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White House Engagement with the Native Hawaiian Community

Furthering the President's commitment to taking the administration beyond the beltway and making the White House more accessible to all Americans, the Office of Public Engagement reached more than 150 organizations that made up and attended the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement Convention this past week. We participated in numerous roundtables with community leaders and visited with members of the Native Hawaiian community.
As the President said in his August 21st Proclamation recognizing the 50th Anniversary of Hawaii's statehood, "The Aloha Spirit of Hawaii offers hope and opportunity for all Americans. Growing up in Hawaii, I learned from its diversity how different cultures blend together into one population -- proud of their personal heritage and made stronger by their shared sense of community. Our youngest State, Hawaii faces many of the same challenges other States face throughout our country, and it represents the opportunity we all have to grow and learn from each other."
Community center mural painted by the talented youth of Papakolea
Community center mural painted by the talented youth of Papakolea.  Photo credit: Lilia Kapuniai, CNHA
Among the 20 groups represented at a discussion session were folks from the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, The Kamehameha Schools, Native Hawaiian Bar Association, Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce, Punana Leo, Native Hawaiian Educational Council, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and Papa Ola Lokahi, (Native Hawaiian Health Care). Topics of conversation included a general briefing of each organization’s work in the areas of data, housing, renewable energy, business, education, and health care, as well as a discussion on ways in which the White House and community could work together as the administration moves forward with its priorities.
The White House attended meetings and roundtables with community groups and officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Commerce/SBA, at the 8th Annual Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement convention. Remarks were delivered at an afternoon session where the White House reiterated the President’s commitment to the core policy goals of S. 1011 and H.R. 2314 (The Administration is continuing to work with the Committee and sponsors as specific language relating to the bill further evolves),and discussed clean energy, education, the recovery act, and the current priority - health reform.
Sign at Halau Ku Mana Public Charter School
A sign at the Halau Ku Mana Public Charter School. Photo credit: Lilia Kapuniai, CNHA
Since 2000 alone, average family premiums have increased by 56% in Hawaii, and with nearly 8% of the population of Hawaii living with diabetes, health reform was a topic on everyone’s mind. But with the rate of diabetes among the Native Hawaiian population at twice that of non-natives (and since diabetes is one of the many conditions that insurance companies can currently use to deny coverage to individuals), this frank discussion on the dire need for health reform was a crucial part of the afternoon. Health reform includes increased access for all Americans, including Native communities, and will prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on health. It will also end discrimination that charges folks more if they’re ill or female, and will reduce costs for families, businesses, and government, all of which is good news for everyone.
A meeting with the young leaders of the Native Hawaiian community followed the convention sessions. We were also warmly welcomed by folks at the Papakolea Community Center, who briefed us on the center’s rich history and broad scope of their mission, including health and human services programs, community activities, and afterschool programs.  The students, teachers, and administrators at the Halau Ku Mana Public Charter School welcomed us to their campus, briefed us on the Native Hawaiian comprehensive and holistic approach to education, and shared the Aloha spirit with us.
Papakolea Community Center children’s recreation area
Papakolea Community Center children’s recreation area. Photo credit: Lilia Kapuniai, CNHA
Like the meetings, both site visits included discussions on the perseverance of the native Hawaiian people, challenges facing the Native Hawaiian community, and ways in which the White House might work with the community to find common solutions to our common challenges.
Kalpen Modi is an Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement