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Chancellor’s Message: Fulfilling UH’s responsibilities to Native Hawaiians

Key collaborative programs are incredibly important to the integration of Hawaiian knowledge into the academic and cultural foundations of UH and Hawai‘i CC campuses.

By Don Straney.

A key mission shared by the 10 campuses of the University of Hawai‘i System is to embrace our responsibilities to the Native Hawaiian people and to Hawai‘i’s indigenous language and culture. At UH Hilo, we have long been cultivating a diverse, multicultural university that is rooted in the indigenous history of Hawai‘i.

A UH systemwide initiative called “Hawai‘i Papa O Ke Ao,” which translates to “Hawai‘i Foundations of Enlightenment/Knowledge,” has the goal of making UH the model for using Native Hawaiian knowledge and viewpoints as the foundation for educational programs. In 2012, each UH campus was tasked with developing its own individual campus plan to help fulfill the initiative—but UH Hilo and Hawaiʻi Community College are working collaboratively to jointly integrate Hawaiian knowledge into our programs and curricula.

Joni Oshiro
Joni Oshiro

To help us achieve our goals, Hawaiʻi CC Interim Chancellor Joni Onishi and I recently announced Taupōuri Tangarō, PhD, has been named director of Hawaiian culture and protocols engagement for our two campuses. The appointment of Dr. Tangarō to this important collaborative position shows the joint commitment of UH Hilo and Hawai‘i CC to Hawaiʻi Papa O Ke Ao. Taupōuri served on the UH System taskforce that developed the plan in 2012 and currently serves as a member of the systemwide Hawaiʻi Papa O Ke Ao Committee.

Taupōuri Tangarō in lei
Taupōuri Tangarō

Taupōuri, a cultural practitioner and a professor of Hawaiian studies at Hawaiʻi CC, has been at the helm of several collaborative initiatives between UH Hilo and Hawai‘i CC.

He is founder and director of several highly effective programs for Native Hawaiian academic success, cultural leadership through hula, protocols, increasing transfer students, and introducing K-12 grades to Hawai‘i CC and UH Hilo. He also has co-founded indigenous exchange programs— for example, last year a delegation of faculty and staff from UH Hilo and Hawaiʻi CC traveled to Yap and Palau to meet with educators, community leaders, cultural practitioners, and UH Hilo alumni to strengthen connections between UH and the Asia-Pacific region.

Collectively, these programs are incredibly important to the integration of Hawaiian knowledge into the academic and cultural foundations of our campuses and in meeting the needs of our Native Hawaiian students.

A related development is the integration of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage into our curriculum. Sailing from Hawaiʻi to South Africa and multiple ports and countries in between, UH students, faculty, and staff have been an integral part of the voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻaʻs worldwide voyage, also known as Mālama Honua, or “to care for our earth.” UH is the higher education partner in the voyage, with over 50 people from all 10 campuses directly involved.

Some of these participants are gathering at UH Hilo on Feb. 12 to work together moving forward.

Meeting participants include Chad Kālepa Baybayan, a master navigator on the voyage, navigator-in-residence at UH Hilo’s ʻImiloa Astronomy Center, and a member of the faculty at Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language. He says that although UH is probably the lead institution of the voyage, most heavily engaged in providing active participation, actually providing the manpower and resources to execute the voyage, a lot of people don’t know the extent of UH’s involvement in Mālama Honua.

Our hope through the upcoming meeting is to acknowledge the importance of the UH System’s understanding and respect for ʻike Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian knowledge) in teaching, research, and service, and to make the connection between the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage and UH initiatives to strengthen our work in STEM, sustainability, and Native Hawaiian language and culture.

It is through this type of collaborative work, learning from each other, that we can fulfill our responsibilities to the people of Hawai‘i.

Don Straney