Mana Wāhine

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Photo: Kanoelani Davis

Kanoelani Davis, Molokaʻi

Molokaʻi artist Kanoelani Davis has been named a First People’s Fund (FPF) 2022 Cultural Capital fellowship recipient. This is the second time Davis has been recognized by FPF, having received a Community Spirit Award in 2018.

Davis, a cultural practitioner and kumu hula, is owner of PoMahina Designs, a wearable art company that merges Hawaiian culture and contemporary design.

Based on Molokaʻi, Davis opened her online shop in 2017 and was invited to share her designs at New York Fashion Week in 2018. Clothing sold on her website is made to order and she reinvests a portion of her sales back into the community. In January, Davis started a podcast called “MANA Bomb” to inspire and empower other ʻŌiwi.

FPF has honored and supported Native artists and culture bearers for 25 years with the belief that “art embodies Native peoples’ culture, our understanding of who we are and where we come from” and that artists and culture bearers help Indigenous people to connect with their past and chart their future. Over the years, FPF has awarded 423 fellowships to 324 artists in the U.S. and Canada exceeding $5.5 million. Davis is one of 27 2022 FPF fellowship recipients and the only Native Hawaiian.

The Cultural Capital fellowship is awarded to artists and culture bearers who are rooted in their communities and committed to passing on their cultural knowledge.

Photo: Chelsie Evans

Chelsie Evans, Maui

Chelsie Evans has been named the new executive director of Hawaiian Community Assets (HCA), Hawaiʻi’s largest Department of Housing and Urban Development-certified housing counseling agency. HCA serves over 1,500 local residents annually providing free financial counseling, income support, and career coaching.

Originally from Makawao, Evans has focused for most of her career on serving survivors of domestic violence, keiki displaced from their homes, and youth with barriers to their educational and career goals.

Before joining HCA, Evans was executive director of Maui Hui Mālama which works with at-risk youth. In her new role, she will help Native Hawaiians and other local residents fulfill their dreams of homeownership by helping to close the housing gap and by delivering high-quality financial and housing programs to the community.

Evans has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in human services. She has presented at national symposiums for social justice and domestic violence, and founded Wrapped in Wings, an organization that supports critically ill children and their families.

HCA and partner organization Hawaiʻi Community Lending have established the nation’s first-and-only network of Financial Opportunity Centers with offices on four islands. Together, they are working to build the capacity of low- and moderate-income families, especially Native Hawaiians, to achieve and sustain economic self-sufficiency by increasing income, building assets, and securing affordable housing.

Photo: Moana Jones

Moanalani Jones Wong, Oʻahu

On February 6, ʻŌiwi surfer Moanalani Jones Wong made history when she won the first-ever women’s Billabong Pro Pipeline, defeating five-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist, fellow Native Hawaiian surfer Carissa Moore, in the final heat.

Jones Wong was considered a “wildcard” entry when she was invited to compete in the Billabong Pro at the North Shore’s iconic Banzai Pipeline, so even her advancement to the finals was something of an upset. It was her first surf competition in six years.

She grew up in Pūpūkea watching the Pipe Masters. Her parents taught her to surf, and she surfed Pipeline for the first time when she was just 12 years old.

Prior to her victory at the Billabong Pro last month, Jones Wong, 22, was relatively unknown.

Although her life goal has always been to become a world champion, Jones Wong took a detour to pursue a degree at UH West Oʻahu where, in 2021, she became the first graduate of the bachelor of applied science Hawaiian and Indigenous Health and Healing (HIHH) program. Her senior project was titled “Surfing: More Than a Sport.”

With the opportunity to surf in the first women’s Billabong Pipe Pro, and her unexpected victory, Jones Wong is no longer an unknown surfer. She has been propelled onto center stage of the world of international surfing and is currently the top-ranked female surfer in the 2022 Women’s Championship Tour.

Photo: Venus-Rosete-Medeiro

Venus Kauʻiokawēkiu Rosete-Medeiros, Maui

Hale Kipa recently announced the appointment of Venus Kauʻiokawēkiu Rosete-Medeiros as its new CEO. The Hawaiʻi nonprofit organization, which has served at-risk youth and their families for more than 50 years, began its search for a new CEO last Fall.

Born and raised on Maui, Rosete-Medeiros graduated from Kamehameha Schools Kapālama and has an MPA from Madison University. She has more than 35 years of experience serving youth and families in Hawaiʻi and her background includes work with nonprofits, as well as with private and public school systems.

Most recently she served as Kamehameha Schools’ community strategist and regional director for Maui, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi, overseeing community investments, public and private collaborations and Hawaiian culture-based educational programs. She also founded and served as the executive director of the Neighborhood Place, a Maui nonprofit, from 2004-2011.

As an active community and social justice advocate, Rosete-Medeiros has developed several community grassroots programs and initiatives including the Kamālama Parenting Curriculum based on traditional Hawaiian values that is being used by a number of organizations throughout Hawaiʻi.

Hale Kipa is a multi-service, fully accredited nonprofit agency that specializes in working with at-risk youth and their families. Hale Kipa has served more than 67,000 youth throughout Hawaiʻi since 1970, providing residential, outreach and foster care services at no cost.

Photo: Suzanne Vares-Lum

Suzanne Puanani Vares-Lum, Oʻahu

In January, Suzanne Puanani Vares-Lum broke not one, but two glass ceilings when she became the first woman and the first Native Hawaiian to serve as president of the East-West Center.

Vares-Lum brings significant leadership background to her new role. A retired U.S. Army Major General with 34 years of service, she has extensive experience addressing national security in the Pacific region. After retiring, she formed her own consulting company, advising the most senior officials at the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and cultivating key relationships with nations throughout the region.

Vares-Lum has a BA in journalism and a masterʻs degree in teaching from UH Mānoa. She also earned a Master of Strategic Studies degree from the US Army War College, is a graduate of the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, and was a National Security Fellow of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2017.

Located on the grounds of the UH Mānoa campus, the East-West Center was established by the U.S. Congress in 1960 to serve as an institution for public diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific region with the goal of promoting better relations and understanding between the people and nations of the United States, Asia and the Pacific through cooperative study, research and dialogue.