He Wahī Paʻakai: A Package of Salt

adding flavor and texture to your world through story


A Future Built by Stories


The following address was written for a panel entitled “Vā Moana.” The panel was part of Talanoa Mau, a gathering of artists, creatives, thinkers, and doers held at The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa on the 24th and 25th of February 2020. Talanoa Mau, organized by Lemi Ponifasio, sought to address critical questions about what it means to be human in today’s world.

Yesterday, a question was posed about stories. Thomas King said it best, “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.” We are our stories. We are stories in development, stories defying the assumed permanence of the page, stories proving theories of weakness and inferiority wrong, stories built on stories. Every story is made and remade as we interact with it, shape it, use it to suit our own agendas. Stories are power; they capture our histories, our triumphs, our tragedies, our hopes, and our futures.

So, I’m going to tell you a story, a somewhat tragic one, but one that is also hopeful. And yes, it will be one pushing an agenda. I share it hoping that it may encourage us to reflect on how we act and interact with place, especially as we increasingly find ourselves in each other’s spaces.

I live on a stream, a stream I can’t see, a stream whose flow I cannot hear, a stream I have no choice but to walk over, everyday. According to old stories and records, Waikoukou was the name of a small stream that ran freely where Wellington’s Boulcott Street declines and curves into the center of the city today. I live on this street. I live on this stream. Waikoukou was also the name of a small pool located somewhere at the intersection of Boulcott Street and Manners Street, a place where birds were said to bathe. I can’t hear them now, but often wonder what they used to sound like.

If you walk in the city, work in the city, live in the city, drive in the city, are currently in the city, then you’ve probably walked on (or have been walking on) water. The place we now call Wellington was once (and still is) a place of water, of life-giving streams, each with a name and each with a story. Literally paving the way for “development” meant that the streams had to be intentionally disappeared as a city was built on, over, and around Indigenous people and Indigenous land. The streams were taken from the sun and rain and made to run in concrete tunnels, now flowing through culverts in the dark, finding their outlets at the ocean not by their own memory, but by control. If you walk city streets, you may find markers of these streams, subtle pieces of art flowing across concrete—pounamu inlets in the footpath near parliament, blue water marks painted outside a Z-petrol station, a soundscape in a tunnel giving us the sounds of water while denying us the ability to truly listen. The art somehow attempts to remind us of what once was, even while names fall out of use and our mouths curve around different stories, imposed and built stories, remembered and ingrained against our will, day after day, as even the simple act of giving directions forces us to reinforce one story: a colonial one. Wakefield. Lambton. Tory. Cuba. Oriental. Names of conquest. Names of invasion.

Even the “wild and free” streams we think we know, like Pipitea Stream at Wellington’s famous Botanic Gardens, have been made to appear that way: the illusion of freedom while their paths are curated, both above and below ground, and while we follow them looking for something “pure” or “untainted.” Saturday morning strolls with roses made possible by dispossession, alienation, colonization.

Yesterday I sat with a woman who lamented the absence of a European perspective at this Talanoa. “Where is it?” she asked. “It’s everywhere,” I said. The dominant perspective is everywhere, so visible, so normalized, that it is rendered invisible. Like concrete we stop seeing as we walk over it, day after day, concrete over streams we cannot hear, streams we walk over because we cannot walk in them. Streams we forget.

Now you may wonder what place a Hawaiian woman, a migrant to this country, has in this conversation. Initially, I wondered the same thing. But then rather than waste time and energy contemplating my adequacy or lack thereof, I thought, since I’m here and since our time is transient, I will not waste this space. Rather, I will use it to encourage a remembering, a recalling of ancestral ways of thinking and relating. Our panel is about vā, a relational space, a space between, that is never empty but is always full of potential, a space to nurture. When I think about the space between myself and the stream I live on, I realize that the hardest work to be done in tending to that relationship is realizing that we were never, and are never, separate. Not even concrete, I realize, can block me, block us, from the knowing that we have a responsibility to nurture our relationships with place, starting with the ground beneath our feet, no matter how far below, or through how many layers of concrete, that ground may be.

Vā Moana, the full title of this panel, encourages a rethinking of the way we relate to place. While moana may push us to think of the vast ocean that connects our many islands in the Pacific, the vā, the relational space, tells us that before looking out, before our eyes gaze across furrowed waters, we need to look down, reach down, turn hands down to the earth: feel it, hear it, smell it, taste it, love it. We need to remember that our entrance into moana starts at the shore, where sand creates an in-between space, both fluid and solid. We need to see moana not only for everything and everyone it reaches “out there,” but for the intimacy of how it meets with awa, with rivers and streams, where waters converge, mix, and create life at the vā, at the in-between. We need to remember how our actions in place fill the waters that flow to the moana, get caught in twisting currents, carried to other places and peoples, reminding us of our interconnectedness and the colonial myth of separation.

My ancestors, the ones who move through my hands, who center my voice, the ones whose stories I am living, they taught me how to love place, not in a fluffy, light way, but in a fierce, ferocious way, a way that sometimes hurts. They taught me to love all places the way I love my own home, to stand to protect this whenua the same way I stand to protect my maunga, Mauna Kea, all the way across our moana, in my Hawaiʻi.

This love, this love that can and will save us, is only possible when we can see, when we can truly see even what is being concealed, covered, culverted, colonized. This love is our Indigenous reference, our Indigenous knowledge: this aroha, alofa, aloha. Lemi asked, “How can we do better in real practical terms in the places where we live together, do our work, and make our art?” I think it starts with acknowledging place and acknowledging the people of the places we’re in. I think it starts with knowing where we are, how it is that we are here, and what being here means. I think it starts with learning the stories that aren’t being told, not by requesting they be handed to us, but by doing the work to earn them and then the work to maintain them. I think it starts with knowing that living with the ancestral wisdom of relation is the only choice we have, the only choice if we want to save this world.

In the past few years—with my people standing at Mauna Kea, kaitiaki standing at Ihumātao, Indigenous peoples standing at Djab Wurrung territory in Australia, the Wet’suwet’en standing in Canada right now, and so many more—I’ve heard it said time and time again that Indigenous peoples are now standing up and speaking out. The truth is that we’ve always been standing up, acting upon our ancestral responsibility to the earth, nurturing our relationship to place, and fighting to protect it even when it hurts. So, to those who think we’ve only just started I say, “Come join us in the future we’re already living in, the one we’re creating right now, with the dreams of our ancestors and the hopes of our children, the one we’ve been safeguarding for all of us, a future built by and for stories.”


Let us begin.

kia mau

For Kia Mau

August 31, 2019, Ihumātao

Tina Ngata once said,
“To be born Indigenous
is to be born
into a political reality.”

Today our political reality
is walking perimeters
lined with native trees
at Ihumātao,

recalling when Quine Matata-Sipu
told me the story of their maunga,
the one they once had to send karakia to
through a blockade of armor,

as if weapons can detain prayers.

“If your mountain is the biggest,
ours is the smallest,” she said.
But size does not matter
when it comes to the sacred.

All lands and waters
are sacred.
And I think, if the world could just
wake up to that indigenous reality

we wouldn’t be here:

living lives still
impacted by racist doctrines
that allowed for discovery
disguised as conquest

or standing near old rock walls
trying to imagine a post-
Discovery Doctrine

“In that future,” Tina asks,
“What wakes you up in the morning?”
I find myself struggling
to dream

knowing clearly what I stand against
not always exactly what I stand to create,
the hope of something else
beyond this:

chained to the earth
to save mountains,
to fight evictions,
to stop oceans

from rising.

Tina says,
“The doctrine of discovery
continues to dispossess
Indigenous people of our rights

every day.”

Today, we stand for those rights
and even if my dreams of the future
are not yet fully realized,
I will stand for hers:

a post-doctrine future
where her babies know nothing
but clean water, clean soils
the ability to plant and grow

the land and themselves with it.

I’ll stand for her dream:
one where little girl giggles
are all that wake her up
in the morning

in world transformed.

October 8, 2019, Bushmere Arms

Audre Lorde once said,
“The master’s tools
will never dismantle
the master’s house.”

But today I’m thinking:
no matter the tools you use,
you can’t dismantle the house
when your people are sitting in it.

How do you dismantle
a colonial narrative,
tear down the celebratory décor
uproot the flowery fictions,

to see the place for what it is:

Waerenga a Hika
the site
of a colonial land grab
over 70 killed,

more than 400
chased down,
imprisoned or

My friend said he’ll indigenize it
from the inside.
But you can’t sit in the house
drink your tea on bones

and call that decolonization.

Then I remember what
Eve Tuck and Wayne Yang said:
“Decolonization is not a metaphor.”
It has to result in land repatriation

But how do you call for land to be returned
when you walk the crew
of a death ship into a colonial house
and reinforce its walls with your brownness?

I am brown.

But my brown comes from the soil
of Papahānaumoku
and trails of soldiers
who trained in the stinging rain.

But I cannot stand for a mountain,
lift my voice at the base of Mauna Kea,
call for the halt of destruction,
of desecration

and then come here from Hawaiʻi
and lend any inch of my brown skin
to the commemoration
of something that made being indigenous

a crime.

Tina will not give any of her brownness
to celebrating colonialism,
and following her lead,
I will not either.


November 3, 2019, Parliament

Haunani-Kay Trask once said,
“We exist in a violent and violated world,
a world characterized by
‘peaceful violence.’”

Violence does not have to be
the direct bullet to our heart,
the direct bombing of our land,
the direct murder of our women.

Violence can be
the Cook bicentenary plaque
on the grounds of parliament
unveiled by the queen in 1970.

It can be parliament
built over running water
named Waipiro,
and now being forced to walk over it

not knowing it’s even there.

Violence can be every street name
in the city
and having to reinforce
colonial narratives daily,

just to give directions.

Violence can be the Endeavor
on the back of a 50 cent coin
or the Endeavor
sailing into harbors

marking 250 years of colonialism.

Violence can be
not knowing to question violence,
not knowing how to see violence
not even being aware

that you’re in pain.

Today, my Hawaiian friend and I
walk the grounds of parliament,
look at the bicentenary plaque,
see Cook’s face

and think of justice at Kealakekua.

Tina says Cook used deadly force,
motivated by the doctrine of discovery
that said our ancestors were not human,
not worthy of life.

Cook’s actions were violent
and his name continues
to cut and rip at my tongue,
a dirty word

still hurting.

But not all C words are bad,
I think.
I’m a Case committed
to containing

Cook’s bones in a casket

along with his memory.


November 8, 2019, Wollongong

Teresia Teaiwa once said,
“No one truly benefits from
exploitation and abuse

Oppressors lose their humanity
in the process of

Today I miss her fierce brilliance,
her sharp poetry,
the way the tattoos on her arms
seemed to point to pathways

always worth traveling.

Today I think about the path
that brought me here:
an indigenous checkmark
in a room satisfied with my presence

and no real intent on listening.

The conference ad read:
“Food and Colonialism,”
a chance to think about food
as a colonial tool, I thought.

One woman talked about refrigerators
boxes of ice and cold air,
another about what colonial women

tea, coffee, alcohol?

And I think:
this conference
would have been better titled:
“Food of the Colonizer”

They don’t talk about
Indigenous peoples
cut off from land,
from water

from the ability to grow their own food
rather than sitting with the discomfort
of generational disease
in their chests:

sugars high, heart beats low.

They don’t talk about the doctrine,
about how the very fact of it
allows them to sit here
pretending blindness.

They don’t talk about the fact
that Cook’s death ship
will be here next year:
still eating them, eating us, again.

They start with empty platitudes:
“We’d like to acknowledge
the traditional custodians of the lands
upon which we meet.”

Then continue to ignore them,
ignore us,
moving on to talk of ice boxes,
coffee, and their colonizing,

not of colonialism,
and as Teresia would say,
the fact that they lose their humanity
when the cannot see what they do.

I try to sit quietly,
but the sound of my eye rolls
at the back of the room
seem to scream:

I don’t want to be the angry brown girl.

But then I remember
Audre Lorde who said,
“Every woman has
a well-stocked arsenal

of anger.”

So, I raise my hand,
armed with generations of fury,
and the refusal to
quiet the burning in my gut.

I don’t think
I’ll get invited

next year.

Their colonial food
leaves a bitter taste
in my mouth

Tina says colonialism
is like a creeping weed,
suffocating, taking over.
We need to take it out

from the roots, she says.

In Hawaiʻi,
is not a weed
but a bug.

To hoʻokolonaio is to colonize
Hoʻo meaning to make something happen
Kolo meaning to crawl
Naio meaning maggot

Maggots crawl, squirm

and digest
feeding on and hoping for
our decay,

getting into everything we know,
even the ways we think
about ourselves
our pasts, our futures.

The naio even crawl into our food.
And while our very substance,
what makes us who we are,
is still so attractive to the

slimy, white bugs

I will never
have the privilege
or the time
to write about



November 28, 2019, Wellington

Steve Newcomb once said,
“Working on climate change
without working on paradigm change
would be a grave mistake.

We need a mental and behavioral shift
away from the prevailing paradigm
of domination and dehumanization.”
The Doctrine of Discovery, he said,

“unleashed this paradigm.”

Today on Turtle Island,
turkeys will be baked,
pumpkin pies will be cut,
and families will share

what they’re thankful for:

mouths salivating,
bellies stuffed,
eating their way
through erasure

I think about the annual violence
that is the American Thanksgiving:
the celebration of massacre,
and of the same doctrines

that allow for Tuia 250.

Tina says,
“The first step
on the pathway to justice
is truth.

Indigenous truth.”

And the truth is,
the same doctrines that allowed for genocide
allow for turkey-filled holidays
of cultural amnesia

year after year

the same doctrines that led to dispossession
allow for telescopes to be built on summits
of ancestors
with the promise that they will

crush our souls

the same doctrines that led to the theft of our lands
continue to keep us off those lands,
even while we are
the most well-equipped to save them

even while our planet is drowning

and the same doctrines that allowed Cook to come here
allow him to return
time and time again,
every visit as violent

as the first

And the truth is,
we stand no chance of survival
if we only snip off the buds
of colonialism

while still feeding its roots

or smash the crawling maggots,
while flies continue
to lay eggs
birthing more and more of the same

250 years of it, infesting.

And the truth is,
the truth is difficult,
it’s heavy,
it’s painful and confronting,

but it’s the only way to breathe,

to know the fullness
of the air in your lungs
rather than be satisfied with
shallow breaths

always on edge of your indigeneity,
never tasting freedom.

Tina teaches me this.
Tina serves uncompromising,
unsanitised truth.

And we are better for it.

We are braver for it.

Today is Lā Kūʻokoʻa in Hawaiʻi,
our independence day,
the day the sovereignty of the
Kingdom of Hawaiʻi

was recognized,
November 28, 1843.

Sovereignty that was stolen.
Today, I hunger for that kūʻokoʻa,
that independence, that freedom
that justice for us
and for the earth.

Today, I feel the tug at my gut,
the constant pull to something better,
not for me
but for them:

those I’ll only meet in spirit
generations from now.

When the world we stood for
will be a world realized,
where Tina’s mokopuna
only know clean water,

clean land,
food to nourish their bellies,
oceans that are safe
not consuming.

She teaches me
how be an ancestor
braver, bolder
than ever I thought I could be.

Her book says,
“Let us begin.”
So buy a copy.
We have so much work to do.


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

Sings of the Times

  1. Carve out time for talking about Mauna Kea with your family. Make it a discussion. Ask your children about it. Introduce them to concepts like racism and injustice. Don’t worry about them being “too young.” Do not underestimate their ability to understand and have empathy. Raise them now to be the leaders we need in the future.
  2. Learn one of the Mauna Kea chants or prayers and pray for the mauna and the kiaʻi everyday, three times a day. If a time comes when the kiaʻi cannot hold their daily ceremonies, hold space for them. Let the words they recite every single day ring out from you mouth and from your soul wherever you are.
  3. When posting about Mauna Kea, explain why you are posting. Tell people what this movement means to you. Even if you’ve never been there, share why you’re standing in solidarity. The more people can see and hear the multitude of “whys” that drive this movement, the more they will be motivated to stand with us.
  4. Write poetry and share poetry. Sometimes the only way we can give words to our struggle is through poems. Release your poetic wisdom and dare to dream and envision something better for our future. Maybe write a poem envisioning what the mauna will be like post-telescopes, when all of them are taken down, and when Mauna Kea is given time to just be.
  5. Continue to pressure government officials, Governor Ige, Mayor Kim, President Lassner (of UH), and TMT investors. Continue to call their offices, send them emails and letters. Continue to insist that they hear us. Flood their inboxes with messages of support for the mauna. Don’t take their non-responsiveness as a reason to stop asking or demanding.
  6. Organize solidarity movements wherever you are. If you don’t feel comfortable or confident enough presenting or teaching, find video clips and interviews online, watch them as a group, and then have discussions about them. Follow Puʻuhonua o Puʻuhuluhulu, Kanaeokana, and Kākoʻo Haleakalā on Facebook for video clips to use for your gatherings.
  7. Read the work of kiaʻi like David Maile here and here, Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua here, Bryan Kuwada here, and countless others who have written about Mauna Kea. Also read through special forums like this one. If you find other sources, read and share those too.
  8. If you are a researcher, consider connecting your work to Mauna Kea. Explore the movement as it relates to settler colonialism, white supremacy, environmental injustice, or even the Doctrine of Discovery, or as it relates to health, violence, trauma, and even body oppression. Or, take a more positive route, and look at in relation to resistance, resurgence, nation-building, and sovereignty. Then post what you discover online or publish your findings. Make your research shareable so that we can inform ourselves and others of the many ways the TMT is unjust.
  9. Remain in kapu aloha. Even if you are not on the mauna, conduct yourself as if you are. Do not jeopardize all of the work done on the mountain by spreading negative words and energy. Let us ensure this movement is remembered, generations from now, as one that was driven by aloha and only aloha.
  10. If someone you know is having trouble understanding why people are fighting to protect Mauna Kea, have them think of their own place, their own land. Have them think of the places that nourish them, that feed them, that sustain them mind, body, and spirit. Then have them imagine that place being taken, destroyed, desecrated. Then ask them to take that pain and sorrow they feel and transfer it to the mauna. That feeling, the one that hits them in the gut, that’s what the kiaʻi feel. Tell them to feel it. Know it. Then, let it propel them to action.
  11. Do not waste energy on thinking about what you’re not doing because you’re not on the mauna. Instead, think of all the things you can do because you’re not on the mauna. Be a mouthpiece, be a messenger, be an advocate, be an example in all the spaces you are in.
  12. If you have a hae Hawaiʻi, a Hawaiian flag, fly it wherever you can. After one of our hae was sawed in half on the mauna, we owe it to ourselves to continue flying them as constant symbols of our resistance and our sovereignty.
  13. Although this particular movement is about Mauna Kea, know that the motivation to protect it extends to so much more than one mountain. Therefore, learn about the mountains, the water sources, the shorelines, and all of the sacred and special places where you are. Take the value of “kū kiaʻi mauna,” or standing to protect the mountain, and let it reach all lands, waters, and oceans.
  14. Recognize the power of being self-actualized. Know what you’re good at and use your own individual talents. If you’re a painter, paint. If you’re a teacher, teach. If you’re a scientist, discover new ways to “discover” the universe without needing a telescope. And if you think you have no special talent, use the mauna as your motivation to find it. We all have something to contribute as individuals and the mauna needs the range of our expressions.
  15. Post signs of support everywhere, in your car, in your office window, in your house, and anywhere else you can think of. Make your signs conversation starters so that you can hopefully inspire people to ask questions. Every conversation is an opportunity to teach and learn.
  16. If you are a teacher, consider ways to bring the mauna into your classroom. Age does not matter. You can talk about Mauna Kea with everyone from preschoolers to university students, adjusting the depth of your conversation to their levels. Even if you just let your students know that a mountain named Mauna Kea exists and that it is special and sacred, you are doing the mauna a service, putting its name into the minds of our future.
  17. Consider a movie night. If you have access to films like Temple Under Siege, organize a time to watch it with your friends and family. You can also watch films like Noho Hewa to get a better sense of the political context within which this movement is taking place.
  18. Listen to a podcast and interview with Pua Case here. Let her be the inspiration and the constant motivation you need to be braver than you ever thought you could be. Let her inspire you to “rise like a mighty wave.” Also listen to recordings on It’s Lit here. This Honolulu based radio show/podcast features people writing and speaking about Mauna Kea.
  19. If law enforcement attempt to sweep people off the Mauna Kea Access Road at Puʻuhonua o Puʻuhuluhulu, share every picture, post, and video you can. Make injustice visible. Call it out. Let people see events as they unfold. Do not let the state get away with treating our lands and peoples unjustly without being seen.
  20. If you are able to, continue to donate funds. Though money is certainly not the only way to contribute, and shouldn’t be if it will put you at financial risk, every dollar does help. It helps bail kiaʻi out if/when necessary. It helps with supplies for the puʻuhonua. It helps with anything and everything necessary to keep presence on the ground at Mauna Kea. You can donate here.
  21. Consider making a sign that reads, “We/I stand for Mauna Kea because…” and then fill in your reason. Know your reason and share it. Take photos with your sign and let people know your motivation. Then make signs for others to fill in on their own. Encourage others to think about their reason(s) and let the world see why we stand from anywhere and everywhere we are.
  22. Share your stories of the mauna. The more stories we have, and the more varied they are, the more our collective voices will speak to the importance of Mauna Kea in every aspect of our lives. We need stories about everything from hunting and ranching on the mountain slopes, to driving through Māna road to get to Parker Ranch cabins, to harvesting māmane seeds for reforestation, to the joy of waking up to Mauna Kea in the morning and the warmth of seeing the mountain embraced in pink each afternoon. Tell your stories.
  23. It’s never too late to join the Mauna Kea Jam. Find the words and the translation for “Kū Haʻaheo,” composed by Hinaleimoana Wong, and then learn them, memorize them, and really feel them in your hear. You can find the words here.
  24. Think about how to live better. If we are going to stand to protect Mauna Kea, let us also think about how our daily actions impact our planet as a whole. Let the mauna inspire you to be a kiaʻi everywhere. We don’t have to be perfect; we just have to be conscious. Let’s lesson our waste, let’s give up single-use plastic, let’s use sunscreen that will not kill our reefs. Let’s be more attentive.
  25. Haku mele. Write songs. This is a movement that deserves to be sung about now and far into the future. This is a movement that should appear generations from now in old songs that children will learn from their parents and grandparents, that will inspire hula at garage parties, that will become the topics of essays written in university classes, and will speak to new times as they are continually interpreted and reinterpreted.
  26. Chant the sun up every morning. If you know “E ala e,” do it. If not, just start the day by greeting the sun in whatever way you can. Thank the sun for coming out, for being constant in its path, for rising day after day, whether we can see it and feel it or not. Let it remind us, at the start of ever day, of our place in the world: connected to nature, never above it.
  27. When you hear popular phrases or words like “Kū Kiaʻi Mauna,” “Eō,” “Kūkulu,” or “E hū e,” being used on the mauna, look those words up, think about what they mean. Be more informed in your use of language and be aware that “I ka ʻōlelo nō ke ola,” there is indeed life in the words we use.
  28. Let’s take wearing the mauna to the next level. If you have an extra shirt, shawl, beanie, or set of earrings, consider gifting something to someone else. Use it as a chance to teach them, to share the pull and power of the mauna. Let them experience what it’s like to have another kiaʻi recognize them by the messages they wear.
  29. Write your hopes and prayers down. Articulate them clearly. Pray for a time we haven’t arrived at yet, a time we are preparing for now. Then hold on to that vision, and begin to see it and feel it as if it has already happened. It will happen.
  30. Take care of yourself. Sometimes we forget ourselves in these movements. We forget that we need sleep, that we need proper nutrition, that we need time and space to process. Give and receive love where you can. Look after each other. We can be stronger as kiaʻi, regardless of where we are, when we are attentive to self. Mālama. We need you.
  31. Naʻu nō me ke kākoʻo mau. Kū kiaʻi mauna.


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


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.


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


  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.


Lost in Wellington


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

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

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


Dear Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson


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


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,


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,


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


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


To love beyond love: a letter to Hawaiʻi



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,


at the rim: towards a truly pacific Pacfic

adjective / pa . cif . ic

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

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

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

noun / rim . pac

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

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

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

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



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.


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The stories we choose to tell ourselves about ourselves.

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.
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.