Three years ago, Lili‘uokalani Trust (LT) convened a gathering of representatives from Lili‘uokalani Trust, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), Kamehameha Schools (KS), Consuelo Foundation, Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment Hawai‘i (CREA-HI), the Department of Native Hawaiian Health – John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), and the Kualoa–He‘eia Ecumenical Youth (KEY) Project. Their purpose was to create “radical and new knowledge” to ultimately develop strategies and programs to improve Native Hawaiian wellbeing.

The outcome of this gathering of ‘ike and no‘eau was the development of “Kūkulu Kumuhana,” a framework for Native Hawaiian wellbeing built on the the following six principles: 1) Ea (self-determination); 2) ‘Āina Momona (healthy and productive land and people); 3) Pilina (mutually sustaining relationships); 4) Waiwai (ancestral knowledge and collective wealth); 5) ‘Ōiwi (cultural identity and native intelligence); and 6) Ke Akua Mana (spirituality and the sacredness of mana).

“The Kūkulu Kumuhana framework has given us a way to talk about Native Hawaiian wellbeing beyond our historical reliance on dimensions and indicators that come from Western thought,” explains Dr. Kathy Tibbetts, Senior Director of Research and Evaluation at LT. “At all levels of LT we now elevate talk about wellbeing in areas such as Ea, Waiwai, and Ke Akua Mana to the same level of importance as discussions about educational, health, and economic wellbeing.”

As they work with partners like OHA and KS to gather data on wellbeing, LT uses the Kūkulu Kumuhana wellbeing dimensions to write survey questions. “This will help us track and support wellbeing more completely and, we believe, more effectively than we have done in the past when our models focused our attention on deficits and perceived dysfunctions,” said Dr. Pālama Lee, LT’s Director of Research and Evaluation.

OHA CEO Dr. Sylvia Hussey notes that the Kūkulu Kumuhana Wellbeing Framework “represents a collaborative community effort that is holistic in nature, rooted in cultural values, mindsets and practices, and aligns with OHA’s lāhui policies and our strategic foundations of ‘ohana, mo‘omeheu and ‘āina.”

In planning future programs for some of their vulnerable youth and families, the framework is being used to help their beneficiaries identify what they want to see in the programs and services that LT is developing.

The framework has also been presented locally and nationally, promoting discussion of how Indigenous frameworks like Kūkulu Kumuhana will help guide the practice of research and evaluation in Native Hawaiian and other Indigenous contexts. Adds Tibbetts, “it is important to ensure that evaluation is conducted in ways that are strength-based and respectful of Hawaiian peoples, their culture, and their rights as an Indigenous people to perpetuate their culture and self-determine their future pathways.”

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawaiians, like people the world over, are facing new stresses, and having to adapt to new ways of working, living and connecting with each other. It is important, now more than ever, to be grounded in our values as a resilient people, to center ourselves, and to stay connected with each other.

Prior to the stay-at-home mandate, LT staff on Hawai‘i island were using Kūkulu Kumuhana to engage stakeholders at community gatherings as an initial step to build relationships toward larger community collective impact work. When these community gatherings were halted due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hawai‘i Island Community Change Initiatives Lead Jessica Kaneakua and MSW student intern Dawn Rego-Yee saw this as an opportunity to use Kūkulu Kumuhana to create a guide “Native Hawaiian Wellbeing during COVID-19,” to benefit ‘ohana who are self-isolating at home. It includes simple ideas, activities and reminders for self-care, ‘ohana care and community care. These practical ideas and activities have timeless value toward keeping our lāhui safe, healthy and happy during this pandemic and beyond.

“Our hope is that ‘ohana gain a deeper understanding of the importance of spending time together, interacting, communicating and bonding,” said Lee. “Whether it is through games, learning about their community mo‘olelo, or strengthening ‘ohana identity through mo‘okū‘auhau. As Tūtū Pukui said, the ‘ohana is the basic unit of Hawaiian society, so by strengthening the ‘ohana we strengthen the lāhui.”