News Briefs | September 2023


Two Native Hawaiian-Centered Films Streaming on PBS-Hawaiʻi

Photo: Justyn Ah Chong
Justyn Ah Chong

Justyn Ah Chongʻs film Ola Hou: Journey to New York Fashion Week documenting Native Hawaiian fashion designer Sharayah Chun-Lai’s trip to the world-renowned Runway 7 to showcase her brand, Ola Hou Designs, is currently airing online free of charge on PBS-Hawaiʻi. It is featured in season 12 of Pacific Heartbeat.

A team of Native Hawaiian models, musicians and dancers graced a New York Fashion Week runway in February to highlight one-of-a-kind creations by Chun-Lai. The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa alumna was the first Kānaka ʻŌiwi wahine to accept an invitation from fashion week producer Runway 7.

Also currently available online on PBS-Hawaiʻi is Island Cowgirls. The film highlights the uncertain future of two Native Hawaiian cowgirls (paniolo). On the northwest side of Hawaiʻi island, Laʻi Bertelmann prepares to graduate from high school, and must make a difficult decision whether to stay home and continue her family tradition of land stewardship, or leave. On the south side of the island, Lani Cran Petrie is at a crossroads as she continues to plan for the future of her ranch while faced with the uncertainty of the state-held lease of the land expiring soon.

ʻŌiwi Nonprofit Distributes $1.25 Million For Maui Disaster Relief

ʻĀina Momona, a grassroots-based and Native Hawaiian-led organization, announced it had distributed $1.25 million for relief efforts following the devastating Maui wildfires. The nonprofit organization began fundraising via its website on August 9, and says it has collected over 25,000 contributions from individuals worldwide.

“We are devastated by this tragedy. We consider West Maui part of our ʻĀina Momona ʻohana,” said Trisha Kehaulani Watson-Sproat, ʻĀina Momona vice president. “We are so grateful that we have fundraising partners who enable us to turn around donations coming into us quickly and get them families who have lost so much.”

The nonprofit has provided over $150,000 to individual families for emergency assistance and made a $100,000 donation to the Maui Historical Society for a Cultural Resource Recovery Program. It also made a $1 million contribution to Hawaiʻi Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund.

Sodaro Named Board Chair for TPL

Photo: Kaʻiulani Sodaro
Kaʻiulani Sodaro

Kaʻiulani Sodaro has been named as Hawaiʻi board chair for the Trust for Public Land (TPL). TPL is a national nonprofit that works with communities to create parks and protect public land.

Sodaro is senior vice president with Howard Hughes Corporation at Ward Village. She has previously worked for The Resort Group, Pūlama Lānaʻi, Kamehameha Schools, Maui Land & Pineapple, and Hiltons Hotels.

Sodaro attended Punahou School and holds a master of planning degree from the University of Southern California. She is a U.S. Housing and Urban Development Community Fellow, a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, the Urban Land Institute, and the Ko’olaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club. She has previously served on the Board of PBS Hawaiʻi and the Honolulu Planning Commission.

Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 4 million acres of public land, created more than 5,364 parks, trails, schoolyards, and iconic outdoor places, raised $93 billion in public funding for parks and public lands, and connected nearly 9.4 million people to the outdoors.

HTA Announces Appointments to its Board of Directors

Photo: Kimberly Leimomi Agas
Kimberly Leimomi Agas

The Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority (HTA) announced the appointment of three Native Hawaiian women to serve as new members on its Board of Directors. They are: hospitality and community leader Kimberly Leimomi Agas; social entrepreneur Mahina Paishon-Duarte; and Kauaʻi community affairs specialist Stephanie Iona.

Agas is the general manager of Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, where she oversees resort operations and community, stakeholder, and owner partnerships. A seasoned hospitality management executive with more than 35 years of experience, she previously served in leadership positions at Outrigger Resorts in Hawaiʻi and French Polynesia.

Photo: Mahina Paishon-Duarte
Mahina Paishon-Duarte

Paishon-Duarte co-founded Waiwai Collective in 2016, a social enterprise that blends culture, community and commerce to achieve wellbeing and abundance outcomes for Hawaiʻi and beyond. Previously, she served as Kanu o ka ʻĀina’s head of school for the secondary level. Co-author of the ʻĀina Aloha Economic Futures declaration, Duarte has worked with various cultural and community organizations throughout Hawaiʻi.

Photo: Stephanie Iona
Stephanie Iona

Iona specializes in community and government affairs on Kauaʻi. She has five decades of experience serving Hawaiʻi’s communities, primarily in the agriculture and hospitality industries. She currently provides community affairs services to Kauaʻi Shrimp and the Kekaha Agriculture Association. Previously, she was the community and government affairs manager for Dow Agrosciences and has also served as the general manager of Waimea Plantation Cottages as well as Aston Papakea Resort.

NaHHA Seeks Vendors for Kuhikuhi Marketplace

The Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association (NaHHA) is seeking vendors to participate in its Kuhikuhi Marketplace during its Hoʻokipa Hawaiʻi Weekend September 30 and October 1, at the Royal Hawaiian Center. The marketplace is specific to Native Hawaiian-owned small businesses that have a product or service that aligns with NaHHA’s mission and fundamentals.

Hoʻokipa Hawaiʻi Weekend is a two-day family-friendly event dedicated to the inclusion of Hawaiian culture and knowledge systems through the medium of Hawaiian cultural practitioners, exhibits, demonstrations and vendors that engages community and visitors in a greater understanding and appreciation for the Native Hawaiian culture and Hawaiʻi.

NaHHA is also seeking organizations and community groups to be given a free space for their related advocacy efforts or mission relative to the targeted audience. The purpose is to provide cultural education, learning, and outreach directly to those who attend the event including conducting research or surveys to the public.

Space will be provided to cultural practitioners to facilitate demonstrations, exhibitions and information exchanges both on-stage and off-stage to share cultural knowledge and education. NaHHA invites cultural practitioners that come from all areas of traditional practice. Honoraria will be provided.

This event is supported through a Hōʻihi Grant offered by the Office of Native Hawaiian Relations through Native Act funding. Center Stage activities are supported by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs through ʻAhahui event grant funding.

There is a fee to participate as a vendor. Please visit for more information and to apply.

Celebrate Queen Liliʻuokalani’s Birthday at ʻIolani Palace

The Friends of ʻIolani Palace is saying Hauʻoli Lā Hānau to Queen Liliʻuokalani with a pair of weekend events on Saturday, Sept. 2, and Sunday, Sept. 3.

“Our aliʻi enjoyed celebrating their birthdays and other milestones with delicious food, mele and hula, and what better way to mark Queen Liliʻuokalani’s 185th birthday than with a poi supper right here on the grounds of ʻIolani Palace,” said Paula Akana, executive director of The Friends of ʻIolani Palace.

On Saturday, kamaʻāina are invited to take free self-led audio tours of ʻIolani Palace from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. A valid Hawaiʻi State ID, Hawaiʻi driver’s license, or proof of Hawaiʻi residency is required for each complimentary ticket. One complimentary ticket per Hawaiʻi resident.

On Sunday, Sept. 3, The Friends will host a special poi supper from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Guests will enjoy Hawaiian food and live musical performances on the beautiful grounds of ʻIolani Palace while supporting The Friends’ mission to preserve, protect, and perpetuate the rich history of this important piece of Hawaiian history.

Individual tickets are $50 for Lūʻau Lawn Seats, $100 or $150 for Lūʻau Table Seats and are available to purchase online at Tables of eight (8) can also be purchased by emailing or calling (808) 522-0830.

ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi Shakespearean Play at UH Mānoa

Photo: Kaisara Cast
L-R: Noelani Montas as Emma Nāwahī/Kalapunia, Kaipo Dudoit as Joseph Nāwahī/Kaisara and Joshua “Baba” Kamoaniʻala Tavares as George Markham/Barutusa. – Photo: Christine Lamborn

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Department of Theatre & Dance and Kennedy Theatre present Kaisara, a world premiere hana keaka (Hawaiian theatre) performance written and directed by Iāsona Kaper and inspired by four scenes from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that were translated into ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi by James N. K. Keola and published in Ka Nupepa Kuokoa in 1896.

Kaper is an actor, director, writer, and translator currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in Hawaiian Theatre at the UH Mānoa, with a projected graduation of December 2023.

Kaisara imagines an 1890s gathering of Kānaka Maoli intellectuals who explore the intersection between Shakespeare’s portrayal of ancient Rome and the political landscape of Hawaiʻi at that time. The play poses timeless questions about division, conspiracy, and political violence.

A fusion of Shakespearean drama and Hawaiian history, Kaisara presents an intriguing narrative that invites audiences to contemplate parallels between ancient Rome and the political landscape of 1890s Hawaiʻi.

Kaisara will be performed predominantly in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi at the Earle Ernst Lab Theatre from September 20-24, 2023, at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 24, 2023, at 2:00 p.m. Tickets range from $8-$18.

Tons of Marine Debris Removed from PMNM

A team from the Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project (PMDP), a Hawaiʻi-based nonprofit organization, returned aboard the 185-ft ship M/V Imua with 86,100 pounds of marine debris removed from shallow coral reefs and shorelines of the islands and atolls within Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

Using their team of free divers and small boat operators, PMDP conducted 20 days of cleanups at Kamokuokamohoaliʻi (Maro Reef), Kamole (Laysan Island), and Kapou (Lisianski Island), focusing on carefully removing ghost nets from the shallow coral reef environments. The ghost nets pose entanglement threats to protected endemic wildlife and suffocating negative impacts to the living coral reef habitats.

The team also disentangled and saved a Hawaiian green sea turtle from a net, as well as several protected seabirds.

“If PMDP isn’t there to clean up Papahānaumokuākea, no one is,” PMDP Executive Director James Morioka said. “We happened to be in the right place at the right time to save that turtle. You can only imagine how many more lost animals there would be if PMDP wasn’t preemptively cleaning up these reefs”.

DeFries Named HPF CEO

Photo: Jeanine DeFries
Jeanine DeFries

The Hawaii Pacific Foundation, Inc., (HPF) has named Jeanine DeFries as president and CEO.

DeFries brings more than 23 years of experience in operations management, leadership and team-building to the role. She graduated from UH Mānoa with a bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian studies; she is a small business owner; and she worked as a procurement manager at Hawaiian Host Group, prior to assuming her current role.

“DeFries has served HPF as a distinguished board member,” said Edwin A. “Skip” Vincent, HPF founder and board chair. “Her knowledge of Hawaiʻi’s culture, professional experience, standing in the community, and the social conscience she continually exhibits will be a great asset to our organization.”

The mission of HPF is to empower Native Hawaiian communities by supporting programs that improve access to opportunities for success.

HPF furthers its purpose by advancing education; primarily through science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) education, and preserving cultural practices to inspire hope, strengthen families, foster learning, cultivate leadership, and develop stewardship.

Grant Writing Course Offered

Changemakers Hawaiʻi, a Hilo-based Community and Economic Development Financial Institution (CDFI) for Native Hawaiians and communities with limited or no access to resources, is offering a hands-on grant-writing course from September 26 to October 31.

Led by Cornell University lecturer and grant-writing expert Dr. Leslie Whitcomb, “Writing in Place: Identity Integration in Grant Writing” is an online, four-module skill-building course that includes mentoring for fund development professionals in Hawaiʻi.

“We begin where we are at, acknowledging our ancestors and place on this earth with gratitude,” said Whitcomb. “This empowers our grant-writing skills with the resonance and realities of home.”

“We are excited to work with Dr. Whitcomb, an expert curriculum developer, who will help us develop a rigorous and impactful professional development program for Native Hawaiian grant writers and fund developers,” says Changemakers Hawaiʻi’s Executive Director Olani Lilly.

Tuition is $120 for those who register on or before August 31. Thereafter, the fee is $150. To register, visit

Taparra Selected to First Cohort of Obama Foundation Leaders Program

Photo: Kekoa Taparra
Kekoa Taparra

Four leaders from Hawaiʻi have been selected as part of the first cohort of emerging changemakers in the Obama Foundation Leaders USA program, former President Barack Obama has announced. Out of a competitive pool of applicants, they were among 100 leaders chosen nationwide for the program. The four selected are: Kekoa Taparra, Scott T. Nishimoto, Whitney Aragaki and Ashley Mariko Johnson.

Taparra is a Native Hawaiian resident physician at Stanford Health Care, where he is training to care for patients diagnosed with various cancers. He is originally from Mililani and is a graduate of Kamehameha Schools.

Nishimoto is the executive director of Ceeds of Peace, a Hawaiʻi-based nonprofit organization whose mission it is to raise peacebuilding leaders. Aragaki is a teacher leader in the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education and was chosen as the 2022 Hawaiʻi State Teacher of the Year. Johnson is the founder of Mohala Eyewear, an eyewear brand that helps to send girls to school by donating to Room to Read.

Scientists Discover Marine Life Thought to be Extinct

A team of scientists from the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition mapping the deep sea made some astounding discoveries.

Among those, is a marine animal thought to have been extinct for millions of years.

Scientists said they discovered the stalked crinoid during their deep sea expedition at Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll, located in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

They were thought to have gone extinct before the arrival of dinosaurs.

Crinoids are marine animals that make up the class Crinoidea. Crinoids that are attached to the sea bottom by a stalk are commonly called sea lilies.

They arose during the early Paleozoic Era and were so abundant that their fossils produced vast limestone deposits in many places around the world, including the American Midwest. More than 5,000 fossil species have been described. Crinoids have declined in diversity since their peak some 300 million years ago, but over 650 living species are known, and they are still enormously abundant in many marine habitats, from shallow coral reefs to the floors of oceanic trenches.

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) consists of five management units: Wake Island, Johnston Atoll, Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef, Howland and Baker Islands, and Jarvis Island. In 2009 President George W. Bush established the monument, with protection to 50 nautical miles around each site. In 2014, President Barack Obama expanded three of these five management units (Wake, Johnston and Jarvis) to 200 nautical miles.

Greenpeace USA Responds to Mining Company’s Plans to Sidestep International Political Processes

In response to The Metals Company’s Announcement to submit a deep sea mining application following the July 2024 meeting of the International Seabed Authority, Greenpeace USA’s Deep Sea Mining campaign lead Arlo Hemphill said: “The recent announcement by The Metals Company (TMC) to submit a deep sea mining application in 2024 goes against the growing wave of global objections to this destructive industry. It is the latest manifestation of the industry’s reckless and aggressive profit-driven approach to circumvent international political processes. They are trying to force the hands of global governments to allow them to start mining before any form of international agreement is made on how and if such an activity should be allowed to move forward. Despite the outlier country of Nauru pushing for progress without regulations and a few pro-mining governments advocating for a quicker timeline, the ISA’s member states placed no caveats on their decision that mining should not proceed until the code is completed. TMC should respect that.”

TMC, together with nine members of Congress, recently submitted a letter to President Biden and the Pentagon, urging the Administration to consider deep-sea mining for minerals and military applications.

U.S. Congressman Ed Case recently introduced two measures calling for a moratorium on deep seabed mining unless and until its consequences are fully understood and an appropriate protective regulatory regime is established.