The Hawaiian Future

These are some of my rough thoughts about how the lāhui could negotiate the road ahead – not part of the Moʻolelo series

Professor John Learned of the University of Hawaiʻi said during the Mauna Kea controversy that Hawaiians had no role in the future of Hawaiʻi. First of all: Fuck him! Now thatʻs out of the way, we have to dig down and think about how much truth there might be to his “assertion.” Of course, it’s up to us to answer the question with our actions as a lāhui going forward.

First, as a counter-example, I visited New Zealand in 2001 (the first of three such visits), and my friend – a Maori Harvard graduate, who I had met while there – said “welcome to Aotearoa! We Maori occupy a privileged position in New Zealand society.” The government ministry signs, all in Maori with English translation in small print beneath, reinforced this idea of Maori privilege. My point is it doesnʻt have to be this way – itʻs not automatic that the native people are rendered invisible in their own homeland.

Education is an obvious factor in the equation here, as it imparts skill sets that allow involvement in future industries and initiatives. One telling process was that of filling the position of the CEO of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. During the search, there were very, very few Hawaiians with the set of skills and attributes necessary to run a $600 million organization. So this is beyond education – itʻs career development on top of a solid education.

But as far as education goes, I’ve tried as much as possible to publicize the fact that Hawaiians graduating from DOE schools go on to then graduate from college at a rate of 9%! That number means little unless its compared to something – like the US rate of college graduation. 29% of Americans in general have a Bachelor’s degree, so Hawaiians are finishing college at a rate that’s less than a third of the US average. And most professional positions require one degree beyond a Bachelor’s. An acquaintance of mine who is a PhD in science said that one UH department tried to catalog how many Hawaiians were in the pipeline to get a science PhD at UH and found there were none! Like it or not (I don’t) but STEM is where the action is and a PhD is the ticket to play in that field. Iʻve written before of the need for a Hawaiian college.

It may not seem related, but health, a perennial concern for Hawaiians, is another factor here. Why? I’ve noticed that professionals seem to often reach the peak of their careers between 55 and 70! A very successful relative of mine said, at around 70 years old, that he was “calling all the shots” in his career. In 1985 the average life expectancy for Hawaiians was 67! So how can you even get to the peak of your career (much less retire afterward) if you don’t even live to 70? As it happens this relative became nearly obsessed with his health in his early 50s and it still pays dividends. Health also means that you feel better on a daily basis and have more energy to do work for the lāhui.

I want to avoid “blaming the victim” – but to be balanced about it, there are things that Hawaiians will have to do ourselves, and things that government will have to do (and perhaps corporations). Hawaiian Immersion – Kaiapuni – for example, a government program, has taught two generations their ʻōlelo makuahine (including two of my own daughters). But it did so because it was lobbied for by dedicated Hawaiians immersed themselves in the field of language revitalization.

Finally (for now) there’s the matter of Hawaiʻi’s place in the world. I’ve observed that Hawaiians have fought tooth and nail to get to an American middle class status (most havenʻt made it, but some have), but that ship has sailed. Being middle class is actually what’s destroying the ʻāina – and not just in Hawaiʻi. We will need to do things in new ways, or perhaps old ways. As I hinted at on the podcast Culturised with Makani Tabura – maybe we canʻt drive cars anymore? That’s just one idea to open up thinking about alternative ways of living – some, not all but some, will likely be those of our ancestors.

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