In October, the Initiative traveled to Oahu, Hawai‘i to conduct over 35 site visits and attend the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s annual convention.
“We are assets,” Commissioner Kamuela Enos stressed during the inaugural meeting of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs. While in Hawai’i, I came to fully understand just what he meant.
At MA‘O Organic Farms, we found economic assets. MA‘O is located in the most food-insecure region of Hawai‘i. It embraces the Native tradition of working the land to provide high-demand healthy foods and aids community through its community college internship program: providing monthly stipends, tuition, and leadership development. While MA‘O grows, its community grows too.
At Kokua Kalihi Valley’s nature park and Wai‘anae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, we found health assets. Where invasive plant species and drug abusers once plagued the state park, community gardens sit thick with vegetables and natural medicines. While Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders suffer from high rates of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, WCCHC provides culturally competent care that ranges from modern preventative care to traditional Native Hawaiian healing practices.
At the Waikalua Loko fish pond, we found environmental assets. Overrun by mangrove, the fish pond can no longer be harvested for mullet. Yet youth and at-risk community members have helped rehabilitate the fish pond as they learn aloha ‘aina (love of the land) and principles of stewardship.
At Wai‘anae High School, we found educational assets. Despite the high drop-out rates, Wai‘anae High is home to Searider Productions, a nationally-recognized, award-winning integrated multimedia program, where young people design their own websites, create audio and visual productions, and learn marketing strategies. The Searider program has become so successful that it has spawned Makaha Studios, a highly sought-after local media enterprise formed by Searider graduates.
These programs are just the tip of the iceberg – one-tenth of our experience in Hawai‘i. But the same theme persisted throughout our visit: Native Hawaiians’ and Pacific Islanders’ heritage, culture and traditions are vibrant assets to the country.
At the CNHA convention, with over150 Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community organizations, the message was clear: Our communities have solutions, and it is our job in the federal government to find and promote these solutions, strengthen them, and replicate them across all of our communities.
Audrey Buehring is Advisor on Intergovernmental Affairs for the White House Initiative on AAPIs