How Do We Unite a Lāhui?

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Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey, Trustee, Maui

With election season in full swing I often ponder the question, “How do we unite a lāhui?” Certainly, this column will fail to answer this question. Instead, I hope to inspire self-reflection and entice any kind of kōkua. I am a Trustee of an organization tasked with bettering the lives of Native Hawaiians but beyond that, I am a Hawaiian woman who has witnessed our trials and successes; determined to help us holomua. The notion that we all must agree on a definitive answer to this question is false. Our people have long thrived with differences in opinion staunchly fighting for their particular belief.

So now, in 2020, where do we begin? How do we tackle contemporary issues while incorporating the increasingly relevant and sustainable practices of the past? How do we ensure claims as a minority in our own ʻāina? How do we heal our people and resources so that they can once again sustain one another? These tasks are difficult, but increasingly necessary on so many levels. For the most part, we can agree on certain fundamental ideals. We want self-determination; the ability to practice our culture, to speak our language, ʻāina to live on, cultivate food, quality health care and education for our people.

The point of contention, however, is the avenue by which we arrive at this destination. For years our people and leaders have disagreed on this path. Many advocate for “Federal Recognition” in which we engage with the federal government to officially protect our traditions and resources. On the opposite end of the spectrum, kānaka also want complete independence from the United States; pursuing this claim internationally as well. Pointing to the UNDRIP, models for Decolonization, and De-Occupation, these strategies are certainly applicable and can/must be pursued. On the other side of the coin, however, the U.S. must be participants, who might also give weight to all of Hawaiʻi’s population; of which kānaka are a minority. Domestically, the State of Hawaiʻi and the U.S. have seemingly made attempts to extend an olive branch with the intention of creating a relationship that is desired by and works for kānaka; often times missing the mark for those who believe that state and federal money should not contribute to the process. As is, we carefully navigate the house of cards that has withstood consistent attacks on Native Hawaiian programs that are charged as being race-based. Law makers and politicians are written off as disconnected “sell outs” and frustrated kānaka are disregarded as “uninformed.” But perhaps we misunderstand the intricacies of one another’s roles; perhaps we must emphasize more common ground.

Historically, our people have engaged in the process; bringing with them a wealth of ancestral knowledge upon which they stood firmly (think Hui Aloha ʻĀina and the Home Rule Party or Wilcox). Perhaps, what we must do in 2020, while we are hunkering down during this Covid-19 pandemic, is something we have always done: look to historical examples. We must embody the ideals and traditions upheld by our practices; building upon that to be successful in contemporary times. Instead of finding enemies, may we sit down, challenge one another’s manaʻo, informing one another’s opinion to find solutions, and then continue working together to implement these solutions.

I extend this invitation to all willing to work together and also encourage others to develop an opinion. It is a delicate balance to achieve, but ultimately, we must transcend contemporary politics, arriving in a place where we are no longer struggling to simply survive, but where our lāhui again thrives in our own ʻāina.