Hawaiians: Diverse and Dispersed Yet Bound Together in Aloha!

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Keliʻi Akina, Ph.D., Trustee, At-Large

In July of this year, I participated in a Hawaiʻi Island Economic Development Board (HIEDB) panel discussion moderated by HIEDB Executive Director Jacqui Hoover. I was honored to share my manaʻo on Hawaiian issues along with former president of Kamehameha Schools Dr. Michael Chun, attorney Ivan M. Lui-Kwan, and attorney and educator James Mauiliola Keaka Stone Jr.

We were asked “Who speaks for Native Hawaiians?” and how disagreements are resolved when Native Hawaiians disagree.

I shared that the Hawaiian people are much like a kalo plant. At the root level, we are of the same essence; being Kānaka Maoli unites us. But the kalo plant eventually breaks the surface, producing unique and beautiful leaves, stretching out in different directions.

This image represents the tremendous diversity in the Hawaiian community. To some extent geography diversifies us – Hawaiʻi is made up of islands that each have their own unique personalities, issues and people. Where one comes from certainly plays a role in defining one’s loyalties and kuleana.

On one hand, we each have a responsibility to the ʻāina we are from, as we are stakeholders with respect to that specific locale. But on the other hand, broad regions like the Papahānaumokuākea Marine Monument, and historic and impactful places like Waikīkī, are the kuleana of all of us.

Not only are Hawaiians diverse, we are also dispersed. Hawaiians now live across the world in a diaspora. Looking back to the 2010 US census, nearly half of the Native Hawaiian population already lived outside of Hawaiʻi. These nonresident kamaʻāina are certainly also stakeholders in what happens in Hawaiʻi.

My point is, there’s not just one way to perceive who the Hawaiian people are and what our concerns are for Hawaiʻi. For that reason, I do not think that achieving a single consensus on complex Hawaiian issues should be the goal.

For example, there are Hawaiians on both sides of issues relating to Maunakea. We have differing views on what activities to allow and disallow on the mauna.

So, when we cannot “arrive at” consensus, what should we do? I believe we should seek to “come from” consensus. In other words, let us start from the place where we already have a consensus, which is at our root – our fundamental Hawaiian values.

During the panel discussion, James Mauiliola Keaka Stone Jr. reminded us of Pilahi Paki and her expression of the fundamental Hawaiian value of aloha as being comprised of akahai (kindness), lōkahi (to work together), ʻoluʻolu (being agreeable and pleasant), haʻahaʻa (humility) and ahonui (to have patience).

Accordingly, our aim should be to practice aloha regarding the diversity of opinion among our people. We should let aloha heal the fissures that have appeared among our people.

Of course, we should work towards consensus wherever we can build consensus. I have always said that the areas around which we can build consensus are the basic needs of our people.

As an example, OHA has a constitutional duty to work for the betterment of conditions of Native Hawaiians. To me, that broad mandate charges us to create housing, jobs, education, economic development, and improved health outcomes. These are things around which we can build broad consensus and work together in unity.

I believe there is great hope for the Hawaiian people as we move forward in the spirit of aloha. We build consensus where we can, as we “aloha kekahi i kekahi,” and as we encourage utmost respect for one another, even when we disagree.


Trustee Akina welcomes your feedback at TrusteeAkina@oha.org.