By Paula Julian, Policy Specialist, NIWRC
For the first time since 1998 in the 20-year history of our Women Are Sacred Conferences, a hui (group) of five Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) advocates participated and presented at the Conference in Albuquerque, June 26–28, 2018. The theme of the Conference was Resilience: Walking in Ancestral Footprints, Carrying Our Medicine, and the hui titled their two-part workshop presentation, Ke ipukukui pio ‘ole i ke Kaua’ula (The light that will not go out in spite of the blowing of the Kaua‘ula wind).
The advocates are part of a volunteer group of Native Hawaiian advocates who’ve named themselves the Pouhana O Na Wahine (Pillars of Women) working with NIWRC to address domestic violence against Native Hawaiians. The workshop shared their Native Hawaiian indigenous views that are central to addressing domestic violence and joining the national tribal grassroots movement to increase the safety of indigenous women across the country. Central to the Pouhana’s organizing efforts to address domestic and gender-based violence are their Native Hawaiian indigenous customs and tradition.
Ke ipukukui pio ‘ole i ke Kaua‘ula two-part workshop description: What is light? Light is a natural element that stimulates sight and makes things visible. Light is provided by nature in the Sun, Moon and Stars. Light can be bright and light can be dim. Light could also be created in the form of fire which in turn creates warmth. But is this all it really is? In Hawai’i the light was embodied in the form of the kukui or a tree which would bear nuts that could be eaten, used as medicine, used as adornment, and used as candles. The tree itself was the kinolau (physical representation) of Lono, one of the four main Hawaiian deities that represented peace and growth, and Hawaiians revered and honored. The second workshop shared the disconnect that occurred with the arrival of the missionaries and the gradual decimation of a sovereign people and their ways. Presenters shared current events, current interventions, and needs of Kanaka Maoli in order to heal as a lāhui (nation), especially women.
Reflections from the Pouhana O Na Wahine delegation:
Mililani Martin: It was an honor and a scared moment for me to co-mingle our spirits with other indigenous people. To be humbled by sharing our story to others of a similar plight was eye opening and also a heavy-hearted experience. I truly never realized how many people do not know of our own pained history as Hawaiians.
To actually have people come up to me and say, “I had no idea that this happened to your people, how can I help you?” Hearing brothers and sisters saying how similar our walk has been solidified by our relationship as a people. Talking about Hawaiians and our struggles to live on our own lands and not having a voice in the U.S government. Our ceded lands that our kingdom left for our Kanaka Maoli, we see very little money to be used on us.
I was asked the question in one of the presenting groups, what can we do to help? I said, “Talk about Hawaiians, talk about our historical trauma, talk about our stolen lands, but most of all talk about the annexation of our Queen.” We, as Hawaiians have paid a huge cost with our culture, language, and at times our lives to help perpetuate our forward motion of being who we are as a race.
Being at this conference, I felt the heaviness in spirit when I looked at faces that looked like mine. I understood the exertion of spirit that our Indian sisters and brothers put forth for their own survival. Hawaiians have the same spirit of expectance waiting to get back what is rightfully ours. I have the hope that we too will follow suit being recognized as Indigenous people.
I am so thankful to the NIWRC for hosting our group and hope to join in on other conferences. Mahalo nui.
Michele Navarro Ishiki: My time attending my very first indigenized conference was nothing short of amazing. The connections from women from all walks of life who share the same vision of advocacy, survival, and of hope, left me in awe and inspired to continue the work I do. The pride and welcome I felt from each and every person I spoke with reminded me of why I do what I do. Every woman, girl, and soul deserves to feel a part of, and it left the lasting impression that because I have survived; it’s my responsibility to make sure I help as many hands and hearts to the same place! Mahalo nui NIWRC for the experience of a lifetime. I pray that my titas (sisters) and I were able to share our aloha with those we shared space with.
Rosemond “Loke” Pettigrew: Mahalo (thank you) to NIWRC’s staff and board, and for your continued support of the Pouhana O Na Wahine. It was an honor to share Hawaii’s history as it evolved from the first outside contact in 1778 to the overthrow of the Hawaiian nation and the impact of colonization on the Hawaiian race. Since the early 1970s, Hawaiians were determined to take back our inherent right to be Hawaiian. We have the right to practice our culture, language, and to be free to express ourselves as Hawaiians. Restoration of the language, dancing of the hula, practicing gathering and access rights, and learning the ways of our kupuna (ancestors) is the pathway to move beyond the trauma. We, as the keiki o ka aina (children of the land) of Hawaii, must stand as one mind, body, and spirit if we are to heal. For the colonized way is to divide and conquer. There is a desire in me to be a part of something that is bigger than me. And the WAS conference may be the beginning of my journey.
I am inspired by my kupuna who came before me. For those who stand up in righteousness to overcome the oppression inflicted upon Native Hawaiians. We, Hawaiians, all must rise above our oppressors by first healing from the inside then out. I am reminded of the prophecy told by the Kahuna at Paku’I on Molokai east side before Kaahumanu’s men destroyed the heiau (shrine) in 1819. They foretold of events that would take place upon the Hawaiian people within the span of 200 years following the destruction of the heiau. Half of their prophecy 199 years later, has been fulfilled.
The prophecy is “Ho’ale ka lepo popolo,” which translates as “the people of the land shall rise as a wave,” as told by Kumu John Kaimikaua. He says the prophecy speaks of the present time. Ho’ale ka lepo popolo is a metaphor of the manner in which contemporary Hawaiians will move into the 21st century as a great and graceful wave. There is an interconnection of all things. From the kuahiwi (mountain) to the kai (ocean) everything is connected and therefore, dependent on one another.
We are dependent upon one another to move forward. However, with the continued division amongst our people and within us, how do we move forward?
Dayna Schultz: Being in attendance with so many likeminded and spirit-driven individuals was a blessing, honor, and privilege. While we may not have met in physical form, I felt as if we were bound by a common love and our souls blended without complication. Without any words spoken, we were connected just as with the aloha spirit in Hawaii; however, there are no words that could fully justify this experience. It was the highest feeling of all feels with warmth and no judgment, as we as indigenous people shared the same story, just in various forms. Kupuna (elder) and Aumakua (family god) were with us, they stood with us, beside us, and led the way as this is our kuleana (responsibility).
In the Hawaiian culture, Kahunas speak of feeling and holding the vibration. I definitely felt the vibration during our second workshop as the energies were high, the emotions were raw and real as Loke shared our struggles and the tears that fell helped us to heal and cleanse as we continue to move forward.
Ignorance is bliss, as the saying goes; however, to live in ignorance can also be seen as perpetuating the problem and magnifying it as it is easier to turn away and pretend this pain does not exist. However, I truly believe that this was calling and opportunity for us as Native Hawaiian sisters to not only share our story, yet take action in efforts of healing our people.
Mahalo to Paula and NIWRC for believing in us and inviting us on this journey with you.
Dolly M.I. Tatofi: I had many firsts on this trip to the WAS conference. My first time on the continent, first time riding Uber/Lyft, first time participating in a powwow.
I am still in awe at the fact that this trip to New Mexico actually happened. Who would have thought that our proposal to a conference would have been acknowledged and accepted to be a part of such a special event? This was special as it reminds us of how we are valued and with the WAS committee giving us the green light to share our mo‘olelo, our story, was very honoring, but most of all healing. Healing because through our leo (voice) we were able to release the hewa (wrong)—or trauma—that was placed on us by foreigners with all of the emotion entangled in that and transform it into our mo‘olelo (story) and actually release this with aloha so that we could move forward by sharing what we know. This helps us remember who we are and be confident in who we are. Mo‘olelo, as I have been taught, is the stacking of ‘ōlelo, stories from generation to generation. What we pass on is our stories through mana (an inherited and/or acquired energy/power), hā (breath that gives us physical life and healing), and mākia (intention/focus/purpose) because we choose to share these stories as we see fit and appropriate for others to know. So, on a deeper and spiritual level, when we share our mo‘olelo with you, we share the very essence of who we are which stems back from our kupuna (ancestors) before us. I not only release my pain but also the collective pain of my kupuna with love.
I am deeply grateful that we had this opportunity to share a piece of who we are and where we come from. It is not until we are joined with our native sisters (and brothers) across the seas that we come to see how similar our story is; same story different lands. It was also a wakeup call to see just how much people do not know about us and who we are and the challenges we faced as a people. One of the common comments we would hear was, “Oh, are you going to do a hula for us?” We realized in these moments that the ideas of who we are were summed up in this popular phrase. And although these comments would cause a fire within us down to our very core, we pause and breathe a healing breath and release that emotion of anger that was stimulated by colonizers themselves and smile and explain that we don’t all practice the art of hula. In fact, we have a saying “A’ohe pau ka ‘ike i ka hālau ho’okahi”—not all knowledge is learned in one house. With that understanding, we cannot group all that we think a people are in to one definition or one idea, we need to pause and feel with our heart and na‘au (intuition/gut), what can I do to make a long-lasting connection with people I do not know? How do I honor the spirit that is before me and ensure that a relationship lasts infinitely? You just never know when that person may help you or may need you in the future. So always best to honor others fully for who they are and what they bring, even with the words we speak. Because as we have come to learn through a popular saying in our land, “I ka ‘ōlelo ke ola, i ka ‘ōlelo ka make,” in words there is life, in words there is death. Though situations may stir up negative emotion, let’s release that and communicate aloha so that we maintain solid long-lasting connections with others.
This doesn’t just apply to those outside of our lāhui (nation/race/tribe/people), it also applies within. Internalized oppression is so prevalent that it sways us from maintaining this harmony within our own society; brothers and sisters causing us to discredit each other and what we know to be true. Being here at this conference allowed myself to share freely and not be discredited by the “cultural police” that come to define what our culture is from a seemingly select few that we may call practitioners. And it is this way because they are active, outspoken, and practicing the traditions of our kupuna. But not all people within our lāhui speak or even know that they have a say too in all of this. Why are we all not called practitioners? Especially once we are reconnected with our identity? Why am I not valued as a kanaka ‘ōiwi (native person) even though I don’t speak Hawaiian? If my kupuna were highly connected spiritually with Akua (God/higher power) then why are their Hawaiian practices not valued like how the mainstream practitioners identify it today? Being able to share my mo‘olelo as I know and hold to be true in my na‘au and heart is just as important as another one of my brother or sister practitioners that practice a certain skill such as lomilomi (massage) and should not be devalued as spirit knows no bounds. Our culture is a living entity that does not and has not stopped evolving since it was first created. Why then do we get side tracked to stay in just the traditional practices and not allow it to grow as it sees fit? Why is it hard to trust our na‘au that says this is true? In this sense, sharing had allowed me to release this internalized oppression as well and is helping me to continue to build confidence in who I know I am today without fear from outsiders and insiders alike. Today, I feel I am at ease to share what I know and can connect people to others that may hold more knowledge in any particular area so that culture is perpetuated.
Today we live in a po’o (head) heavy society meaning we overuse our brain/mind muscle that we forget that we have other muscles to use as well such as our pu’uwai (heart) and na’au muscles and because of this disproportionate use of our muscles, we come to add to the disconnect that was caused by colonizers themselves. We also cannot forget that our kino (body) is also a muscle that needs attention as well because this helps us capture what we know to be true and it presents physically and visually. We subconsciously carry the disconnect with our own being making it difficult to connect with others at times. We need to ask ourselves, do I really want to carry that disconnect that was passed on to me? Something just does not feel right deep inside of me really. Sometimes we need situations to remind us of these disconnects so that we can utilize the other parts of our being to make and maintain loving relationships that lasts forever. In my eyes, although we were physically disrupted when our lands were abused and taken away from us, which led to being mentally disrupted and caused our emotions to be at an unrest, we still have a spiritual being that knows and feels others and can maintain a connection no matter what the circumstance. We need to pay attention to this more. So, with this, I would like to express my deepest gratitude for the reminder that was provided me during this conference as it has allowed me to remember just how important we all are to each other and that no matter how much a situation may hurt or try to shift me/us/you, just breathe and respond with aloha and everything will be fine if you just TRUST.