A Healer of the Land; A Healer of the People

Photo: Dr. Noa Emmett ʻAuwae Aluli
Dr. Noa Emmett ʻAuwae Aluli – Photos: Courtesy

Dr. Noa Emmett ʻAuwae Aluli
Jan. 16, 1944 – Nov. 30, 2022

Kulu ka waimaka, uwē ka ʻōpua; The tears fall, the clouds weep.

The passing of Dr. Noa Emmett ʻAuwae Aluli, beloved Molokaʻi family physician and iconic leader of the Aloha ʻĀina movement, is mourned throughout Hawaiʻi Pae ʻĀina and the world. He leaves an inspiring and enduring legacy for the generations that follow.

In a statement issued by the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana, which Aluli helped to form in 1976, his passing generated “a hulihia, an overturning, an upheaval marking [his] transformation as a heroic and dearly loved leader into a dynamic spiritual force and a cleansing that opens the way for the next generation of leaders” marked by the convergence of elemental hōʻailona (signs) occurring at the same time including “forceful winds, rainbows, blessings of cleansing rain showers, a rust moon due to the eclipse of Mars…and the…Mauna Loa eruption.”

Soft-spoken and humble in demeanor, Aluli comes from a large, prominent and extended Hawaiian family. Descendants of noted Hawaiian patriot and anti-annexationist Emma ʻAʻima Aʻii Nāwahī, wife of Joseph Nāwahī, their numbers include medical doctors, attorneys, academics and musicians. Aluli’s life partner is UH Mānoa Ethnic Studies Professor Dr. Davianna Pōmaikaʻi McGregor.

Photo: Noa Emmett Aluli as a medical student
Aluli as a medical student.

Born on Oʻahu and raised in Kailua, Aluli graduated from Saint Louis High School and Marquette University in Wisconsin. He was part of the first cohort of medical doctors from the University of Hawaiʻi John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM).

After completing a family health residency on Molokaʻi in 1975, Aluli began a 46-year medical practice at the Molokaʻi Family Health Center. His contributions to medicine in Hawaiʻi were nothing short of transformational.

Aluli pioneered a distinctively Native Hawaiian approach to health care in rural Hawaiian communities. Believing that each patient’s health and wellbeing must be understood in relation to their ʻohana, genealogy, lifestyle, and ʻāina, he also emphasized specialized care for kūpuna and even made home visits.

In 1983, as one of a handful of Hawaiian physicians, Aluli participated in the original E Ola Mau Health Study, a seminal report that established the baseline health status of Native Hawaiians. Alarmed by the excessive rates of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity on Molokaʻi, Aluli sought out the ʻike of kūpuna who helped him develop a traditional foods diet. Participants in the resulting Molokaʻi Heart Study dramatically reduced their risk factors, cementing in medical journals the inherent value of such diets.

To empower Hawaiian communities, Aluli initiated community-based participatory research on Molokaʻi, laying the groundwork for Indigenous health data sovereignty in Hawaiʻi. He also helped to draft the Native Hawaiian Health Care Improvement Act and lobbied until it was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1988. This groundbreaking federal legislation led to the creation of the Native Health Care System, Papa Ola Lōkahi, and on Molokaʻi, Nā Puʻuwai, which he co-founded.

In 1998, Aluli was an original member of ʻAhahui O Nā Kauka, the Native Hawaiian Physicians Association. With more than 300 members today, it is part of the international Pacific Region Indigenous Doctors Congress.

Aluli’s efforts led to the opening of the Molokaʻi Dialysis Center. He also raised $17 million to upgrade the trauma unit at Molokaʻi General Hospital, and successfully campaigned for its CAT scan machine.

“The health of the land, is the health of our people, is the health of our nation,” was Aluli’s personal motto, and as a community activist he put his words into action. He initially worked to protect Hawaiʻi’s subsistence lifestyle as part of Hui Ala Loa, which advocated for ocean access rights through Molokaʻi Ranch, and successfully stopped development that would have destroyed the prominent landmark Kaiaka Rock, village complexes, a puʻu- honua at Kawela, the Pūkoʻo fishpond, and a fishing koʻa (shrine) and house sites at Kawākiunui.

Aluli’s most enduring legacy was his role in founding the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana (PKO) and the Aloha ʻĀina movement. The PKO’s heroic efforts to stop the military bombing of the sacred island of Kahoʻolawe were a huliau – a turning point – in modern Hawaiian history. At this time of awakening for Native Hawaiians and for the larger community, the Aloha ʻĀina movement became the social-political backbone of the Hawaiian Renaissance.

Aluli was one of the celebrated “Kahoʻolawe Nine” who staged the first occupation of the island in Jan. 1976. After the tragic disappearance at sea of charismatic PKO leader George Helm and Kimo Mitchell in 1977, Aluli emerged as leader of the PKO, serving on the congressional Kahoʻolawe Island Conveyance Commission. Through its efforts, in 1990 the abuse of Kahoʻolawe as a military target was halted by then-President George H. W. Bush.

After half a century of military occupation by the U.S. Navy, control of Kahoʻolawe was transferred to the State of Hawaiʻi in 1994 as a cultural preserve overseen by the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission. The Navy has since conducted a massive cleanup of ordnance.

Aluli was instrumental in crafting the state law mandating that Kahoʻolawe be held in trust for eventual transfer to a sovereign Hawaiian Nation. As a delegate to the ʻAha 2016 Hawaiian Constitutional Convention, he helped draft a constitution to re-establish the Native Hawaiian Nation that would govern the island. It still awaits ratification.

Since the 1980s, the PKO’s successful efforts as kahuʻāina (cultural and spiritual steward of the land) have inspired ʻŌiwi across the pae ʻāina to stand up against the ruling powers and demand justice and pono for our ʻāina and people. The struggles to protect Mauna Kea and our freshwater resources at Kapūkakī are only the most prominent recent examples.

Guided spiritually by four generations of the Edith Kanakaʻole ʻOhana, Aluli led the PKO’s revival of Native Hawaiian cultural and spiritual practices and ceremonies. He was instrumental in re-establishing the annual Makahiki ceremony at Kahoʻolawe. Makahiki is now celebrated throughout the islands.

Aluli touched the hearts of our people with his generosity, kindness, and aloha. A man of passion and integrity, he inspired generations of Hawaiians to rise up and be heard.

“My Noa Emmett lived his life conscious of the legacy he inherited from his Aloha ʻĀina kūpuna, Emma and Joseph Nāwahī, who founded Hui Aloha ʻĀina to restore Hawaiʻi’s sovereignty, along with his grandfather, Noa Webster Aluli, who helped conceive and carry out the Hawaiian Homes Act in 1921,” said McGregor.

“He was driven to heal Kanaloa Kahoʻolawe, especially to assure that the lives of George Helm and Kimo Mitchell had not been sacrificed in vain. He tirelessly worked to achieve the vision of healthy kānaka thriving on our ancestral ʻāina under a sovereign Native Hawaiian Nation. He dedicated his life, not just a career, to the health and wellbeing of his Molokaʻi patients.

“Emmett and I truly love our ʻāina, Hawaiʻi. We love caring for ʻohana lands that we live on – Kaimalino, Hoʻolehua, Kaiwiʻula, Kanaloa Kahoʻolawe. We enjoy visiting our ʻāina aloha and those who care for them, from Hilo to Kohala, Kealakekua to Kaʻū, Kīlauea to Mauna A Wakea, Kīpahulu, Keʻanae, Hāmoa and Hāna, and nani Kauaʻi.”

“We commit for generations, not just for careers,” Aluli has said. “We set things up now so that they’ll be carried on. We look ahead together so that many of us share the same vision and dream. To our next generations we say: Go with the spirit. Take the challenge. Learn something. Give back.”

Aluli lived a life of aloha. He cherished his ʻohana, his wahine Davianna Pōmaikaʻi McGregor, their daughter, Rosie Alegado, her husband, Raymond Kong, and their moʻopuna Leihiwa and Kuamoʻo Kong. He was also the patriarch of his prominent ʻohana and is survived by his sister Kalai Teves, brothers Pia, Hayden and Webster, his beloved nieces and nephews, and his Aluli, Meyer, Hollinger and Cockett cousins.

Photo: Aluli was honored with a Kulāia Award in September 2020
Aluli was honored with a Kulāia Award in September 2020. Upon receiving the award he said, “My service has been blessed and guided by kūpuna who have, and continue to mentor and support me, and more important, enrich my understanding of health beyond just the physical. Wellbeing speaks to our mental state of mind, our social relationships with family and community, our cultural, spiritual and intellectual knowledge as Hawaiians in these pae ʻāina o Hawaiʻi, and the long-term ecological health of our environment.” – Photo: Courtesy

Kulu ka waimaka, mai ka Moku o Keawe a hiki i Niʻihau o Kahelelani. He haliʻa aloha nou, e Noa Emmett ʻAuwae Aluli. A hui hou.

Ka lā o Hua, Makaliʻi ka mālama, approximately 122 people visited Kauka Aluli’s kupapaʻu at Oʻahu Chapel and Mortuary in Nuʻuanu. He was adorned in kino lau of Lono. Wehiwehi ke akua i ka lau nahele o ka ʻāina. On this morning of Akua, in the malama of Makaliʻi, he transitioned yet again. Ua momoku ā lehu i ke ahi a Lonomakua.

Hoʻolewa for Kauka Aluli will be on Saturday, Feb. 4 at 9:00 a.m. at Lanikeha Community Center in Hoʻolehua; and on Saturday, March 4 at 10:00 a.m. at the John A. Burns School of Medicine in Kakaʻako.

Author’s note: Mahalo to Dr. Davianna McGregor, the Aluli ʻOhana, the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana, and Papa Ola Lōkahi for contributing the manaʻo necessary to write this haliʻa aloha for Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli. My husband and I first met Emmett as college students in San Francisco in 1982. Emmett was there to give a presentation about Kahoʻolawe with Puanani Burgess and Bo Kahui. That meeting forever changed my life. Emmett’s passion for our kulāiwi, and for Kahoʻolawe in particular, was inspirational. From Emmett I learned about aloha ʻāina. He expanded my consciousness and changed my thinking. I will always remember his kindness, gentleness and great aloha for our people and for our ʻāina.

Haliʻa Aloha

“In our group of cousins Emmett was the person we looked up to. He was like an older brother to me. He was not only a good man, he was good fun! We enjoyed dreaming together. Emmett was always driven to better the conditions of our Hawaiʻi. His deep aloha for the people, for the ʻāina – he really was precious and he took his kuleana very seriously. I hope people will step up to take on the kuleana he carried for so long. We still have a lot of work to do.” – Meleanna Meyer

“Emmett’s most visionary work was accomplished in working together with four generations of the Edith and Luka Kanakaʻole ʻohana, the spiritual leaders of our Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana. Together, our combined ʻohana revived the spiritual celebration of Lonoikamakahiki, honoring Kanaloa, and the rituals and ceremonies that connect us, as kānaka, to our Akua, the natural elemental life forces of nature and its cycles and our uniquely Hawaiian approach of Kapu Aloha in loving and caring for our lands and our families.” – Dr. Davianna Pōmaikaʻi McGregor

“To know Noa Emmett ʻAuwae Aluli is to know aloha. To sit with him is to sit in passion. To work with him is to work with intention. To vision with him is to see through servitude.” – Dr. C.M. Kaliko Baker

“Noa Emmett was very intelligent, but also humble and a good listener. He deeply affected thousands of people who came to Kahoʻolawe in ways that are special and meaningful to each one of them. Of all those who started the movement for Kahoʻolawe, he was the one who stayed with it. We all have to learn a lesson from that – about how to stay with a kuleana and believe in that kuleana enough to carry it through.” – Dr. Pualani Kanakaʻole Kanahele

“Emmett was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, yet what made him special was his compassion. He used his mind to serve with his heart, whether it was to heal a child or our beloved ʻaina.” – Former Gov. John D. Waiheʻe III

“Dr. Aluli’s aloha for ʻāina, his passion and commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of Native Hawaiians, and his ability to weave culture into caring inspired many haumāna to pursue a path to becoming physicians. He taught us that Aloha ʻĀina is more than a movement, it’s a way of life. His wisdom will continue to light the path for us all.” – Marcus Iwane, M.D.

“His spear is passed to the next generation and his hā (breath of life) inspires and activates.” – Craig Neff

“Uncle Emmett always made room to mentor younger Hawaiians. When deciding whether to accept the role of DLNR deputy director, I thought about what his advice might be. He always said, ‘the health of our land is the health of our people is the health of our lāhui.’ A way to honor him is to care for and improve the health of our lands. Everything else will follow.” – Laura Kaʻakua

“It was during the negotiations for the cleanup of Kahoʻolawe that we developed deep pilina. I was honored by Emmett’s trust, and anchored by his heart, his naʻau even in uncertainty, and his understanding of what it means to commit to kūpuna, ʻāina and descendants.” – Roshi Norma Wong

Nou e ka ʻIwa Kū Moku

He mele kūmākena no Noa Emmett ʻAuwae Aluli
I Kūheia, heia e ka ʻiwa,
Ka ʻiwa kīlou moku,
Mokumoku-ā-hua lā ē,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia kuʻu haku i ka lani.

I Kaulana ka puō a kānaka,
A kānaka nui, a kānaka iki,
Kūpinaʻi makena ka leo,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia kuʻu haku i ka lani.

I Pāpakanui, I Pāpakaiki,
Pakapaka ua a Lono,
Hala i ka uka o Moaʻulaiki,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia kuʻu haku i ka lani.

I Moaʻulanui, moa kaʻalele,
Lele i Puʻuhuluhulu,
Hului ke kupu, ka ʻeu o nā moku,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia kuʻu haku i ka lani.

I Waʻanui, i Waʻaiki,
Waʻawaʻa ka pele,
I Mokuʻāweoweo lā ē,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia kuʻu haku i ka lani.

I ka lae o Kuikui,
Kuʻikuʻi kukui lamalama i ka pō,
Pō ke ao, ao auaneʻi ka pō,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia kuʻu haku i ka lani.

ʻO Lono nui ʻoe, ʻo Lono iki,
ʻO Lonoikamakahiki ʻoe, ʻo Lonomakua,
ʻO Lonomakaihe ʻoe, ʻo Lonoikamakaokaʻōpua,

Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia kuʻu haku i ka lani.

ʻĀluli ke akua loa,
ʻĀlawa ke akua poko,
Ānehe ke akua i uka, i kai,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia kuʻu haku i ka lani.

ʻĀiwa nā Moʻo Lono,
ʻĀiwa nā kupu,
Āiwaiwa hale Kanakaʻole,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia kuʻu haku i ka lani.

Kīhāpai kapu,
Kapu i ke akua loa,
Iā Lonomakua,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia kuʻu haku i ka lani.

Ua lono ʻoe ē, ua lono mā-kou,
Ua lono kākou i ke kapu,
Kapu Moʻo Lono ē,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia kuʻu haku i ka lani.

ʻO Nānāmua ʻoe, ʻo Nānāhope,
ʻO nā māhoe kapu i ka lewa,
Lewa lapaʻau, lāʻau ola,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia kuʻu haku i ka lani.

ʻO ʻIkuā ʻoe, ʻo ʻIkuā au,
ʻIkuā kūmākena ka puō,
Ka pihe uē i ka lani,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia kuʻu haku i ka lani.

ʻO Weleehu ʻoe, ehuehu ke aloha,

Aloha kānaka nui, kānaka iki,
Aloha lāhui ē,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia ku ʻu haku i ka lani.

ʻO Makaliʻi nō ʻoe,
ʻO ke aliʻi kōkō lani,
Heleleʻi ʻai a ke akua,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia kuʻu haku i ka lani.

ʻO ka Huihui ʻoe o Makaliʻi,
Hui ka ʻī, hui ka mahi, hui ka palena,
Huihui ka lāhui iā ʻoe,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia kuʻu haku i ka lani.

He kupua ʻoe, he kama,
Ka niuhi hele lā o Kahului,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Heia kuʻu haku i ka lani.

ʻO Makaliʻi ka malama,
ʻO Kūpau ka lā,
Pau ʻole ke aloha ē,
Moku au lā, moku au lā!
Lele kuʻu haku i ka lani.

Kani ka moa kuakahi, mokuāhana,
Kani ka moa kualua, mokuāhua,
Kani ka moa kuakolu, maha ka uhane,
Moku ka pawa,
Momoku ke ahi a Lonomakua!
Lele kuʻu haku i ka lani ē.
Maha au lā, maha au lā!
Mahamaha kuʻu akua i ka lani.

Haku ʻia e Dr. C.M. Kaliko Baker, Moʻo Lono, Kanaloa Kahoʻolawe