Aloha mai kākou,
The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) recently held their annual convention in Las Vegas, presumably because they know that more Native Hawaiians now live on the continent than in Hawaiʻi.
CNHA is a nonprofit that exists on the grants and the donations they are able to secure. Their focus is to serve Hawaiians – wherever they may be. Many Hawaiians who now reside on the continent were overjoyed to have a Hawaiian agency come to them and deliver Hawaiian programs, culture, entertainment and information about current lāhui issues.
At the same time, some on social media disagreed with CNHA’s decision and criticized them for spending their resources to reconnect with Hawaiians who had moved away. They criticized Hawaiians on the continent as having “abandoned” Hawaiʻi, characterizing them as “traitors” for leaving, implying they had somehow lost their standing as Hawaiians and didn’t deserve this attention.
Some Hawaiians on the continent were interviewed by the Honolulu Star- Advertiser. They talked about how they couldn’t afford to live in Hawaiʻi – that they couldn’t afford the cost of housing, the high prices of food and other essentials, and that they couldn’t earn enough money to survive here.
They all spoke about much they missed Hawaiʻi and the efforts they are taking to maintain their connections to Hawaiʻi, their culture, and their ‘ohana. They also shared their hope to be able to return one day – as though the forces that had caused their exodus would somehow, magically, evaporate.
Their stories were simultaneously heartbreaking and hopeful. Heartbreaking because these expatriates are victims of forces beyond their control; hopeful because it demonstrated their resilience and courage to take the steps necessary to give themselves and their ‘ohana a chance to thrive – even if it is not here in Hawaiʻi.
There have been many stories detailing the diaspora of Hawaiians to the continent. Although they haven’t labeled it as such, these Hawaiians are housing and economic refugees caught in a tide of historic forces directly caused by our loss of sovereignty, our colonization by American capitalists and government officials, our dispossession and separation from our precious land and water, and by a system wherein Hawaiians have been, and continue to be, marginalized in our homeland.
The death and destruction caused by the Maui wildfires have left us deeply saddened. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is committed to helping our beneficiaries piece their lives back together and recover, as well as possible, from this horrific tragedy. We understand the victims of this disaster are deeply traumatized and hope that their losses will not overwhelm and result in them being part of this accelerating diaspora – this time as climate change refugees.
I am committed to addressing and helping our people overcome the historical forces which now have new names, forms and structures – and yet are nothing more than the progeny of those original takers.
This is a commitment to both address the root causes of the accelerating Hawaiian diaspora, and to mālama our lāhui, wherever they may be.
Ka Pouhana Kūikawā | Interim Chief Executive Officer