Jason Lees

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Photo: Jason Lees

Multimedia Designer (Communications)


5 years at OHA


From:

  • Oʻahu (mokupuni)
  • Kona (moku)
  • Waikīkī (ahupuaʻa)
Education:

  • Punahou
  • UH Mānoa (BA in Communications)

What is your kuleana at OHA?

My kuleana is mostly storytelling on behalf of OHA and the lāhui through video and photography. It is such an honor to be in a place where I can go out into the community, capture people’s stories, and then share them with OHA’s large audience on social media, at events, and even on TV. Our videos have been viewed millions of times on social media alone. Our goal is to inform and inspire the lāhui and to mahalo those who are doing amazing work in communities across the pae ‘āina.

Why did you choose to work for OHA?

I have always loved videography – ever since I was a kid. Combining my passion for creating videos with advocating for Native Hawaiians is like two lifelong dreams coming together.

What is the best thing about working at OHA?

For me, it’s going out and capturing the stories about what is happening in the lāhui. Some of those stories are, of course, tragic and sad. But many are uplifting and inspiring! Seeing how OHA’s work really does help to assist the lāhui is also rewarding. I’ve had interviewees cry on camera thanking OHA for its kōkua. I’ve also seen our storytelling efforts help make real change in the community – even at the legislature.

What is something interesting for people to know about you?

I lived on the continent until I was 15, but I have always been drawn to the plight of Indigenous peoples. I remember being in the fourth grade and quietly crying into my textbook after seeing a painting of the “Trail of Tears.” Learning about the cruelty imposed on Indigenous people by the government had a profound impact on me.

When I moved to Hawaiʻi in 1992, I saw the struggle front and center. Just a few months after moving, I witnessed the march by Kānaka Maoli to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. In my work for OHA I am now in a position similar to that of the painter who depicted the Trail of Tears so horrifically in my textbook. That painting changed me. It opened my eyes. I hope my work will help to do the same for others.

Who has been your role model?

The many videographers and photographers who tell Native Hawaiian stories. In particular, Puhipau and Joan Lander of Nā Maka o Ka ʻĀina, Naʻalehu Anthony, ʻĀina Paikai, Keliʻi Grace, and the rest of the local filmmaking hui. In the area of photography, I admire the work of Ed Greevy and Kai Markell. I also love non-Native Hawaiian films and storytelling – in particular, the great pieces produced by Disney/Pixar and Universal, as well as foreign place-based stories like City of God and Once Were Warriors.

What is your best OHA memory?

There are a few that come to mind. Working on the Mana i Mauli Ola film with our small crew that included Mākaha Filmmaker Pākē Salmon. That film has won numerous awards. Another is the Jam4MaunaKea Worldwide Sing-Along video that I worked on with Mana Maoli. Another powerful memory was going with Kumu Hina into Hālawa Prison to document her work. This was in 2019 when she was working at OHA and providing educational classes at the prison to help Native Hawaiian paʻahao reconnect to their culture.