Faces of the Diaspora Series: Bridging Cultures

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Ke Aloha Alo Douma grew up in the shadow of Oʻahu’s lush Koʻolau Mountain Range. Now, she’s raising her three children in the mountains, too – the White Mountains of Arizona in Pinetop.

“My heart is always back home in Hawaiʻi,” said Douma, an attorney who specializes in Indian law. “There’s always this hope and wish that, somehow, I’ll be able to use the knowledge that I’m gaining to someday, help our Kānaka Maoli people.”

But the American Southwest isn’t strange to Douma, who was born in Phoenix. It plays just as important of a role in her life as Hawaiʻi.

Her maternal lineage stems from the White Mountain Apache Tribe, while her paternal roots are Kānaka Maoli and Samoan. Douma’s father, Lefty Alo from Oʻahu, met his future wife, Marjorie Cody, on a mission trip to the Southwest for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He returned to the islands to sell his possessions before moving to the continent to marry her and start a family, with Douma being the eldest of three. But her parents eventually realized that Oʻahu offered the children more education opportunities, with Brigham Young University-Hawaiʻi in Lāʻie. So Douma spent the “highs and lows” of her childhood in Kahuku.

In sixth grade, she journaled her career goals of either becoming a lawyer, an architect, or a backup dancer for singer Janet Jackson. Her dreams felt far-fetched at the time. “Nobody in my family had gone to college at that point,” Douma said.

Her father worked in construction, and the threat of getting hurt on the job – and losing his income – always loomed. At one point, they lived in a tent on their homestead land in Hauʻula. Their faith kept them “always moving forward,” Douma said.

Raised around her Hawaiian ʻohana, Douma’s culture served as a pillar in her adolescence. She’s named after her grandmother, who’s named after her grandmother.

Douma learned hula, Tahitian, and Samoan dance, but doesn’t recall her hula lineage. It culminated with her performing at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

At Kahuku High School, Douma shared the same religion and “chop suey” heritage as her peers. “It was easy because everybody was just mixed,” she said.

But Douma yearned for change. “I wanted to try something different,” she said. At the age of 17, she left Oʻahu for BYU Provo in Utah, and was immediately hit with culture shock.

“I was so excited to get off the rock, and, as soon as I left, I was so sad,” Douma said. “I had never been a minority. It was a hard transition.”

She cried to her parents about returning to the ʻāina. But her father – now a college graduate himself – used “tough love” to keep her in Utah through her first semester, and, over time, she befriended other Hawaiian students.

“He had a vision of something better for me that I couldn’t see at the time,” Douma said. “I grew to love it, and I grew to appreciate things that were different.”

The decision to remain on the continent led to world travel. As a member of her university’s Living Legends dance group, she represented both her Native American and Polynesian cultures in “countries I’d never heard of,” like Croatia and the Czech Republic.

At 21, Douma followed in her father’s footsteps as a missionary for the France Marseille Mission, learning French in the process. But after graduating, she put her hopes of law school on the back burner.

“I had never met an attorney,” Douma said. “I probably had those negative stereotypes in my head that I had to overcome.”

And she remembered the words once spoken to her younger self by her non-Polynesian swim coach. “You’re just another lazy Hawaiian,” he told her, which had devastated Douma.

Determined to succeed, she moved to Arizona to work in the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s legal department where she learned about tribal law and prepared for law school.

At the age of 25, she became the first Kanaka Maoli Miss Indian World, winning on a platform promoting education and a talent of dancing hula. “That was so fun – to be able to bridge both sides of my cultures,” Douma said. “I have grown to really appreciate each side of who I am.”

She chose the University of Arizona in Tucson for its strong Indian law program and earned an advanced law degree in Indigenous people’s law and policy.

In 2009, she married her husband, Casey Douma, also an attorney who she met at a summer law program. From the Pueblo of Laguna, he impressed her with his knowledge of Indian law and connection to his Native American heritage, which also includes Hopi Tewa.

They lived in New Mexico, then moved to Arizona for job opportunities. In 2010, they started their own family and have three children: Aulani, Imua and Kaikoa. Douma is “very intentional” about fostering the children’s Hawaiian identity, and they visit Hawaiʻi every Christmas and over the summer.

“I want them to be immersed in whatever they can,” she said.

As an attorney, Douma represents tribal nations, covering issues related to Indigenous rights. Her biggest career milestone thus far was serving as the attorney general for her tribe and successfully lobbying in Washington, D.C, to bring them basic resources. Some of her tribal members weren’t “even able to turn on their faucet and get clean running water,” Douma said.

Back in Hawaiʻi, her father looks for jobs for her, and her kids push their parents to move. While Douma doesn’t know what the future holds, she keeps one belief close to her heart.

“We’re lifting the bar for our people every time we are doing something good, whether we’re back at home in Hawaiʻi or living on the mainland or abroad,” she said.