Photo: The Native Hawaiian Research Hui
The Native Hawaiian Research Hui is a collaboration of Native Hawaiian-serving organizations. Pictured here are a few of its members. Bottom (l-r): Dr. Pālama Lee (LT), Dr. Brandon Ledward (KS), Wendy Kekahio (KS), Kanilehua Kim (QHS), and Keith Gurierrez (OHA). Top (l-r): Dr. Samantha Scott (POL), Carla Hostetter (OHA), Dr. Kathy Tibbets (LT) and Dr. Penn Pantumsinchai (LT). - Photo: Jacob Chinn, Kamehameha Schools

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kamehameha Schools, Liliʻuokalani Trust, Papa Ola Lōkahi and The Queen’s Health System form the Native Hawaiian Research Hui

Hoʻokahi ka ʻilau like ana.
Wield the paddles together.
Work together.

It’s said that in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.

In 2020, with the pandemic raging, researchers at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) saw a need for collaboration on obtaining and examining COVID-19 data specific to Native Hawaiians. They reached out to their colleagues at Kamehameha Schools (KS) and Liliʻuokalani Trust (LT) and invited them to join the conversation.

“Each organization felt an urgent need to understand the effect of COVID-19 on Native Hawaiians, and it made more sense to look at this data as a collective rather than individually,” said Wendy Kekahio, a strategy consultant with Kamehameha Schools. “Since many of us already knew each other, we were able to move quickly on working as a collaborative, and this collective nature has remained a theme throughout all of our work.”

Since 2020, the Native Hawaiian Research Hui (NHRH) has expanded from looking solely at data related to COVID-19, to analyzing topics like Native Hawaiian education, health, economics, and overall quality of life and wellbeing. Papa Ola Lōkahi (POL) joined the group in 2022, and The Queen’s Health System (QHS) came on board in 2023.

“The hui was built on the initial collaborative work done by KS, LT and OHA on the Native Hawaiian Data Portal, which then made it easier to deepen our collective work together during the pandemic,” said Dr. Pālama Lee, the director of Research and Evaluation at LT. “The pilina, trust and success we experienced was a facilitator to us working together as a hui.”

The Native Hawaiian Data Portal was an effort to inventory and access data about Native Hawaiians from multiple public sources. The pilot program was a testing ground in determining how the organizations might work best together and involved collaborative planning and funding, and data sharing agreements.

The NHRH holistically explores the interconnections and multi-dimensionality of Native Hawaiian wellbeing. The overall goal of the group is to collect, elevate, and provide Indigenous data on Native Hawaiians to inform strategic planning, policy, advocacy, and programming, and this is accomplished by adhering to Indigenous research methodologies.

“Each organization has its main focus – such as education or health for example – yet these focuses are all a means to reach a higher shared vision where Native Hawaiians are thriving for generations to come,” Kekahio said. “As wellbeing is multidimensional and interconnected, the pathway to a thriving lāhui is strengthened when Native Hawaiian serving organizations partner together to reach this collective vision. Research and data for and about Native Hawaiians are critical to advance our vision of collective and individual wellbeing.”

The ʻImi Pono Hawaiʻi Wellbeing Survey is a major project designed and stewarded by the research hui. The survey examines wellbeing from Indigenous, holistic, and strengths-based perspectives and draws heavily from the hui’s experience as researchers, evaluators, and advocates working alongside Native Hawaiian communities to reclaim knowledge and address social inequalities.

This spring will mark the fourth consecutive year of data collection where over a thousand Hawaiʻi residents – many Native Hawaiians – share about their connections to culture, ʻāina, and spirituality as well as their civic engagement, quality of life, and aspirations for their community.

“The best thing about this hui has been the development of long-term relationships between these Native Hawaiian organizations. Through the past three years of weekly meetings and many small to large collective research projects, we’ve been able to continuously inform each other’s work and really strengthen our organizations’ understanding of the assets and needs of Native Hawaiian communities,” said Carla Hostetter, director of OHA’s Office of Strategic Management.

“Our organizations are deeply committed to working together to best serve the lāhui. This hui now serves as one of the numerous coordinated efforts between our organizations and can operate as a model for cross-organizational engagement.”

“We hope the community sees us as one voice, one lāhui, even if we are from different organizations with different histories,” said Dr. Penn Pantumsinchai, Research & Evaluation manager at LT.

“We do this work by centering a Native Hawaiian worldview and shifting the framework of wellbeing from a Western-centric lens to a holistic, Hawaiian perspective. Our strengths come from this re-grounding, and the multidisciplinary backgrounds and training of each member. We each have our own skillset to contribute to the work, and the hui makes room for each voice equally.”

“When I think about our hui, I think of the word makawalu which literally translates to eight eyes,” said Dr. Samantha Scott, director of Data and Research at Papa Ola Lōkāhi. “In Hawaiian understanding, it’s the ability to view an issue from multiple perspectives and consider all possible impacting factors.

“One of the things that has been beneficial is the ability to makawalu various issues impacting our lāhui. Our organizations collaborate to uplift our Native Hawaiian communities and produce data and research that promote equity and wellbeing.”

“From our standpoint at Queen’s, comprehensive data is critical as we look for ways to increase accessibility to quality health care. We envision a future in which we continue to use data sovereignty to empower Native Hawaiians,” said Nina Murrow, a clinical data analyst at The Queen’s Health System.

“The research hui’s beliefs are rooted in uplifting the Native Hawaiian community and working together as one. Each member of the hui offers an invaluable skill set that is humbly grounded in servitude for our community, and each meeting is not only an opportunity to learn from each other, but also reinforces our collective goals and unity.”

“This team enables a broader scope of action and the ability to tackle complex challenges that might be unfeasible for individual organizations,” said Dr. Brandon Ledward, a principal strategist at Kamehameha Schools. “Moreover, this unity fosters a spirit of mutual support, trust, and camaraderie, fostering an environment where all are committed to achieving the shared goals. The diversity among members and organizations, yet all sharing a common goal and vision, is a unique strength of this hui.

“Our weekly check-ins allow us to talk about what we’re working on that might be of interest to others and, through that, we often find commonalities. We share as much as we can with one another, which has alleviated each organization from duplicating work. When our organizations work together, the community benefits.”