Using the Power of our Voices

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Leo (nvt. Voice, tone, tune, melody, sound, command, advice, syllable, plea, verbal message; to speak, make a sound.)

Photo: Sylvia Hussey

Aloha mai kākou,

Last month as we celebrated Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, I thought a lot about the efforts to restore our language in the context of restoring the leo (voices) of our people.

I believe it is part of the kuleana of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) to lift up and amplify the leo of our people. And sometimes it is OHA’s role to be the leo, speaking loudly, candidly and pointedly, on behalf of our people, our perspectives, our practices, especially in situations where Western systems downplay the wisdom of kūpuna and Indigenous ways of knowing.

It is no easy task, being heard. Even with a platform, and even when we speak loudly, our leo often goes unheard and unheeded.

We also need to pay attention to who is not at the table, consider whose leo must be heard, bring in those voices and amplify them – amplifying the silence. That is a kuleana of leadership. And it should be intentional, not incidental.

Last month, Hawaiʻi hosted the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Regional Hearing. Named in honor of two tribal leaders and child advocates, the commission was established by Congress in 2016 and is tasked to examine the unique challenges facing Native children, review the supports available to them (government and community) and recommend systemic improvements to better deliver services.

It was important for OHA to support the advocates representing our lāhui as panelists at the hearing so that their leo could stand in the gap for the keiki whose voices are muted by social structures and systems that discount their value.

Prince Kūhiō, whose birth we celebrate this month, was elected in 1902 as the Territory of Hawaiʻi’s non-voting delegate to Congress. Against all odds, Prince Kūhiō effectively used his leo, via the congressional platform, to pass the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act in 1921.

In a racially segregated country that had only abolished slavery a few decades earlier, how was Prince Kūhiō – a brown man – able to persuade more than 400 white congressmen to support this legislation? By the power of his leo.

Working together, we can amplify the leo of our lāhui in many ways – by strengthening families and communities, shaping public policy, protecting wahi pana, perpetuating ʻōlelo and nohona Hawaiʻi, protesting injustices and valuing kūpuna wisdom.

I recently learned of the passing of Uncle Fred Cachola, beloved Kohala kupuna, and mourn the loss of his audible leo – “more for more,” he would say. I now hold his mortal silenced audible leo in my heart as a guide for our work here at the OHA.

Although we are one lāhui, we are many voices, many viewpoints. But no matter our differences, the leo of our lāhui are commonly rooted in our enduring aloha for our ‘ohana, moʻomeheu (culture) and ʻāina.

Sylvia M. Hussey, Ed.D.
Chief Executive Officer