultural resource management and community planning company (2021 Cohort).

Each Fellow receives an award of $75,000 and access to resources for training and professional development. They meet regularly throughout the first year of the Fellowship to share and grow their knowledge, projects, and efforts to achieve their personal and community goals.

Established in 1936 and based in New York City, the Henry Luce Foundation’s purpose is to promote innovative scholarship, cultivate new leaders, and foster international understanding in an effort to elevate public discourse in areas such as education, religion and theology, art, and public policy.

Fellowship partner, First Nations Development Institute, has been working for the past 40 years to restore Native Americans’ control and culturally compatible stewardship of their assets, as well as to establish new assets, with a goal of ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities. Strategies include educating grassroots cultural practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing communities.

First Nations President and CEO Michael Roberts said that the Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship is integral to First Nations’ philosophy of helping Indigenous people to take control of their assets. “Working with the Luce Foundation, we can stand behind these leaders who are culture bearers in their communities. This Fellowship allows us to stand with them so that they may focus on their work, amplify it, and make it even more powerful.”

Sean T. Buffington, vice president of the Luce Foundation, noted that the Fellowship is an investment both in individuals and in their communities. “The Henry Luce Foundation is honored to support the work of these 13 Indigenous knowledge keepers. That three fellows are Native Hawaiians confirms the extraordinary vitality and creativity of Kānaka Maoli. We say hoʻomaikaʻi to Chuck Leslie, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, and Auliʻi Mitchell!”

Photo: Charles Aulii-Mitchell
Charles E. Auliʻi Mitchell – Photos: Courtesy

Charles E. Auliʻi Mitchell, an artist and kumu hula, is committed to creating, preserving, and perpetuating the practice of carving and dressing images for the ritual dancing of hula kiʻi (puppetry), the form of hula that is closest to the oldest written accounts.

Mitchell will focus on revitalizing this traditional medium of communication to strengthen the sacred and secular wellbeing of ka lāhui Hawaiʻi. He will teach the hula kiʻi process; develop a Galleria Exhibition on hula kiʻi with his haumāna from the Hula Kiʻi Collaborative and other hālau hula; and write a book manuscript.

“Being selected for the Luce Indigenous Fellows means working with a collective consciousness in creating, preserving, perpetuating, and disseminating our traditions, customs, practices and beliefs within our Indigenous communities,” said Mitchell. “Making tribal and clan connections through our Indigenous art mediums keeps them alive.”

Photo: Charles Kealoha Leslie
Charles Kealoha Leslie

Charles Kealoha Leslie is one of the last traditional Native Hawaiian net-makers and a kupuna lawaiʻa (elder fisherman). To preserve and share his knowledge, Leslie will develop an Indigenous lawaiʻa apprenticeship program, accompanied by a video and workbook course for teachers and students.

He will also foster and develop a statewide network for the traditional ʻōpelu fishing families. Through net-making and outreach, Leslie hopes to restore Hawaiian fishing culture for future generations.

“I am truly humbled and honored to be a Luce Foundation First Nations Fellow. This recognition helps me to build my net-making classroom, travel to other fishing communities to connect our ʻohana lawaiʻa, build my teaching program, and archive my practices,” said Leslie. “To be recognized as a Fellow shows that others believe in and are helping me to ensure the generational traditions I have practiced since I was 5 will continue to thrive and feed our Kānaka Maoli.”

Photo: Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu
Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu

Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, a cultural practitioner, teacher and community advocate, will write and voice a public broadcast documentary film and produce a digital exhibition exploring the stone monument on Waikīkī Beach that honors four legendary mahu – people of dual male and female spirit – who brought healing arts to Hawaiʻi and used spiritual power to treat disease.

The Kapaemahu Project will use animation, newly discovered archival materials, and expert interviews to revive this cultural legacy of healing and gender diversity, examine how and why it was suppressed, and provide tools to educate and engage audiences on the importance of maintaining traditional knowledge in the face of modern challenges.

“It is an honor to become part of the Luce Fellowship cohort,” said Wong-Kalu. “I look forward to learning, growing, sharing, and possibly even contributing to another native individual’s growth. I am also humbled and most grateful for the support – it will [enable] me to honor the obligations being made of me in this lifetime.”


Applications for the 2022 Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship are now available. The application deadline is July 13, 2021, by 5:00 p.m. (Mountain Daylight Time). For more information go to: www.firstnations.org/rfps/luce-2022/