Ka Wai Ola Issue Covers

By Amy Schwab

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ (OHA) monthly publication Ka Wai Ola News has received four National Native Media Awards from the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA). The annual competition recognizes excellence in reporting by Indigenous and non-Indigenous journalists from across the U.S. and Canada.

NAJA received its highest number of entries this year with Ka Wai Ola News competing in the “Professional Division III” for publications with circulation above 10,000.

Ka Wai Ola News’ print edition has been delivering news for the lāhui since 1980, covering the people, issues and events important to the Native Hawaiian community. In January 2020, OHA launched kawaiola.news, an accompanying digital version of the publication that includes videos, photo albums and an archival section that contains digitized versions of Ka Wai Ola News since its 1980 inception. The digital platform makes 43 years of contemporary Hawaiian history available to the world.

The publication has a large following, counting 51,000 print subscribers and 19,000 digital subscribers from across the country, and an average of 16,000 online readers visiting the site each month.

This year, Ka Wai Ola News was acknowledged as one of the best Indigenous publications and honored with second place awards in the “General Excellence” and “Best Digital Publication” categories. Graphic Designer Kaleena Patcho received honorable mention for “Best Layout” and Ka Wai Ola Publications Editor Puanani Fernandez-Akamine took first place in the “Best Two-Spirit Coverage” category for her article, “Kapaemahu Exhibit Prompts Call to Update Signage at Waikīkī.”

PRSA and NAJA Awards

Download Awards List – PDF Format

This is OHA’s first win for “Best Two-Spirit Coverage” a new NAJA award category recognizing stories about Indigenous LGBTQ+ issues and people.

“It is a true honor for OHA and Ka Wai Ola to be acknowledged alongside national, high-caliber news outlets such as CBC Indigenous and Indian Country Today,” said Communications Director Alice Malepeai Silbanuz. “We strive for excellence as we uplift the voices of the lāhui and continue our heritage of Indigenous storytelling in a modern day context. It is humbling to see those efforts validated by NAJA.”

The 2023 NAJA awards recognize work produced during 2022. In addition to Silbanuz, Fernandez-Akamine and Patcho, significant contributions that led to these awards were made by communications strategists Ed Kalama, Edward McLaurin and Kelli Soileau, and multimedia designers Jason Lees and Josh Koh. In addition, dozens of other writers, from freelancers to columnists, OHA staff to community members, contributed to the success of Ka Wai Ola News.

OHA has also been recognized by the Hawaiʻi chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) with a 2023 Koa Anvil Award for “Outstanding Feature Story.”

Established in 1983, the Koa Anvil Awards is a professional competition that celebrates the best public relations programs and tools in the state.

The September 2022 Ka Wai Ola cover story “The Bird that Soars in the Heavenly Space,” was also written by Fernandez-Akamine and advocated for the protection of the ʻio (Hawaiian hawk).

This storytelling is an example of how OHA and Ka Wai Ola work to educate and amplify community concerns. Special recognition goes to OHA Hawaiʻi Island Legacy Land Agent Kalena Blakemore who contributed the story idea. To read the full story, go to: kawaiola.news/cover/the-bird-that-soars-in-the-heavenly-space/