A Hawaiian Worldview for Our Keiki


Pehea nā keiki? Pehea nā kūpuna?

How are your children? And how are your elders?

Dr. Dianne Paloma, president, and CEO of Hawaiʻi Dental Services shared this ʻōlelo noʻeau (proverb) as a foundation of measuring the spectrum of care for the Hawaiian community. “If we are missing the kids, and missing the elders, then we are not surviving as a lāhui, as a nation,” Paloma said.

In Hawaiʻi, oral health care, an integral part of overall health and wellbeing, is ranked the lowest in the nation.

Researchers, experts and members from the public spoke last month, at a regional hearing on the status of Native Hawaiian children. The Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children is an independent federal entity established by Congress in 2016 to improve the health, safety, and wellbeing of native children.

Panelists spoke on four areas of focus: 1) Physical, mental, and behavioral health; 2) Education and early childhood development; 3) Child welfare, juvenile justice, and violence; and 4) Systems innovations and best practices in Native communities.

Many of the presenters overlapped in their information and requests for support for Native Hawaiian children, citing challenges with regard to diet, education, housing, finance and disconnection from culture and land – to name a few.

“You can tell the health of the land by your tongue,” said Dr. Aukai Austin Seabury, executive director of I Ola Lāhui. “If you can taste the foods that used to be here, if those plants are on your tongue, then your land and water is healthy.”

Panel speakers referenced cultural knowledge, values, and practices throughout the two-days hearing, emphasizing the importance of a Hawaiian worldview as the foundation in education, health and family services to aide in an overall environment of wellbeing, health, and safety.

Common themes articulated by panelists included the need to connect youth to their culture through ʻāina-based education and cultivate the consumption of nourishing, traditional foods to benefit physical health. Another call-out was the importance of keiki learning culture, history, traditions, skills and craftmanship from living cultural practitioners with the fluid catalyst of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi to ground Native Hawaiian children in ʻike kūpuna (ancestral knowledge).

“Speaking our native language heals cultural and historical trauma. It is ola, life,” Seabury said. She continued along the theme of health, stating there is a need for school-based and community health prevention programs, some of which have shown promise and have increased access to dental, mental health, and physical health care to families.

Other experts and members of the public shared about the need for more kānaka health care professionals – doctors, counselors, social workers, and mental health practitioners. Whether they’re kānaka or not, access to doctors and other support service providers with a Hawaiian world view is a critical need. Too few social service providers have the cultural insight needed to build the trust required to make a difference in Native Hawaiian communities.

Teachers are another critical element to helping Native Hawaiian children develop a Hawaiian worldview – even if they did not grow up that way. An investment in training, retaining, and supporting Hawaiian language speaking and culture-based teachers who earn a livable wage is a real need.

The concerns going forward were as heavy as the pain of the past and the present. Funding, programs, data, policies, and other challenges are glaring. But implementing culture-based practices and values has been powerfully rewarding and strengthening.

The Commission is expected to issue a report of recommendations on solutions that would improve the health, safety, and wellbeing of Native Hawaiian children based on the testimony of the panelists and members of the public.

To submit oral and written testimony, or if you have any questions, email the commission at email@commissiononnativechildren.org.

To learn more about the Hawaiʻi regional hearing or to view the recording visit commissiononnativechildren.org/hawaii-regional-hearing/.