Our Lāhui Deserves Pono Leadership


Aupuni (nvs. Government, kingdom, dominion, nation, people under a ruler; national.)

Photo: Sylvia Hussey

Aloha mai kākou,

Whenever June rolls around, my thoughts turn to Kamehameha ʻEkahi – the parades, lei draping ceremonies and other celebrations. There are four statues honoring this acclaimed ‘Ōiwi leader: one in Honolulu; one in Hilo; one (the original) in Kapaʻau in my home district of Kohala; and one in Washington D.C.

Many of us learned about Kamehameha’s leadership qualities in school: his unification of the pae ʻāina; the way he worked in the loʻi kalo alongside his people; and famously, his “law of the splintered paddle” – a proclamation made in humility after reflecting on his own unwarranted attack on a fishing village in Puna.

The “law of the splintered paddle” is a model for compassion and forgiveness. A reminder that just because you are in a position of power, you have no right to treat people wrongfully.

Kamehameha was almost killed when the fishermen he attacked defended themselves. When he became king, it became his unified kingdom’s first written law. It provided for the safety of civilians during war and, some two centuries later, it is preserved in the Hawaiʻi State Constitution.

And there are many other models of exceptional servant leadership among our aliʻi.

By negotiating with Kamehameha in 1810, King Kaumualiʻi of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau was able to retain his autonomy and bring his people under the unified Hawaiian Kingdom without bloodshed.

In 1859, King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma founded The Queen’s Hospital. In 1879, Lunalilo Home was founded by the estate of King Lunalilo. In 1887, Kamehameha Schools was founded by the estate of Princess Pauahi. In 1909, Queen Liliʻuokalani founded her trust for orphaned and destitute children.

And in 1921, Prince Kūhiō successfully lobbied in Washington, D.C., somehow persuading an all-white Congress to vote the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act into law.

Our lāhui has so many outstanding role models of impactful, pono leadership that we can learn from and emulate. And not just among our aliʻi. There are outstanding leaders in our communities and among the patriarchs and matriarchs of our own families.

So I find it disappointing, as I reflect on governments and governance, that so many individuals seek public office not to serve, but to gain power, prestige or popularity. Candidates tell voters what they think they want to hear while on the campaign trail. But, once in office, their agendas often have little to do with upholding the principles of democracy or fighting for equity, fairness or social justice. That is true on the world stage, the national stage and here at home.

Our lāhui deserves better. We deserve leaders who are not beholden to political favors or too distracted to carry out their kuleana because they are planning their next political move – or re-election campaign. Our lāhui deserves leadership that is united and that advocates tirelessly for our ʻohana, moʻomeheu and ʻāina; leaders who steward resources wisely and make policy decisions that are aligned to bettering the conditions of Native Hawaiians. Everything else is just self-serving white noise.

We can do better.

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