E Aloha Kekahi i Kekahi

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Leina‘ala Ahu Isa, Ph.D., Trustee, At-Large

I invited Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement CEO Kūhiō Lewis to use my column this month.

By Kūhiō Lewis

This pandemic is pushing our lāhui to the brink. The last few months have been especially difficult with the disease hitting our community particularly hard.

But we are the descendants of survivors. Foreign diseases decimated our lāhui. The Native Hawaiian population collapsed from 680,000 at the time of the arrival of westerners in 1778 to just 40,000 by the time they stole our kingdom.

Photo: Kuhio Lewis

While our kūpuna lost so much, they never lost their will to survive. The kingdom implemented numerous public policies based on the best science available to protect the community from diseases. The wellbeing of our people was always paramount.

Today, we must continue to draw on our ancestors’ spirit of perseverance. We must be akamai like those who came before us. I am confident that, working together, we will emerge from this pandemic stronger than before and ready to lead Hawaiʻi into a critical new chapter of our history.

Our lāhui is already setting the path.

When COVID began, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) partnered with sister organizations to help meet the immediate needs of our community. Our goal was to lift up our own people. We wanted to demonstrate that, while Native Hawaiians face unique challenges due in part to the injustices of the past, we could still rely on ourselves to get through our darkest hour.

So, we hunkered down and got to work.

CNHA launched the online Pop-Up Mākeke to support local small businesses that relied on craft fairs closed due to COVID. Since then, the mākeke has put more than $2.5 million into the state economy through its service of 400 businesses. We also disbursed more than $500,000 in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans to 50 local businesses, provided $400,000 in subgrants to our partner organizations to ensure that they could continue to serve Native Hawaiians during the pandemic, and transitioned our Hawaiian Trades Academy to help those whose careers were impacted by COVID develop new vocational skills.

What I am most proud of, however, is our emergency financial assistance (EFA) program which is supported with federal funds through the state, City and County of Honolulu, and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL). CNHA has already distributed more than $70 million in federal funds helping nearly 10,000 households cover rent and utilities and helping keep ʻohana off the streets during the pandemic.

Our efforts were recognized by the U.S. Department of Treasury last month when it identified the city and DHHL together as one of the six highest performing governmental entities in the nation in disbursing emergency federal funds.

CNHA’s modest contribution to the success of the EFA programs will ensure that additional federal funds will flow not just to our people, but to the entire state.

This highlights an important point. All the programs CNHA pursued during the pandemic were intended to specifically help Native Hawaiians. But many of these programs – Pop-Up Mākeke, PPP loans, EFA funds, Trades Academy, our vaccination events – ultimately helped thousands of non-Hawaiians too.

What the pandemic has proven is that Native Hawaiian solutions do not just address Native Hawaiian challenges. Native Hawaiians can take the lead to address the issues affecting all Hawaiʻi residents.

Mahalo nui loa for this opportunity to share.