Civic Engagement is our Heritage; Voting is our Kuleana


ea (1. n. Sovereignty, rule, independence)
koho (1. nvt. Election, choice, selection)

Photo: Sylvia Hussey

Aloha mai kākou,

As a student at Kohala High School I was assigned to write a vignette about elections on the plantation for a school production. I recently found the program for this long-forgotten performance while cleaning out my childhood home in Niuliʻi and I was reminded that, in Kohala, election day was a festive occasion, colored by candidates and the community in Hawaiian finery and flowers with a mixture of focused, yet friendly, political inquiry and banter. Reflective of the sugar plantation community, the candidates were of all ethnicities. People gathered near the polling site, listened to speeches and enjoyed food and drink as the pros and cons of candidates and issues were debated.

Regardless of one’s personal views regarding the legitimacy of the existing political system in which we find ourselves, participating in the electoral process gives us a voice; it allows us to exercise some measure of self-determination and to have a say about what Hawaiʻi will look like 10, 20 or 100 years from now.

On July 31st we observe Ka Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea, Sovereignty Restoration Day. The sovereignty of the Hawaiian Kingdom was restored on that day in 1843 after the revocation of a rogue attempt by British Captain George Paulet to seize Hawaiʻi for Great Britain. During the restoration ceremony, Kamehameha III spoke the words that would become the Kingdom’s (and now the State’s) motto: “Ua mau ke ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono; The sovereignty of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”

But ea is not limited to political sovereignty. For example, in education we talk about “educational sovereignty” wherein families make choices about who, how and where their keiki are educated. Community, culture, ʻāina-based curriculum, instruction and assessment are expressions of educational sovereignty.

Ea is also our freedom to koho – make choices – about our own lives; where to attend school, what career to pursue, how to spend our money, who to socialize with, who to select as our leaders.

As members of this lāhui we have choices to make. And it is our kuleana to do everything within our power to influence decision-making about the things that affect our ʻohana, moʻomeheu and ʻāina. That includes participating in the election process and casting a vote for pono candidates who will fight for the things that are important to us.

Hawaiians have a moʻokūʻauhau of civic engagement. This is reflected in the quantity and quality of civil discourse in the nūpepa, Hawaiian newspapers, of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Our kūpuna were literate, enlightened and unafraid to express their opinions on the social, cultural and political life of the Kingdom. Active, ongoing civic engagement – which includes voting – honors the foundation established by our kūpuna and helps to ensure a better future for our moʻopuna. Just as parents are advocates for their keiki, kānaka maoli must be advocates for our lāhui; if not us, then who?

With so much at stake, what message do we send when we refuse the opportunity to participate or to have a voice? When we look back at our 2020 selves what will we see in terms of action, participation and advocacy? What will our narrative be; and what will we tell our moʻopuna about what we did, or did not do, to mālama ke ea o kēia ʻāina nei?

Sylvia M. Hussey, Ed.D.
Ka Pouhana/Chief Executive Officer