A Sense of Place and Stewardship

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The Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association (NaHHA) was co-founded in 1997 by Sen. Kenneth Francis Kamuʻookalani Brown (1919-2014) and Dr. George Huʻeu Sanford Kanahele (1930-2000).

These visionaries understood that Hawaiʻi’s largest industry – tourism – undoubtedly provides major implications, opportunities and impacts on the people of Hawaiʻi, especially Native Hawaiians. They believed Hawaiian values are the key to shaping the future they envisioned together. It was a future that required the industry to be keepers of our Hawaiian culture. Twenty-five years later, NaHHA continues to realize this future through its important work that advances Native Hawaiians through Hawaiʻi’s largest economy.

Some years before he co-founded NaHHA, Kanahele published Kū Kanaka Stand Tall: A Search for Hawaiian Values. Amid narratives about religion, science, economics, and politics, Kanahele also touched on the importance of place writing.

“No genealogical chant was possible without the mention of personal geography; no myth could be conceived without reference to a place of some kind; no family could have any standing in the community unless it had a place; no place of any significance, even the smallest, went without a name; and no history could have been made or preserved without reference, directly or indirectly, to a place.”

The reference to place has enormous meaning for kānaka. It is a value we have inherited from generations of ancestors, and it is a value we must maintain to ensure its inheritance to many more generations.

Today we understand this value as ʻāina or aloha ʻāina. These terms imply a relationship with place. Such a relationship is often referred to as stewardship – where people maintain the beauty and bounty of the ʻāina. To this, I would add the idea that stewardship goes both ways: not only do we steward ʻāina, but ʻāina also stewards us. When we consider that ʻāina stewards kānaka, we begin to understand that our kuleana to ʻāina is really a kuleana to our own wellbeing and that of our fellow kānaka.

Decades later, his words still apply. Our fundamental value of our place is rooted in our fundamental value of thriving in the middle of the ocean. In our unique relationship with our place, we have made the most isolated place on earth the most abundant. Thus, our abundance is dependent on our relationship to this place.

Ku Kanaka: Stand Tall

Of course, many can see abundance as natural beauty, but I believe we are also talking about economic abundance. We can connect economic decisions to this value when we go beyond stewarding ʻāina to stewarding our relationship with ʻāina. We may then ask ourselves, “does this decision honor our centuries-old relationship with ʻāina and ourselves?”

Kanahele made it clear that “place” was irreplaceable. Decades after its publication, his book continues to unravel new understandings that point to the values that guide us. The future he envisioned through NaHHA is built upon these values. However, they are only made reality when we allow these values to shape our work today.