Aloha is thriving on the East Coast. In early June, I traveled to Washington, D.C. along with several of my colleagues, to celebrate Kamehameha at a lei draping ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. Many may not realize that Kamehameha is one of Hawai‘i’s two statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection (the other is Saint Damien). This event is organized by many community members including Native Hawaiians and others from Hawai‘i who now call the East Coast home. This trip was also a vital opportunity to strengthen our relationships with Congressional and federal leaders, as well as with leaders from Indian Country. It was a truly humbling trip and a great opportunity to reconnect with longtime friends.
I had the chance to share my mana‘o with the lei draping audience. To start, I gave a history of the Kamehameha statue’s selection as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection, as recounted to me by Senator Inouye when I was his Moloka‘i field representative. Over my years of participating in the Washington, D.C. lei draping, I had also learned other facts from various Congressional and community leaders, including Senator Akaka, who was instrumental in the relocation of Kamehameha’s statue to a place of prominence in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.
One thing that Senator Akaka would note about Kamehameha’s statue’s location was its historical and prolific importance. Previously, Kamehameha’s statute was in Statuary Hall, just a short distance from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. He felt that there was mana in Kamehameha being so close to the Members of Congress, and hoped that his presence served as a constant reminder to Congress of their unmet responsibilities to the Native Hawaiian people.
Our Hawai‘i delegation and our close allies in Congress have been successful in protecting federal resources for Native Hawaiians through hard work and with the strong support of grassroots community efforts. Yet, these legislative accomplishments have not been without its difficulties. Native Hawaiian programs and funding face constant challenges from opponents. Continued unity is going to be vital under political uncertainly. This mana‘o I stressed to all of the attendees, which in addition to Congressional offices, also included state and local elected officials and leaders from community organizations who also travelled from Hawai‘i
I return to Hawai‘i refreshed and renewed for the work ahead of us.