Mahalo, Hawai’i

It’s been a wonderful month for learnings, not so great for plastic waste. Both for the same reason: International travel.

I was VERY fortunate to be selected to present at the World Indigenous People’s Conference on Education (WIPC:E),  as a part of a larger delegation of 48 people from Aotearoa. As a group we travelled over to Hawai’i and stayed on the west coast for a few days, hosted by an amazing ohana there, before moving on to the conference in Honolulu for a week.

I’m just going to say now that it is REALLY hard to travel without using plastic. Not impossible, but I learnt a great lesson. Travelling non-plastic requires diligent preparation. Especially when you’re travelling in a group and you don’t necessarily have your own transport, itinerary, or eating arrangements.

Plastic, inside plastic, with other plastic, all wrapped together in plastic…

Plastic on planes…. ohhhh the plastic on planes. The condiments that come plastic wrapped, next to the plastic wrapped cutlery, and the plastic wrapped serviette, all provided inside their own collective plastic bag… and the plastic wrapped blanket… and pillow… and earphones…  And the consistent offerings of water in plastic cups. Do a girl’s head in. I’m writing to Hawaiian Airlines in the hopes that they’ll consider aligning themselves a bit more with the statewide move to reduce plastic waste.

So anyway I did what I could, where I could. I tried using the same cups/cutlery where possible – but like I said travelling in a group without your own itinerary or transport made things difficult. I didn’t bring my plastic waste home with me to weigh so let’s just say yeah, nah…. May has been the big ole plastic fail.

With that out of the way, I have to say, Hawai’i has been the most inspirational and transformative journey I have ever been on – and I’ve done my fair share of travel.

As we moved away from the airport and toward the west, our eyes were glued on the landscape and the beaches – The West Coast of Oahu is, without a doubt, breathtakingly beautiful, in land and in people (it has the highest Maoli population on the island). There’s an undeniable majesty to the whenua, but it is beset by a number of challenges.  The refineries, wastewater plants, and the incredible number of cable systems crisscrossing the landscape reminded us that our tuakana fight the same ngangara as we do in Aotearoa. Our first sight of a homeless camp drew a gasp from some people on the bus, but then moments later came another, and then another, and just like that we realised these communities are another part of the landscape, particularly so for Wai’anae, where these camps have been set up and supported as a means of channelling homeless away from highly visible tourist centers of Waikiki and the North Shore.

It didn’t take long to learn that, like so many other nations that have a colonized indigenous population – the native communities in Hawai’i experience the greatest social and economic challenges – their lands are targetted for toxic landfills, surrounded by chemical research facilities, military training grounds GMO crops and pesticide test crops. Wai’anae is Oahu’s largest native community and has more homeless than anywhere else in the state.

And, like so many other nations that have tried to overthrow indigenous will – there is a deep, profound resilience within the people of the land. A strength underpinned by whakapapa, ancestral ties to the land that are inseverable by nature of their divinity. For all of the anguish I witnessed at the continued barrage of the government, I was inspired the unstinting resistance, the pride, and the resolute nature with which many of them stand their ground, and build toward a new future.

So for the first few days we were hosted by these guys – Ma’o Organic Farms. A non profit organisation based in Wai’anae, they grow organic produce, employing local youth, and linking them into tertiary education – while also promoting sustainable lifestyles, cultural values and community connectedness. We spent a morning working on the farm in various areas, each of the groups led by youth, and I have to say I was blown away by the strength of their character. A truly amazing outfit. They are promoting the values of sustainable practices, championing the incredibly important cause of food sovereignty, providing local youth with an education and income, work ethics, and a skillset that will provide for them and their whanau for the rest of their days. All of this in addition to a growing organic landbase.

Looking out over some of the Ma’o fields toward their solar panel field in the background



Planting up a field of kale – much respect to these youths this is hard work in the Hawai’i sun!


The incredible crew at Ma’o Farms – Kamuela Enos, far left, Social Enterprise Director and the amazing Terri Langley – organic kai extraordinaire…

Just when I thought I could get my head to stop spinning at the awesomeness of it all – I get to go out to dinner with Kamuela and meet his good friend Kevin Chang and powerhouse of a wife Miwa, who is the Deputy Director for KUA, an umbrella organization for a number of the grassroots environmental initiatives happening across the islands. Check out their website and prepare to be seriously blown away by some of the amazing work going on over there.

Here is Kamuela talking about the Ma’o Farms approach to resistance through food sovereignty and education.

And here’s another seriously inspiring talk on clever resistance:

Hawai’i has a LONG history of political resistance, and like our people, have had to make a stand, and hold their ground, numerous times. But it can’t always be about saying no. We need to plan our “Yes” strategy. There is a time for making a stand, and there is a time for moving ahead… and we need to be clever, and strategise, about that path ahead – because if we don’t chart our own progress, then progress will become something that happens TO us. We need to be divergent in our resistance, and arm ourselves no only with flags and placards, but also with pens, with the tools of the maara, with the knowledge of our own ancestral healing systems, with the skills of negotiation.

This resonated so strongly with me – from the creed of my whānau:

To the values of the indigenous sustainability program that I deliver – the harnessing of modern technology, the resurfacing and reapplication of ancestral knowings, the faith in a divine thread that links us to our purpose and to all things – to all that surrounds us – the positive, collaborative, progressive approach to forging our path ahead in this world in a way that maintains our identity, our integrity… the obligations we have to our tipuna to carry their ways of being, and knowing, and doing, forward to our descendents in a way that is meaningful and respectful. This is everything that I am about, so naturally my heart sung every minute that I spent around this kaupapa.
From there I went to WIPC:E – and again, there were many, MANY fantastic experiences, and wonderful workshops, and connections, and how can one not be warmed and inspired when they’re surrounded by so many empowered, gifted, intelligent, indigenous relations.

On our first night in Honolulu we went to the Bishop Museum for the Aotearoa evening. The absolute highlight for me, that evening, was seeing the awe inspiring Dr. Kamana‘opono Crabbe – who, as the CEO for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, wrote to Senator John Kerry asking for legal advice on the sovereign status of Hawai’i – which, according to the USA was formally and legally annexed in 1898 – however the legality of the events surrounding the annexation are still highly contested, and in any case the Kingdom of Hawai’i is still acknowledged, even by the US, in a somewhat grey manner – and many consider the state to be a sovereign nation under illegal occupation by the United States. Crabbe’s letter to the Secretary of State – in demanding final transparency – was an act of political resistance the likes of which has never been seen from within a state agency. This is history in the making, and the type of savvy, powerful leadership that is required by our people in this climate.

Dr. Kamana’opono Crabbe at The Bishop Museum

I found this quote about him, which aptly summarises these qualities:

“It took a resistance — and not just a resistance for its own sake — it took a resistance from one who plays equally well in both worlds: one who would [don] the suit and a malo; one who is educated at the academy and reared in the lo‘i kalo; one whose mind is firmly set in the present and whose spirit is free to roam the past. Sir, my children will know your name, and so will their children, and so will their children after them. This is my honor to you.”

A letter, yet an act so powerful, your name is immortalised.

From Oahu I went to Moloka’i to visit with ohana from Ka Honua Momona – again another inspiring initiative that is returning back to their ancestral practices as a form of provision, education, and re-connection to their ancestral roots.

Two years ago we hosted the Ka Honua Momona ohana here in Gisborne, and connections were made there that will never be broken. This whanau have a deep, spiritual, profound connection to their identity that is bolstered through engaging with their ancestral practices and developing indigenous education systems by revitalizing natural and cultural resources. After being welcomed to the fishponds by my Moloka’i sister Kauwila, we were taken to present to the Moloka’i community on our pathways and work. I was incredibly humbled by the warmth and beauty of the Moloka’i community, will never forget my time there, and cannot wait to go back to connect with the ohana again.

Mahalo, Hawai’i – in you I saw the strength of our collective tipuna – the ties that bind us are rooted in our shared ancestry, the maara that was seeded in the days of our Atua.

We are resilient, we are innovative, we are determined, and we will thrive.

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