Supporting Laʻiʻōpua 2020


OHA grants are helping Laʻiʻōpua 2020 bring a variety of programs to Native Hawaiians residing in the Kona Coast community

Their programs pretty much cover the gamut.

They include after-school enrichment classes for West Hawaiʻi students, cultural experiences on topics like papa kuʻi ʻai and pōhaku kuʻi ʻai, culinary lessons (both teen and adult classes), and a music education program centered on instilling in haumāna the mele and moʻolelo of their island.

Set on Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) in the piko of the Kealakehe ʻahupuaʻa, Laʻiʻōpua 2020 is a West Hawaiʻi nonprofit organization that brings together the Kona community for collaboration, inspiration, and knowledge sharing. The organization features a Community Hale, constructed in 2018, that includes a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen and a co-working center with conference and meeting rooms and event spaces.

“The mission of our organization is to identify community needs, foster the creation of community facilities, and coordinate programs for Native Hawaiian homesteaders and Native Hawaiians residing in the greater Kona Coast community,” said Rebecca “Kawehi” Inaba, who has served as the groupʻs executive director since December 2021.

“Our programs are intended to provide social, recreational, vocational, economical, educational and cultural opportunities, as well as infrastructure for the community. The spiritual and cultural values of the people of Hawaiʻi are the core of Laʻiʻōpua 2020’s programs.”

Hawaiian Home Lands community-serving entities such as Laʻiʻōpua 2020 were created to provide facilities, services, and programs to their homestead community per a regional plan which was developed with DHHL beneficiary consultation. Laʻiʻōpua 2020 holds regular beneficiary consultations and provides forms of communication to their homesteader community to ensure mission alignment with those they serve.

Laʻiʻōpua 2020 has been the recipient of two $10,000 ʻAhahui event grants from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). ʻAhahui grants support community events that serve as enrichment opportunities on Hawaiian culture, ʻāina stewardship, economic opportunity, food sustainability and strengthening ʻohana.

The first, awarded in 2021, funded four “Under the Kona Moon” virtual events which featured Hawaiʻi Island kūpuna, artisans and experts sharing stories, mele and memories. These “talk story” sessions were then distributed via Nā Leo public access TV and worldwide on YouTube, through social media, and the organization’s website.

The second ʻAhahui grant, awarded in 2022, funded the creation of the Kona Mele video which featured musicians and kumu hula of Kona performing a special rendition of the mele Kona Kai ʻOpua. Available on Laʻiʻōpua 2020’s website and on YouTube, a live launch of the video was held in July 2022 in Kona.

“We have been deeply inspired by the works of Project Kuleana and Mana Maoli and realized a musical video which captured the many ʻgems’ Kona has to offer was a wonderful opportunity to create precious memories, living legacies and maintain pride in our community,” Inaba said.

In June of 2022, OHA awarded a $141,000 community education grant to Laʻiʻōpua 2020 for its “Waʻa Project,” intended to assist haumāna by improving their knowledge of Native Hawaiian language and culture and traditional learning systems. The Waʻa Project introduces the art of canoe building, sailing, and non-instrument navigation among haumāna attending West Hawaiʻi K–12 public, charter, and immersion schools within the Kealakehe, Kohala, and Konawaena school complexes.

“The captains and crew of our educational double- hulled sailing canoe Laʻiʻōpua, which was constructed at Laʻiʻōpua 2020, facilitates cultural hands-on experiential learning opportunities focused around the traditions of our ancestors,” Inaba said.

A curriculum has been developed by Laʻiʻōpua 2020’s waʻa captains and cultural experts and during the spring and summer of 2023, the waʻa welcomed more than 450 students to its decks.

“Some school classes came to our facility for their experience, and in other instances, the waʻa journeyed to schools for an afternoon experience. In each case, students learned mele and oli related to the canoe and her lineage, they learned to tie various knots which are used to secure the vessel, they were introduced to a star compass and how to use it to navigate, and they became familiar with the parts of the canoe. Meaʻai taken on voyages was also discussed and keiki were introduced to modern methods of food preservation which today’s waʻa crews use on their voyages,” Inaba said.

A series of fall visits have been scheduled, and visits will continue into the Spring 2024 semester. By the end of program in 2024, Laʻiʻōpua’s goal is to have reached 700 Native Hawaiian keiki in West Hawaiʻi.

“The Waʻa Project uplifts our haumāna by providing a quality, culturally based educational opportunity to support their academic achievement and learning. Just as importantly, the keiki enjoy learning about Laʻiʻōpua from her captains and voyaging experts. The best thing is the knowledge that hundreds of island keiki have had a ʻvoyaging’ experience, which familiarizes them and, hopefully, excites them about navigating by the stars,” Inaba said.

“Laʻiʻōpua provides a place for the Native Hawaiian community to come together to build upon and share Hawaiian values. Most importantly, they support our Native Hawaiian haumāna through their program’s use of culture with the goal to help our haumāna reach success in all they do. The value in assisting a community organization such as Laʻiʻōpua in providing the needed supports – cultural, academic, and social-emotional that are specific to Native Hawaiian haumāna – can make a difference in the lives of the individual student, their ʻohana and the larger community,” said OHA Grants Officer Chantelle Belay.

“We’re very thankful for the OHA grant program,” Inaba said. “The Under the Kona Moon and Kona Mele” grants allowed us to capture the priceless cultural knowledge shared by kūpuna and artisans, which will live on for generations to come. The Waʻa Project is capturing the interest of our keiki, giving them the opportunity to see, touch, and learn about voyaging from experts.

“These grants have supported our organization’s mission and enabled us to offer programs which help the lāhui to learn and grow as Native Hawaiians.”