Care for Iwi Kūpuna a Focus of OHA’s Mana i Mauli Ola Strategic Plan


The Health Outcomes strategic direction calls for the agency to support initiatives, leverage partnerships and engage in strategies to promote healthy and strong families

“Pūʻali kalo i ka wai ʻole;
Taro, for lack of water, grows misshapen.”
For lack of care one may become ill.

Health OutcomesLife is Ke Akua’s most precious gift and health is life’s most valuable asset; health is a blessing that should see continuous investment.

It’s no wonder then, that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), based on community input, has selected Health Outcomes as one of the four strategic directions of its 15-year Mana i Mauli Ola (Strength to Wellbeing) plan, along with Educational Pathways, Quality Housing and Economic Stability.

These four directions will be used to guide OHA’s work to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians and affect change in the areas of education, health, housing and economics.

Of course, health is a comprehensive concept.

Photo: Casey Brown
Casey Brown

“We’re looking at the general wellbeing of Native Hawaiians, and this includes all aspects of their wellbeing, not just the physical, but also emotional, mental, and spiritual health,” said OHA’s Chief Operating Officer Casey Brown.

“Health outcomes are something that OHA has always cared about, but we’re going to be pulling up more at the system level – so you’ll see us doing more advocacy. We also plan to do more collaborating and identify partners who are acting at the system level as well.”

OHA CEO/Ka Pouhana Dr. Sylvia Hussey takes the concept of health even further, framing it within the strategic plan theory of using the foundational strengths of Kānaka Maoli – ʻohana, moʻomeheu and ʻāina – to affect the overall wellbeing of our people.

Photo: Sylvia Hussey
Dr. Sylvia Hussey – Photos: Courtesy

“While individual physical health is very important, so is ʻohana health, community health, generational health and spiritual health – they are all intertwined. It’s the health of our ʻāina – how do we have holistic health with our ʻohana and with our ʻāina? How do we do that through the practices of our moʻomeheu, where we know that we have spiritual connections?” she said.

“It’s a wellness of body, mind and spirit – lōkahi – a balance of all that we have. Western constructs tell us that using our naʻau is not a valid data collection method. So we need to elevate that because we’ve been relying on our naʻau for generations.”

Herb Lee is the executive director of the Pacific American Foundation. He is a former OHA grant recipient, receiving an award in 2017 to help restore, revitalize and preserve the Waikalua Loko Fishpond in Kāneʻohe Bay.

Photo: Herb Lee
Herb Lee

“Health is a huge issue in building this bridge between Indigenous wisdom and the 21st century. Hawaiʻi is at a point in our history where we need to go back and restore the balance of how we produce food and not rely on offshore opportunities. Not to say that we’re going to be totally independent, but to restore a better balance,” Lee said.

“Hopefully, in the process, we can improve the plight of our ʻāina, the preservation of our ʻāina, so that we can produce food – mauka to makai – because that is inextricably intertwined with our personal health. Physical nurturing and spiritual nurturing go hand in hand.”

Specifically called out in the plan’s focus on Health Outcomes is empowering communities to take care of iwi kūpuna.

This past April, OHA announced the first awardees of its new Iwi Kūpuna and Repatriation Grant, created in direct response to Mana i Mauli Ola. Five community organizations were awarded a total of $217,298.

Recipients included: The Hawaiian Church of Hawaiʻi Nei for education needed to care for nā iwi kūpuna; Hawaiian Islands Land Trust of Maui to train staff in the treatment and reinterment of iwi; Ke Ao Haliʻi to help protect iwi kūpuna in Hāna; Organization Supporting the Language of Kauaʻi, Inc., to document and protect iwi kūpuna at Polihale; and Hui Hoʻoniho to facilitate reburial of 700-900 iwi kūpuna and moepū disturbed at Kawaiahaʻo Church.

Photo: Kai Markell
Kai Markell

“Iwi are described as our ʻmost cherished possession’ by cultural icon Mary Kawena Pukuʻi,” notes OHA Compliance Enforcement Manager Kai Markell. “That has never changed. How could we, as a people, not honor, care for and protect our beloved ancestors, without whom we would not even exist? Our entire wellbeing on the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional levels depends so much on their continued love and guidance from across the veil. It has always been the way of our people.

“The greatest lesson I have learned from the ancestors is that when we learn to love them, as they unconditionally love us, we can’t help but love the living Kanaka standing to the left or right of us in the same manner. This is their greatest wish collectively. Aloha kekahi i kekahi. Love one another.”

Photo: Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu
Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu

OHA Community Advocate Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu adds, “To mālama iwi kūpuna reaffirms our connection, our commitment, and our dedication to acknowledge those we come from. In our ʻohana, we pay respect to our elders. Those who have gone before us deserve respect, honor and dignity – and we do that by implementing programming that will facilitate mālama iwi kūpuna.

“We say that ʻohana is important, we say that our cultural values, our language, is important. All of these things teach us that honoring our ancestors is part and parcel of the expectation of who we are as Kānaka. Bone of my bones, kin of my kin, blood of my blood. Mālama iwi kūpuna is an expectation. It is of the utmost importance. Because those are the people from whom we descend, and it is through them that we claim our legacy and our heritage of being Kānaka.”

Mana i Mauli Ola Health Outcomes

Supporting initiatives, leveraging partnerships, engaging in strategies to promote healthy and strong families.

Outcome: Strengthened ʻŌiwi (Cultural Identity), Ea (Self-Governance), ʻĀina Momona (Healthy Lands and People), Pilina (Relationships), Waiwai (Shared Wealth), Ke Akua Mana (Spirituality)

Strategy 3: Advance policies, programs and practices that strengthen Hawaiian wellbeing, including physical, spiritual, mental and emotional health.

Strategic Outcomes:

  • 3.1. Increased availability and access to quality, culturally based, and culturally adapted prevention and treatment interventions in ʻohana, schools, and communities; (E Ola Mau a Mau)
  • 3.2. Establishment of a fully functional, high quality, culturally adapted, primary Native Hawaiian Health System which coordinates effective wellness activities/programs; (E Ola Mau a Mau)
  • 3.3. Decrease the number/percent of Native Hawaiians in jails and prison; and
  • 3.4. Communities are empowered to take care of iwi kūpuna.

Strategy 4: Advance policies, programs and practices that strengthen the health of the ʻāina and moʻomeheu.

Strategic Outcomes:

  • 4.1 Preservation and perpetuation of Hawaiian language, culture, traditions, identity and sense of lāhui;
  • 4.2 Increased community stewardship of Hawaiʻi’s natural and cultural resources that foster connection to ʻāina, ʻohana, and communities; and
  • 4.3 Increased restoration of Native Hawaiian cultural sites, landscapes, kulāiwi and traditional food systems.