Please join us in congratulating some of Hawaiʻi’s exemplary Hawaiians as they move forward by receiving a college degree whilst remaining true and stead fast to their cultural identity! Hoʻomaikaʻi nui iā ʻoukou pākahi āpau!
Welina mai kākou! My name is Britney Ann Makena Silva. I am from the town of Hilo, on Moku o Keawe. I will be graduating this semester with a Bachelor’s in Social Work from the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa. During my time at Mānoa, I have been incredibly privileged to develop my interest and love for working with Native Hawaiian and underrepresented youth in higher education. I adamantly believe in the idea that education is one of the only controllable means to empowering individuals and, inherently, entire communities. My kuleana, after graduation, will take the form of graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley. I hope to continue my work with marginalized youth, while studying social welfare, with a concentration in administration and policy.
Aloha pumehana. My name is Samantha Rose Herrera born in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi from David Roy Herrera and Loreen Leilani Keaulana. I am of Filipino, Native Hawaiian, Chinese, German, and Italian decent. My ohana comes from the Leeward and West side of Oahu, stretching from Makaha to Waipahu; however, I spent the majority of my childhood in Kapolei and moved to Japan before high school, where I was immersed in Japanese and US military culture. Six long years in Japan under heavy Western influence kept me longing for a sense of identity and home.
In 2013, I graduated from the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa with a BS in Family Resources and a minor in Sociology. This spring 2015 semester, I am graduating from the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work with a Master of Social Work degree. I have a strong interest in Native Hawaiian health, community outreach, and youth development. My ultimate academic goal is to receive a Doctorate of Public Health in a quest to combat the on going war on Native Hawaiian health disparities.
The Master of Social Work program was a journey of cultural reconnection and awakening for me. I have had the privilege to study under the Aunty Lynette and Uncle Likeke Paglinawan and Kumu Malina Kaulukukui who have showed me the beauty of being kanaka maoli, but most importantly the various practices and kuleana of Native Hawaiian social workers. Through my studies, I’ve become eternally grateful for the giants that have come before me and the legacy they’ve left for myself, an opio, to continue.
Recently, I had the opportunity to go on an access huakaʻi to Kahoʻolawe-Kanaloa. Before going, a friend of mine told me, “Kanaloa will give more to you than you can ever give to her.” Accurately, it was there I was able to truly grasp my kuleana as a Native Hawaiian social worker.
On Kanaloa, I listened. I listened to the moʻolelo of the kua and most intently to the aina. I felt the soil under my feet, I lived in it, I inhaled it, and I consumed it. I was always told that the connection to aina and my heritage runs through my koko, it just needed to be activated. It was there on Kanaloa I was able to see, hear, feel, touch, smell, and taste the aina. I was awakened and I knew aina was my ohana. It was a feeling so profound, I wept.
I wept for the moku and her story, that a force could continuously bomb her and desecrate her as if she were sterile and of nothing. As I sat on the sands of Hakioawa, I recalled a quote by Uncle Walter Ritte and his first account on Kanaloa, “Pain. We felt pain. We really felt that the island was bleeding into the ocean… And the bays were just all red.” I’m not sure if I felt the same kind of pain because of the many hands who have already committed to healing her, but the knots in my naʻau tightened as I looked into the bay painted a dark brown, as if stained in old blood to remind us of the moku and her struggles.
On my first day visiting Kanaloa, I felt sorrow. I was in disbelief of her trauma induced by the US Navy. I was in disbelief of the United States disrespect of aina, kanaka maoli, and our beliefs then and now. But by the second day, after I heard the profound love the kua had for Kanaloa, I began to rejoice in her and her resilience. I had an overwhelming feeling of respect and appreciation for the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana (PKO) and their commitment to protecting her and healing her. I understood it took passion, a deep sense of kuleana, and pure aloha to bring Kanaloa to the state she is in today.
Kanaloa is tangible evidence to cultural historical trauma and ancient abuse. She still pays the price of the trauma inflicted on her by Western contact. Much like Kanaloa, is the story of our people. Many kanaka maoli today suffer from disparities that are a result of trauma that has happened years ago. However, just like Kanaloa, kanaka maoli have the same chance of healing and perpetuating.
It is my kuleana, to approach a career of social work from an aloha aina perspective, just as PKO has done on Kanaloa. My really good friend and colleague, Puʻu Zablan, calls this indigenous social work and often quotes Kamahualele, “Eia Hawaiʻi, He Moku, He Kanaka, He Kanaka Hawaiʻi e.” We, kanaka maoli are of this aina. By returning my future clients back to aina and utilizing aina-based learning, I hope to empower them to heal, to sprout, and to flourish. Like Kanaloa, kanaka maoli are resilient and a force when bound together. My kuleana as a social worker is to carry on the legacy of protecting and perpetuating Hawaiʻi and empowering kanaka maoli to do the same for themselves, their ohana, and the larger community.
It is also my kuleana to do the Western footwork and walk in two worlds so that the voice of kanaka maoli are honored and respected. Our practices and traditions must hold value to heal our people. It is my kuleana to ensure this occurs by doing the proper research to obtain Western means so that the organizations and programs in place can receive proper funding to practice in indigenous ways. However, I will fight for a world where kanaka maoli and their actions do not have to be validated by Western institutions to hold value and be honored.
No kuʻu lahui e haʻawi pau a i ola mau!