500 indigenous scholars on Maui for conference

It is first time research event held in Hawaii

Hokulani Holt Padilla is covered in a cascade of lei after receiving an honorary doctorate degree from The World Indigenous Nations University on Tuesday afternoon during the 2019 He Au Honua at UH-Maui College. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KAHULUI — Hundreds of indigenous people from Hawaii, New Zealand, North America and other places gathered at the University of Hawaii Maui College campus Tuesday afternoon to mark the first indigenous research conference held in Hawaii.

The He Au Honua: Indigenous Research Conference is welcoming about 500 people to the gathering of indigenous scholars. They will present research to demonstrate how indigenous intelligence can offer world-class, data-based, culturally grounded solutions for modern issues.

The conference opened Tuesday and continues until Friday at the college. Registration is full, organizers said.

Hawaii was chosen in 2017 to host the conference to signify the close ancestral ties between the Maori, the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand or Aotearoa, and kanaka maoli, or Native Hawaiians. The conference is held every other year. It was last held in Aotearoa.

One of the two keynote speakers during the opening session, Ulalia Woodside, a kumu hula and executive director of The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, touted Hawaii and its native people, who with their special culture and values can be a beacon for future survival.

UH-Maui College Chancellor Lui Hokoana welcomed the 500 indigenous scholars to the Kahului campus and the He Au Honua: Indigenous Research Conference on Maui on Tuesday. He offered a chant and song.

“It’s not an accident Hawaii is seen as a global bright spot for sustainable living,” she said. “We are not the only one; other indigenous communities are seen as this bright spot of sustainable living on the planet.”

She attributed this to being grounded in traditional values. In Hawaii, this means hula, the Hawaiian language and other cultural practices. If there are voids in cultural learning or teaching, she said “masters” will see them and fill them.

Woodside’s sister, Hokulani Holt-Padilla, also a kumu hula and noted educator and cultural leader, shared her thoughts at the conference.

“For me, one of the important parts of cultural knowledge and cultural transmittal and cultural grounding is place. We have to be connected to place. Without place, we do not know where we come from, we do not know who our people are, we have no anchor,” she said.

“We must come from place. We must recognize and we must honor and we must uphold, we must protect. We must do all of those wonderful words because place is who we are as kanaka, as oiwi, as indigenous people. Place is who we are,” she said.

Holt-Padilla told the crowd that if they did not know where their aina kupuna were, or lands of their ancestors, then they need to find out.

“I charge you to find out. Find out where the lands of your ancestors are and remember them in all the ways that are possible,” she said.

Prior to her address, Holt-Padilla was presented an honorary doctoral degree of education for services to indigenous education from the World Indigenous Nations University at Sami University of Applied Sciences in Norway.

Holt-Padilla also directs Ka Hikina O Ka La, a Hawaiian student scholarship program at UH-Maui College, and works with nonprofits.

Topics to be addressed at the conference include revitalizing indigenous languages, Hawaiian drama and media, navigating new models of indigenous health and well-being and more.

The conference title, He Au Honua, derives from the Maori term “he manawa whenua,” and has been the conference title for the last six years. “He manawa whenua” means subterranean aquifer or underground spring.

Water is life, and because a manawa whenua originates deep within the earth, Maori believed it to be a precious resource vital for the well-being of the people, according to the conference website.

The conference theme is “I Mana ka Mauli, I Mauli ka Mana” or “Life is Divine Power, Divinely Powerful is Life.”

Conference organizers are Kamehameha Schools and UH-Maui College, along with the Native Hawaiian Education Association, which is also the conference host.

For more information, go to heauhonua.com.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.