Aloha ʻoe, Senator Inouye

After the 1986 election, Senator Inouye called me and asked me to be his professional staff for Native Hawaiian issues on the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, to which he had just been appointed chair. I had lost my previous job when my boss lost his bid for governor and was already co-producing a television series on Native Hawaiian issues in Hawaiʻi. I asked Senator Inouye if he could wait until the following June for me to start, and he did.

Aloha ʻoe, Senator Inouye 2During that period between 1987 and the time I returned home again in 1992, to work on his Honolulu staff before branching out on my own, the committee passed significant legislation that directly benefitted Native Hawaiians. The Native Hawaiian Education Act, The Native Hawaiian Health Care Act, The Native Hawaiian Revolving Loan Act, the Native Languages Act and the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act were among the significant bills that I staffed during this time, each one of them the law of the land today. At the markup of the Native Languages Act legislation in his committee, I was staff for the bill and was about to respond to Senator Slade Gorton’s criticism of perpetuating Native American languages when Senator Inouye, who was chairing the committee took control and responded. He gave the most eloquent and extemporaneous speech I have ever heard. Sitting in awe, I listened to him undress Senator Gorton, first his clothes, which he piled up neatly, then his skin, then he took his bones apart and laid them in a precise little pile. There was nothing left of Senator Gorton, and while he still didn’t vote in favor of the bill, it passed overwhelmingly by the rest of the committee. It was moments like this that I will never forget. He was one of the smartest men I have ever known, even when he lectured me one day, as I sat with my arms and legs crossed, refusing to look at him, about why the military needed Kahoʻolawe for target practice. He changed his position later (not because of me) and was instrumental in returning the island to the Hawaiian community.

The last story he told me when I visited him in Washington in July, 2010, was about his encounter with a “shark god”. Here is the story as I wrote it out after our meeting: When he was in the Hawaiʻi territorial legislature, Kamokila Campbell came to him for help. She was having problems with the IRS because she was giving lots of money away to kupuna. She said she couldn’t pay him to help her. Even though they were on opposite sides of the Statehood issue, he said he wasn’t expecting pay and would help her. He fixed her problems and after, she used to call him once or twice a month. He went to visit her at Lanikuhonua and she explained to him that this place was very sacred because it was the home of a shark god. She took him down to the water and he waded in. A shark swam in the cove and came within about 10 feet of him and stopped. When the old women who were gathered saw the fin they started wailing “auwe”. He stood, the shark stayed awhile, then turned around and swam away. He thought 2 things: it’s too shallow for the shark to come closer and bite me, and I better not move or I’ll cause a frenzy. After the shark left, Kamokila told him that it was a blessing. My take on his story, as I told him after listening to it and its amazing similarity to the opening of my book, “Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me”, which I had just given him, was that it was one great leader greeting another.

Aloha ʻoe, Senator, and mahalo for your inspiration, for your brilliance, and for the gift of being able to work for you.

Kitten, take two

I had been thinking for a few months that my kitty, Makana, was ready for a new feline pal. We were both traumatized when her sister was killed by the neighbor’s dog last July, and more than one animal whisperer told me shortly thereafter that Makana didn’t want another cat friend, at least not yet. That was about 10 months ago and while Makana is very independent, she is young (a year and a half) and still likes to play. Playing with me is not nearly as fun as when she and her sister, Hehoa played, although she likes when we stalk each other inside the house.

To make a long story short, a friend came to visit from the mainland last weekend and when I happened to mention I was thinking about getting a kitten friend for Makana, the next thing I knew, we were at the Humane Society! I didn’t really have any idea if Makana wanted another cat in the house and wondered how much I was projecting her desires based on my own likes and dislikes. I looked at the kittens with trepidation, knowing this could backfire if Makana did not want a feline companion. There were plenty to choose from, including several with my favorite black and white coloring, but those kittens weren’t as personable as the black one with green eyes that came and sat on my lap and started purring (black was not even one of my preferred cat colors!). Still being unsure about this idea, I signed the papers and brought him home with me. He is a 2 month old male and I named him Kūlia, which means stand tall, lucky and distinct beauty (and the last pane in I Ku Mau Mau) . The Kū part of his name is for male energy, and I like the kauna of a black cat whose name also means ‘lucky’.

Kitten, take two_2So far they’re still checking each other out from a distance although with each passing day, that distance gets smaller. The advice I read online about introducing a kitten to a home that already has a cat seemed a little over the top as far as isolating the kitten for several days, etc. I’m dreading going through kittenhood again with all the climbing on table tops, knocking things over, worrying about him getting stuck in something. I already accidentally shut him in the fridge when I didn’t see him climb in before I shut the door! And soon enough he will want to go outside, but that’s definitely not going to happen until he and Makana are friends, and hopefully he will figure out to stay out of the yard with the dog. In the meantime, the Hawaiian Humane Society is great place and I hope all the kitty cats there, old and young, find homes.


Local vs Organic/Happy Earth Day!

There was an article in the newspaper this morning about a crop of Thai basil growing on an ‘Ewa farm that had to be destroyed because a pesticide not approved for the basil was found on it.

It reminded me of the dilemma I have every time I shop at a farmers market or even Whole Foods – should I go with the organic produce grown in California (or China) or the more recently harvested and not organically grown local greenery.

Ideally I would grow most of what I eat, fresh produce-wise, and I’ve actually made inroads towards that end. How totally cool is it to eat food I grew in my yard – apple bananas, coconuts, mangos (piries!), basil, arugula, swiss chard, various kinds of kale, tomatoes, hawaiian chili peppers and soon, with any luck, papayas! I am fortunate to have a yard in which to grow these things, not to mention a yard in Hawai’i, although other than the trees, I grow everything else in flower pots – chemical free, of course.

A friend told me awhile back that her goal was simply to reduce her carbon imprint on the earth, and since then, she has created an amazing ecosystem in her yard, from chickens to a worm farm to a rain catchment system to an elevated fishpond that somehow generates fertilizer for the garden. How odd that it takes such effort to live the way people lived in the old days, growing their own food, making things from scratch. Even something as minor as making salad dressing is unheard of, yet the resources and materials to make it with are often right in front of us and are less expensive and healthier if we can spare the few minutes to make our own food. For that matter, growing vegetables in flower boxes on a concrete balcony isn’t all that difficult, either.Local vs Organic:Happy Earth Day!3

All this to say that I have always appreciated having a yard and now that I have made a conscious decision to have a real relationship with it, whether it’s raking leaves every morning, watering my flower pots or admiring everything that’s growing, it is my small contribution to sustainability – and to healthy living. And as far as local vs organic, I guess it will continue to be a dilemma.



What an honor to have been included in a ‘canoe pull’ in an Indian canoe last week. Mostly, it was an adventure.


Protocol2I woke up in Vancouver, B.C. the morning of the paddle to snow on the ground and a heavy gray sky, and wondered if we were really going to go. While I could have been talked out of it if no on else wanted to go (i.e., if saner minds prevailed), my hosts, who were members of various Northwest Coast Indian tribes, were more than happy to bring the canoe out from its winter hibernation and go for a paddle, or ‘pull’, as they call it. No matter that the temperature was barely above freezing.

What I loved and appreciated most about the experience was learning the paddling protocol. We picked up Wes Nahanee at his home on the Squamish reserve in North Vancouver, where the canoe also lives during the winter. Wes is a very accomplished Squamish-Hawaiian waterman (among many other things I was not surprised to discover when I googled him later) and was our ‘skipper’. He introduced us to the canoe, Xenohite, and instructed us in the proper protocols for paddling, which even included protocols for getting in and out of the canoe, how to hold our paddles, and what the different commands are while in the canoe. Paddling in a Hawaiian outrigger canoe is different from paddling in an Indian canoe, where paddlers sit two abreast rather than single file, so one paddles only on one side. We switched positions with the person next to us to paddle on the other side only once during the time we were on the water. Changing places can be tricky because there is no outrigger to stabilize the canoe, so only one seat at a time trades places. Wes sang traditional canoe songs as we paddled, some of the women also knew canoe songs that they were happy to share. That helped to take my mind off the fact that my hands and feet were completely numb and my left arm was about to fall off as I am not used to paddling more than fifteen or so strokes on one side before switching over to paddle on the other side.

My memory of the day was not about the cold but rather about everything I learned about paddling an Indian canoe. Protocol is everything on a canoe journey. At the heart of protocol is respect– respect for the canoe, for the ocean, for the land, for the winds and all the elements of nature, for the ancestors, for the gods, and for each other, and that is what makes the experience so powerful. As I mention in most blogs that I have written about canoes, paddling is a metaphor for life, and I believe the metaphor is no different for Indian or Maori or any other culture that still has a canoe tradition. The renewal and continued practice of our canoe traditions have done much to heal our people and our souls and to move us forward together as indigenous people. For that, we are blessed.


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