He Wahī Paʻakai: A Package of Salt

adding flavor and texture to your world through story


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Twelve Prayers for Mauna Kea (one for every hour between sunrise and sunset)

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E kuʻu mauna, to my dear mountain,

  1. I pray that you are guarded and protected. I pray that our collective prayers shelter you, cloaking you in a shield of aloha, surrounding you and embracing you like Kūkahauʻula does your slopes everyday, adorning you in shades of pink.
  2. I pray that you are seen, truly seen, not as a “site” and not as “contested space” or the location of conflict. I pray that you are seen for all that you are: the ancestor, the guide, the piko of our existence, our connection.
  3. I pray that our grandchildren live in a time when the mere suggestion of construction on your slopes is tossed aside immediately, deemed impossible, and when no one—no matter their background, their ethnicity, or their place of origin—can deny your sacredness.
  4. I pray that every koa tree planted on your slopes extends roots into the earth that can hold you, comfort you, embrace you from the inside, reassuring you that we are here.
  5. I pray that our children grow up sitting in your shade ready to hear all of your stories. I pray they talk with you daily, sharing their triumphs and fears. I pray that they recognize themselves in your colors: in the deep reds of morning, in the dark browns of a cloudy afternoon, in your black silhouette against a moon-lit sky.
  6. I pray that you not have to endure any more pain, that not one more structure is built on your slopes, digging into your skin, scarring your soul. I pray that you not have to suffer or carry the weight of any more greed. I pray that you are freed of any and all expectation.
  7. I pray that you are allowed to breathe. I pray that you are no longer smothered by dreams of conquest, by foreign ambitions, by false notions of human superiority. I pray that you are given space to heal.
  8. I pray that you show us how to continue standing despite all obstacles. I pray that you continue to teach us how to be better, how to expand the reach of our aloha from every summit to the bottom of every ocean, encompassing all, reaching all, hoping for all, and loving all.
  9. I pray that your waters are kept clear, that they are kept clean. I pray that they wash you, cleanse you, provide surfaces and ripples for reflection. I pray that they remind us that we are all water: made up of water, flowing like water, evolving like water, relentless like water.
  10. I pray that you teach those who do not yet understand you. I pray that you show them how to live for something greater than themselves, how to kneel in reverence of sources they cannot see, how to honor space for the relationships they hold, and how to love you.
  11. I pray that everyone knows your stories. I pray that your groves are seen as housing histories, you hillsides as holding deities, your every stone as welcoming dreams. I pray that we continue to create stories with you, at your side, walking the world—no matter where we may be—with you in our hearts.
  12. I pray that you know how much you are loved. I pray that you hear all the voices coming from around the world, voices being carried by waves and winds to greet you, to honor you, to speak to and of your brilliance.

Let these prayers be heard. Let them them lifted. Let them find you.

ʻĀmama, ua noa.

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Thirty ways to stand for Mauna Kea when you cannot physically stand on Mauna Kea (one way for every meter of the TMT)

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  1. Know that the mauna is not just a mauna; it is everything. It is our past and our future being woven together in the present, standing tall. It is who we are.
  2. The next time you pass a mountain, a hill, a river, or a stream, stop, greet them, thank them, recognize them. Know that they are not “resources” but ancient beings whose importance is not dictated by how useful they are to us.
  3. Stand for all sacred places. The more of us standing around the world, the more likely we are to be seen and heard.
  4. Wear the mauna everyday. Wear mauna-inspired t-shirts, shawls, prints, earrings, hats, beanies. Be reminded of the mauna every time you catch a glimpse of your reflection. Use your clothing to start discussions, to prompt questions, to inspire solidarity.
  5. Love the mauna. Know that love is one of the most powerful social forces. Know that it can change worlds.
  6. Know that the use of military force against people protecting space is an ongoing act of violence, not just physical violence, but a violence that seeks to harm us spiritually, psychologically, culturally, and ancestrally. It is a violence that seeks to destroy us. Recognize this violence and call it out. Make it visible. Make it known.
  7. Where ever you are, put your hands to soil. Feel the earth pulse. Know that it is alive and that it is this life that we stand to protect.
  8. Hold a sign. Be a sign.
  9. Listen to mauna music. Hāwane Rios’ album will soothe you, inspire you, make you stand like the mauna.
  10. Call a kiaʻi and let them know you’re with them, in heart, in spirit, in song, in prayer. Give them your energy and your strength.
  11. Give money. Donate to funds established to bail out any kiaʻi who are arrested for being protectors. Donate funds to help the petitioners who work tirelessly and endlessly. Give what you can.
  12. Learn a chant about the mauna and chant it wherever you are. The vibrations of your voice will travel to the piko, to the summit.
  13. Just say the words “Kū Kiaʻi Mauna.” They will put a fire in your belly.
  14. Write. Write. Write. Put words to these movements and these moments. Then share those words with friends. Read them out loud. Let them get spread widely. Put words to feelings and experiences that people may not yet have words for. Know how powerful they can be.
  15. Pray. Do not underestimate the power of intention.
  16. Know that “science” is strategically used to justify destruction and desecration and that “for the betterment of humankind” is one of the most dangerous phrases used in colonial contexts.
  17. Refuse to allow your spaces and your peoples to be sacrifice zones: zones deemed not important enough to protect but important enough to sacrifice “for the rest of the world.”
  18. Be aware of insidious rhetoric meant to trick you. Do not allow anyone to tell you that we are living in the past; that our structures are not old and therefore can be dismantled and destroyed; that we are afraid of progress; that we are anti-science, that we are selfish. Do not believe any of it.
  19. Use your voice. Be creative. Seek new and interesting ways to spread the word, to educate, to impact. Write poems. Create art. Print stickers and badges. Sell them and donate the proceeds.
  20. Send letters to politicians, to the University of Hawaiʻi, to anyone who is involved in the construction of the TMT. And if they don’t listen, post your letters online, make them open letters for everyone to see. Hold our so-called “leaders” accountable.
  21. Educate yourself and educate others. Learn about colonialism and settler colonialism so that you can recognize their tactics and call them out.
  22. If you’re given a platform to speak, speak about the mauna.
  23. Teach others how to put their pointer fingers and thumbs together to form a triangle. Teach them how to lift that triangle to the sky. Tell them that they are creating the mauna, giving it presence anywhere and everywhere in the world.
  24. Never lose hope. Even when the world tries to tell you that having hope is useless, or that change is impossible, be radical and hope anyway.
  25. Know that when we stand, we stand as thousands, with generations of ancestors at our sides.
  26. Do not ever believe that you can’t help, or that you are too small or too distant to have impact. One voice raised in defense of the mauna is one more voice added to the collective, making it stronger, making it pulse deeper, making it ring louder. Know that those who want to construct telescopes on our mauna are depending on our feeling small, feeling helpless, feeling defeated. Do not give them that. Ever.
  27. Let the movement transform you. Let it teach you how to live better, how to love deeper, how to stand taller in the wisdom of your ancestors.
  28. Learn stories about the mauna. Learn the names of all the deities who dwell there. Listen to the stories of those gods and goddesses and know that they are not “myths.” Recognize that the category of “myth” has never served indigenous peoples well and that it has been used to disregard our beliefs and our ways of knowing and being in and with the world. Learn the stories as truths.
  29. Recognize that you are an ancestor in the making. Be the type of ancestor your descendants can look up to with pride, knowing that you stood for something larger than yourself.
  30. Aloha ʻāina. Live it. Feel it. Act upon it. Know that it is what we do and who we are. Forever.


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Lost in Wellington

Welly

Sunrise, Te Whanganui a Tara

Lost in Wellington
            for my love of Te Whanganui a Tara

It’s quite insidious
if you think about it.

Give them names to speak
over and over again
for direction
With no alternatives
they’ll be forced
to reinforce
one story

Slowly your mouth
finds comfort around names
that may have cut
in earlier times

You release a tiny breath
for Wakefield,
Your tongue hits the roof of your mouth
for Tory
Your purse your lips slightly
for Cuba
You enjoy the swift flick
of Lambton
And the wave-like motion
of Oriental

Names slide slick off your palate
and with every mention
you forget what they used to taste like

As early as 1825,
pushed by group of white men
like John George Lambton,
an expedition was launched
with sights on
New Zealand

William Wakefield
arrived in 1839
on a ship named Tory
with the intent
to purchase land,
all part of his brother’s
“colonisation plan”

In time, settlers
came by the thousands,
aboard huge ships,
like Cuba and Oriental
with the New Zealand Company
promising land
they had no right to
promise

These are the names
we say everyday
with ease
while ancient names,
names with stories,
and genealogies
tied to this place
get erased,
replaced,
and sometimes
butchered beyond recognition

I walk down city streets,
a bitter taste in my mouth,
wanting to spit names
on the footpath,
wanting to resist
being forced
to recount one story
day after day
while so many others
lay waiting
to ease off my tongue,
to be pursed between my lips,
to find comfort in my mouth

I feel lost in Wellington,
a place named for a Duke
famed for winning a battle
that was not fought
here

But I suppose getting lost is easy
when the names you’re
forced to utter
are not the same names
you want to follow


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Dear Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

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screenshot from The Rock’s instagram

Dear Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson,

You don’t know me, of course.
I was once one of your adoring fans,
captivated by your wide smile,
your muscled humor,
your bulging, pulsating, titillating

voice.

Then one day you lent your voice
to a singing and dancing mockery
of my fisher of islands,
my keeper of fire,
my kupua from moananuiākea,

Maui.

And I remembered what Maui once said,
“Moʻa aʻela no kā ka ʻalae haupī.”
Some people are selfish,
some seek only for themselves,
some have little regard for the oceans

they claim.

You claimed belonging, riding the back of
the one who slowed the sun,
the one who made the day longer,
the one who punished the selfish ʻalae
and stole her fire

so that we could cook.

And boy did we cook.
We even cooked Cook,
ending his syphilis spreading,
land snatching,
murderous voyages

of the Pacific.

We restored a sense of “pacificness,”
by burning his color of violence,
filling our bellies with his history,
to let it rage in the pit of our stomachs
where fire burns

and births islands.

Our islands once housed you,
gave you a place to become a rock,
shaping and shining your rough edges,
so that you could fit in,
throw your shaka in the air,

and call us “home.”

Now, here’s a lesson from home,
one you need to hear,
and here’s a reminder,
one you need to recall,
and here’s a warning,

one you need to heed.

Take heed, Dwayne “The Rock” Jonhson.
I heard you hope to achieve
academy award celebrity
on the back of my chief, my ancestor,
my muscled memory of Kohala,

Kamehameha.

But you will be mehameha.
You will be lonely in your pursuit,
because my history is not a backdrop,
to your story of success.
And my chief

is not a stepping stone.

He lifted stones,
overturning naha larger than you,
sealing his fate as a conqueror,
and his role as warrior
who craved the eyes of niuhi,

before he was even born.

He was born of and for greatness.
And you, you cannot “play” greatness,
cannot bench press your way into my history,
cannot laugh or smile into ʻĀwini,
the valley that raised him:

sharp and rough.

This is my sharp and rough refusal
of everything you have claimed:
you say you want to tell the story
of the legendary chief
who’s “fabled” life lay the foundation

for the 50th state.

But the real fable is the state,
the fake ass state,
with their fake ass claims,
who occupies my land,
and keeps my people

hungry.

We’re hungry, starving for pono
for a restoration of balance,
of justice,
of sovereignty,
of the right to shape and tell

our own stories.

So you would be wise to remember our story.
My kūpuna, they sang songs of protest
against the loss of their kingdom,
the overthrow of their queen,
the taking of their ea,

their life, their breath.

And they let that breath out in song:
“Ua lawa mākou i ka pōhaku”, they sang.
We can eat stones, they said,
we can endure, they promised,
and we can survive

off of rocks.

So, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson,
If I must, if I am pushed,
I can and I will
eat rocks again,
even captivating, smiling, titillating ones

like you.

 

– Emalani Case


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To love beyond love: a letter to Hawaiʻi

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Roots

E kuʻu Hawaiʻi,

I want a word for this, for this ache. Maybe the word is “love.” But even “love” comes with expectations and definitions. Even “love” cages and binds us to what is familiar, what is understood, what has already been assigned words. “Love” cannot describe what it is to touch you, to put my hands to your soil and smell you, to wake up curled into your slow-moving silences: a flushed red glow on your mountain, mist caught on your hillsides, sweat dripping. “Love” cannot describe what it is to find comfort in your small spaces, nestled somewhere between red dirt footprints and morning dew, the smell of drenched lauaʻe. No, “love” is far too small a word for this.

My Hawaiʻi, I know you beyond love. I love you beyond love. And while my mind wants a word to explain this feeling to myself, maybe the absence of words is what allows me feel you, to see you without boundary, to know you and I as one. Maybe the absence of words is what keeps me searching for every new way to appreciate you, to rejoice in the very fact of you, to know your moods and shades, what you look like in the shadows of the sun, and then again in the light of the dark. Maybe this, this “something,” is why I cry and shout for you, why I dance and chant of you. Maybe this “something” is every reason I pray.

Hawaiʻi, you’ve taught me that loving you, or knowing you, or what ever “this” is takes courage because with all of “this” there is the inevitability of pain. My stomach churns whenever I see you hit, ripped, targeted by greed, knowing that every sign I hold, and every letter I send, and every protest I stand at cannot erase your scars or relieve the agony of torment. When I see what’s happened to your oceans, your waves impregnated with the runoff of waste and a ravenous hunger for “more,” I want to clear every bit of you, to rub you down, and bathe you. I want to massage away the memories of destruction, soothing every inch of you with my fingertips. When I realize that I’ve heard too many stories spreading the myth of separation—my separation, our separation, from you—I carry the weight of what it has done to you: stagnant waters, severed summits, barren soils. When I know you’ve been wronged, hurt, made to bleed, I want to find your roots and nurture them, bringing each and every one up to my lips to whisper: “crawl, spread, grow; hold her together from the inside.”

You, my Hawaiʻi, you are my ʻāina. You are every thing that “feeds,” that nourishes. But I know that I’ve done damage calling you, and every aspect of you, a “resource.” I’ve centralized my needs, our needs, forgetting that you are far more than what you’ve been used for. You are sacred and special, beautiful and fearsome, able to create and thrive without me. So, sometimes I wonder if my unrelenting passion to protect and “save” you comes from the false notion that you somehow need me. Sometimes I think that that the best way to help you is to let you be, to step out of the way—and to pull everyone else to the side with me—to give you room to breathe and stretch. Sometimes I think that I owe you space and time to heal. And in quiet, solitary moments, I wonder if that’s what it really means to “love” you beyond love.

Oh my Hawaiʻi, I’ve loved and been loved. But I’ve also smothered and been smothered. I’ve been told I’m too intense. I’ve been told my fire is too strong. I’ve been made to believe that this, whatever “this” is inside of me, needs to be tamed. I’ve even been instructed to drink water—to always drink water, to swim in water, to have water around me at all times—to control my flame. Because sometimes, my Hawaiʻi, I burn. And sometimes I hurt. But, while I tried for so many years to squelch this, to suppress this, to swallow this even while it blistered my throat, you showed me that the same intensity that is overwhelming for some is what allows me to love you beyond all love. It is what allows me to find you in spaces where words don’t exist, where they can’t exist.

It is to those spaces, my Hawaiʻi, that I will always return. I may leave, but it is only to dip into deep blues, to find myself in waves, to arrive at stones, ready to taste them. It is to learn to love all the way I love you: beyond. Tomorrow I leave for another place, for a land of long white clouds and the view of skies through pohutukawa branches. And I know that in time I will come to ache for this place and for others the way I ache for you, to want to protect them the way I want to protect you, to want to take my lips to their roots, whispering. I know in time that I will allow myself to be loved in return, to be seen beyond words, to be open to the pain of a fierce and brave connection. And it will be, all of it will be, because you loved me beyond love, in every shade, in every small space, and in every slow-moving silence of the morning.

Me ke aloha pau ʻole,
Emalani


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at the rim: towards a truly pacific Pacfic

pacific
adjective / pa .Ÿ cif Ÿ. ic

1
a: tending to lesson conflict: conciliatory
b: rejecting the use of force as an instrument of policy

2
a: having a soothing appearance or effect
b: mild of temper

3
capitalized: of, relating to, bordering on, or situated near the Pacific Ocean

RIMPAC
noun / rim Ÿ. pac

1
a: tending to increase conflict: not conciliatory
b: using force as an instrument of policy

2
a: having a destructive, demeaning, demoralizing appearance or effect
b: violent in temper

3
capitalized: of, relating to, or in reference to the Rim of the Pacific exercise

4
a: in 2018, war games involving 26 nations, 25,000 personnel, 18 countries, 47 ships, 5 submarines, and more than 200 aircraft
b: war games bringing gunnery, live-fire events, missile shots, and naval strikes to Hawaiian lands and waters
c: war games said to “increase cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s interconnected oceans” (U.S. Navy)

– – –

Dear Reader (whoever, wherever, and whenever you may be),

I hope you will forgive the absence of a formal introduction. My name, face, and credentials do not matter as much as the fact that I, like you, have come to this letter for a reason. If you’ve stumbled upon these words, I’m going to assume it’s because of our shared concern about RIMPAC. Or, perhaps, it’s even because you support these biennial war games and therefore seek to counter my arguments. Either way, you are here (or I should say, we are here) and I’d rather spend the short amount time we have together to send an invitation to you, an invitation to stand at the rim of something revolutionary:

Real Safety. Real Security. Real Peace. Real Pacific-ness.

RIMPAC 2018 is here and it is imperative that we focus on what that means:

  • It means that representatives from 26 nations will bring their ships, their weapons, and their intentions to “play” war in and around our islands.
  • It means that Hawaiʻi’s lands and waters will be used (once again) as targets.
  • It means that the health of Hawaiʻi’s residents (including our winged, hoofed, finned, and leafed relatives) is at risk.
  • It means that thousands of soldiers will come ashore with “needs” and “demands” that turn adults and children into victims of sex trafficking.
  • It means penetration.
  • It means abuse in every possible way.
  • It means the continued marginalization of indigenous peoples’ concerns as lands are desecrated and as conversations of the sacred are once again ignored, or worse, ridiculed.
  • It means the continued prioritization of colonial agendas.
  • It means more problematic military rhetoric: “It’s for the good of mankind.”
  • It means attempts to disguise what is ultimately a violent, dehumanizing, and destructive exercise with themes like this year’s “Capable, Adaptive, Partners.”
  • It means the militarization of Hawaiʻi and the larger Pacific.

RIMPAC 2018 is here and it is therefore essential that we act upon what that means:

  • It means we must resist.
  • It means we must hope for change, as radical as that hope may be.
  • It means we must be daring enough to stand at the rim of something revolutionary: an end to the bombing, an end to militarism, and an end to the use and abuse of our lands, our waters, and our bodies.
  • It means we must call our representatives, write to our government officials, sign petitions, and stand for a halt to destruction.
  • It means we must care.
  • It means we must insist and be heard.
  • It means we must compose songs and poetry, choreograph new histories, and continue to create love (in spite of hate).
  • It means we must not let another generation believe that the presence of every tank, chopper, or war ship is “normal”.
  • It means we must put an end to the sound, feel, and fear of bombs: literal and cultural.

In order to stand at the rim of something revolutionary, my dear reader, we must admit that there is nothing “pacific” about the Rim of the Pacific exercise, that peace cannot be born of destruction, that practicing “war” only brings war, that we cannot “lessen” conflict while giving it a space to thrive. In order to stand at the rim of something revolutionary, we must be revolutionary:

Revolutionary in thought. Revolutionary in action. Revolutionary in our conviction. Revolutionary in our belief that change will come.

We, each and every single one of us—regardless of political affiliation, sexual orientation, ethnic make-up, level of education, economic status, country of residence, or religious belief—come from the earth. The earth is our common inheritance and therefore our common responsibility. The unfortunate reality, however, is that while we are “fully dependent on living systems,… much of humanity has disengaged from the natural world and is participating in its destruction, which is also a self-destruction” (Canty, 2018, p. 53). Therefore, RIMPAC (and every other damaging and destructive exercise) cannot claim to defend life, or to act for our safety or security, while simultaneously promoting war, while destroying lands, while polluting waters, and while playing at the rim of death.

In the end, the ability to shoot a gun or to aim and fire a missile will not matter if we have completely obliterated everything we need to survive. In the end, the egos of our politicians and so-called “leaders” who lean on military prowess like support staffs will fall and crash anyway. Ego cannot feed and fame cannot nourish. And no amount of large ships, or choppers, or tanks, or submarines will be able to reverse the impacts of too many bombs, too many shots, too many pollutants, too many chemicals, and too many deaths (of bodies birthed, hatched, planted, and created).

In order to stand at the rim of something revolutionary—at the rim of real safety, real security, real peace, and real pacific-ness—we must dream of a better world and we must move towards a better world. We must be willing to go beyond the edge, into the thick of change. We must continue to inform ourselves, we must challenge and critique structures of power, we must stand to protect our earth, we must lower our impact on our environments, we must take care of ourselves and of one another. We must put an end to violence: violence against the earth and violence against ourselves. And we must work for justice: environmental justice, cultural justice, and social justice.

We must end RIMPAC!

When it ends, we will stand at the rim, with our feet firmly planted at the edge of a truly pacific Pacific, ready to leap in.

Come with me.

With hope,
Your friend

 

References:

Canty, J. (2018) I am a body on the body of the earth. In Oppression and the Body:
Roots, Resistance, and Resolutions. C. Caldwell & L. Leighton (eds.) Berkley: North Atlantic Books, 53-63.

U.S Navy. (2018) U.S. Navy Announces 26th Rim of the Pacific Exercise.
http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=105789

 


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The stories we choose to tell ourselves about ourselves.

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This keynote address was presented at the annual Kuʻi ka Lono Conference on April 20, 2018. The conference theme this year was “E hoʻā mana.” 

Hoʻā mana. What does it mean to ignite mana? Is it to inspire or to encourage? Is it to give someone authority, rights, or privileges? Is it to empower?

When I think of hoʻā mana, and I reflect on what it looks like (or feels like) to have a fire lit inside of me, in the depths of my naʻau, I also think of those moments of disempowerment, those moments when the light goes out, when the flame dies, when all that is left is the smoke of passions once burning.

Now, when I talk about disempowerment, I’m not just speaking about what we often focus on: stories of the “outsider” coming in to take our lands; to use and abuse our mountains; or to steal our breath, our sovereignty. Those stories exist. In fact, they not only exist, they are so heartbreakingly frequent that our young ones know no other life than one of resistance, one of a constant and never-fading insistence on our right to be here, on our right to exist, and on our right to thrive as Kānaka Maoli.

Yes, stories of disempowerment are so frequent that our young ones only know lives of holding signs, their little fingers clasping the hopes and dreams of a nation written on poster boards. In bold letters they shout aloha ʻāina, they chant kū kiaʻi mauna, they sing of and for ea.

But today, that’s not the kind of disempowerment I’m going to speak about. We could compile lists of offenses against our ʻāina, offenses against all of our sources of sustenance, whether they be physical, emotional, cultural, or spiritual. We know them. We fight them.

So today, I’m going to talk about a different kind of disempowerment. As uncomfortable as it may be initially, I’m going to talk about a kind of disempowerment that comes from within, one that comes from us, and more importantly, one that comes from the stories we choose to tell ourselves about our lives and our futures.

Now, this is not going to be a disempowering speech. It would be irresponsible of me to leave you with your energy depleted, or with your flame struggling to flicker. It is my hope to leave you as inspired as I possibly can. But to do so, I believe, requires some work, some examination, and some deep reflection on us. It requires us to focus our gaze on ourselves for a moment.

Change, after all—radical and revolutionary change—begins with us and not with those forces that seek to oppress us. Change is from the inside out.

To demonstrate this, I’d like to tell you a story. As First Nation’s writer Thomas King once wrote, “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (2). Stories. So, this is part of mine.

I’m a teacher here at this university and every semester since I started working here, I’ve taught a class on Pacific Islands Studies. In this class, my students and I explore what it even means to study the Pacific and why it’s necessary. Beyond facts and statistics, we try to get to the heart of the region, to dive into the depths of its ocean, and to taste its beauty and its pain. In doing so, we hope to get to what my mentor, the late Teresia Teaiwa calls, “critical empowerment.” Our students, she argues, “need to be able to critically evaluate all forms and sources of power, including indigenous ones, and indeed, their own and even mine” (p. 269). This isn’t easy, of course, but I believe it’s essential.

A few months ago, in my attempts to build and nurture critical empowerment in my students, I had to turn the focus back on myself. I had to become critical of my teaching, of my words, and of my actions (or, perhaps even a lack of actions). Part of our journey in Pacific Islands Studies includes an examination of some of the most pressing issues in the region. We look at examples of disempowerment: we study everything from the military’s use of Pacific lands (including Hawaiian lands) as bombing targets; we learn about the genocide of West Papuans at the hands of Indonesian “authorities”; and we talk about the devastating impacts of climate change.

Each semester, I feel the tone of the class shift as soon as we get to these issues. It’s somber; it’s sad. My students write reflections about feeling angry, frustrated, depressed. They start to question structures of power in their own lives, wondering why they know about some issues and not others, or why there is not more awareness worldwide about our struggles. And while knowledge itself is powerful, and while many of my students are moved by the weight of these issues, some are left feeling helpless, and others, completely powerless.

“I want to do something,” one will reflect, “but I don’t know what and I don’t know how.” Or “I know we should all care,” another will write, “but I am only one person. I can’t make a difference.” Or, “It takes a lot of energy to care about something I cannot change” a young student will say. “So, why try?” she will ask.

These kinds of statements are common. If I compiled reflections from the last few semesters of teaching, I’d have a collection of words that speak to disempowerment, to feelings of being too small, too insignificant, too isolated, too poor, or even too busy to do anything.

Climate change.
Desecration and destruction.
Genocide.
Colonization of lands and peoples, hearts and minds.

The weight of all of these pressures can be crippling. And, unfortunately, I witness a little bit of this every semester.

So, a few months ago, in anticipation of the flood of common reflections and responses I would get from students, I had to stop. I had to look at myself and critically reflect on what I was doing to my students. Do they need to know about disempowered peoples, about wrongdoings, about injustice, about fear, and struggle, and death?

Yes. I think they do. In order to heal, I think we all do.

But how could I ignite their desire to dream and act for a better future? Or further, how could I inspire hope in a future that feels impossible? How could I counteract the weight of their worlds?

And then it hit me: I couldn’t. I couldn’t empower my students to believe in their own agency, in the magnitude of their individual lives and actions, until I believed in my own. I couldn’t avoid cultivating a feeling of powerlessness while I was simultaneously disempowering myself.

Now, when I speak of disempowerment, I’m not implying that I don’t have faith in myself, or that I don’t think that I can make a difference.

I believe our ultimate kuleana as Kānaka Maoli is to be the ancestors we want our descendants to look up to, the ones who stood for something, the ones who fought for justice, the ones who created a world in which our they could surpass us in achievements, in knowledge, in the cultivation of deep wisdom. So, when I say that I was disempowering myself, it wasn’t in my conviction that we each have the ability to do great things, it was, instead, in the stories that I was telling myself about my myself.

Let me explain.

Each semester, when my students and I arrive at a discussion of global warming, I am confronted by the fact that climate change is spoken about so often that it’s started to lose some of its impact, some of its urgency. It’s a phrase that makes its way into the headlines whenever there is an unusual series of storms or massive heat waves; that makes its way into our news feeds whenever a friend posts something about the environment, or our use of plastics, or the need to go “green”; or that makes its way into our homes whenever a reporter announces that the current President of the United States tweets something like “It’s the coldest year on record. Perhaps we could use a little more of that good old global warming.” Yes, conversations about climate change are actually so common that I fear the phrase has lost some of its potency.

Thomas King writes something similar of phrases like “mother earth,” which while powerful for some, have been so overused that he states, “It has no more power or import than the word ‘freedom’ tumbling out of George W. Bush’s mouth” (or, to make it more relevant to today, than the word “equality” coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth.)

My students, for example, know about climate change. I’m not introducing them to anything new. They’ve been exposed to it time and time again. But I have them read about climate change in the Pacific and I have them watch a film that features islanders whose lives are being most directly impacted by rising sea levels. We have discussions and I assign reflective papers. I use and overuse and perhaps even abuse the phrase until they’ve heard it so much they are numb.

Then we move to the next topic.

I do try to raise the point, however, that we must care, that we must act, that we must do what we can to ensure the health of our ʻāina, our kai, and our kānaka. Then, I read through their reflections and I see what I have mistakenly thought was apathy, or a lack of concern. What I’ve recently realized, however, is that what I thought was indifference was actually a reflection of me.

I had not done enough to embody activism, to embody hope, to embody change. I had not done enough, I realized, to show them that change is actually possible, to inspire them to think of themselves as agents of revolution, to empower them to know that we can always do something, even when (and especially when) it seems too big, or too scary, or to impossible to do anything.

Why? Because I had convinced myself that I was doing enough.

“I pick up trash,” I’d tell myself.
“I recycle,” I’d reassure myself.
“I take my own bags to the store,” I’d remind myself.
“I try to be a conscious consumer,” I’d applaud myself.
“I’m doing my part,” I’d convince myself.
“Plus, I teach about climate change. I write about climate change. I inform my students about climate change. I encourage dialogue about climate change,” I’d praise myself.
“I raise awareness,” I’d repeat to myself, over and over again.

And in my attempts to “do my part”, I’d encourage my students to do the same: “share, write, post,” and yes, “raise awareness.”

For a time, that was sufficient. And that idea of “doing enough” was the story I told my students, and perhaps more dangerously, the story that I told myself. As a result, I was caught up in my own complacency, or in the notion that I was doing enough.

What I came to learn in this experience, however, is that the moment we think we’re doing enough, or the moment that we become a little too satisfied with our efforts, is perhaps the first sign that we can do a bit more.

Needless to say, this was a hard lesson to learn. But learn it I did. One evening, after class, I returned to my house and came face to face with my own hypocrisy. A friend had recently posted something about microplastics.

These are tiny pieces of plastic that come from larger pieces that degrade into smaller and smaller fragments. Plastic is indestructible. Plastic is here with us forever. No matter how tiny a piece gets, it continues to exist, which means it continues to impact.

My friend’s post was about the devastating fact that our oceans are littered with microplastics, so littered, in fact, that recent studies predict that “By 2050, there will be more plastics than fish in the world’s oceans.” There are floating garbage patches in our waters and these patches contain harmful materials that are often consumed by marine life, many of which we later eat. Therefore, we are not only polluting the earth and ocean but are also polluting ourselves.

After reading my friend’s post, I started to look around my house and realized that I was surrounded by disposable plastic. Everything from the take-away Starbucks cup (which I thought was recyclable but later learned wasn’t), to the plastic produce bag I used for my vegetables, to the packaged goods in my refrigerator, to my products in the bathroom, and even to the bag I used to put my trash in. All of it was plastic! And I felt sick.

I had told myself that I was doing enough, that I was doing my part. But truthfully, those were stories I created. They were stories that kept me from seeing the truth, like the fact that the production of plastic is energy intensive, or the fact that recycling is also energy intensive, and therefore linked to habitat destruction and fossil fuel emissions. I couldn’t see the truth that while I thought I was doing my part, I was actually contributing more to the problem than to solutions. I had fallen into the trap that so many of us fall into. As Thomas King writes, “It’s not that we don’t care about ethics or ethical behaviour. It’s not that we don’t care about the environment, about society, about morality. It’s just that we care more about our comfort and the things that make us comfortable” (p. 163).

Then I realized that our ʻāina and our kai have been inconvenienced for far too long for our comfort, and I thought, “Now, it’s my turn.” It’s my turn to be inconvenienced and uncomfortable.

So I made some changes. I vowed to live a life of lower impact, promising to stop buying single-use plastics, to cut out processed foods packaged in what would become more rubbish, to reuse before recycling, to compost and reduce food waste, to even start making some of my own products like toothpaste. It hasn’t been easy. And I am by no means perfect, but it’s been necessary. It’s ignited a new sense of empowerment in me, one that grew from a refusal to believe in the myth that I was doing enough.

I share this story with you today because the theme hoʻā mana inspires passion, it inspires action, and it inspires change, radical change. It inspires us to be more and to do more for our people, for our earth, and for our future. But I believe that this cannot happen until we make ready a space for those fires to be lit. As long as I was sitting in the comfort of my own ideas and stories, for example, I could not achieve any level of critical empowerment. I could not grow. There was no space for anything to be ignited.

So, I leave you with this. When I see students like you, students who’ve gone to Hawaiian-focused charter schools, students who’ve grown up knowing that they have a right to an education that honors who they are, students who’ve been taught the values of aloha, of mālama, and of kuleana, I am humbled. I believe you are far ahead of where I was at your age, especially in terms of your commitment, your passion, and your dedication to the lāhui.

Therefore, my stories are meant as reminders. Do not allow yourself to be disempowered, not by others, not by society, not by institutions that threaten our existence, and most importantly, not by YOU and the stories you tell yourself. Do not ever think that you are too small, too insignificant, too young, or too busy to make a difference. Be okay with being uncomfortable every once in a while, especially if it’s for the earth. Be bold and brave. Be a presence.

Critics may tell you that your efforts cannot, and will not, save the world. Do them anyway. Continue to chant and sing of our existence, continue to hold your signs and demand change and justice, continue to learn and to educate yourselves, and continue to cultivate hope, to plant it, to nurture it, and to watch it sprout and grow. And when anyone tells you it’s useless, refuse to let that be the story you adopt. Refuse to let that be the story you tell.

We were born of great people and our descendants will be born of great people if we persist and if we never lose our drive to work towards a better and stronger nation, even if we cannot know what that will look like or feel like right now. What I tell myself, and what now motivates me, is what Thomas King once said: “…don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.” (p. 167)

So, be the change. Look within. Clear the space. And e hoʻā mana.