Internship program encourages more kānaka in cultural resource management

Among a cohort of UH peers, two UH Hilo students completed a paid internship this summer collecting scientific and cultural data in Hāmākua on Hawai‘i Island in a region where famous high chief ‘Umialīloa was born and raised.

A group of students collecting data in the field, some with clipboards, others with measuring tapes.
UH Hilo agriforesty student Lucon Route (standing) collects data with fellow interns. Courtesy photo from Lucon Route.

By Susan Enright.

A group of students (haumāna) from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and UH Mānoa participated in a scientific and cultural internship program this summer. The group visited and collected data at wahi kūpuna or ancestral sites where Native Hawaiian royalty roamed centuries ago.

Haumāna participated in the Wahi Kūpuna Internship Program, a month-long paid internship where college credits are earned while working in the field with historical and cultural experts. The primary goal of the program is to increase the number of Native Hawaiians and kama‘āina in the field of cultural resource management through scientific and cultural mentoring, professional development, education, and applied field experiences.

This summer, the cohort spent time conducting field work in Hāmākua on Hawai‘i Island in a region where famous high chief ‘Umialīloa was born and raised. The students focused on ethnography and ethnohistorical research and ‘āina-field (land-field) techniques such as mapping and recording boundaries using global positioning systems (GPS) at various wahi kūpuna in an area that will be used for restoration work.

Two UH Hilo students completed the program: Azahrae Frazier and Lucon Route.

Lucon Route
Lucon Route

Route, a junior, completed his internship feeling refreshed and recharged in his pursuit of an agriculture degree with a focus on agroforestry. He also is earning a certificate in Pacific Islands studies.

“This internship has far surpassed my expectations and provided me with fortunate experiences with knowledgeable mentors and skills that influenced my decision of interest within my academic studies under agriculture,” says Route. “I highly recommend those who are interested within the line of preservation history to try and apply.”

Associate Professor of Anthropology Kathleen Kawelu, whose current research focuses on the politics of archaeology in Hawai‘i and the relationships between archaeologists and Native Hawaiians, serves as an organizer and mentor in the program.

“The aim of Lucon’s Wahi Kupuna Internship Program project was to identify agricultural practices and systems that were implemented in Waipunalau prior and after the plantation era, perhaps Māhele era in part,” she says.

Lucon digging with shovel while two children hold keiki trees ready to plant.
From left, UH Hilo agriforestry student Lucon Route plants trees with keiki. Photo courtesy of Lucon Route, click to enlarge.

Along with Kawelu, visionaries behind the Wahi Kūpuna mission include Professor Kekuewa Kikiloi (Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, UH Mānoa), and Tiffnie Kakalia (Native Hawaiian Health, John A. Burns School of Medicine) who are members of the board of directors at Huliauapa‘a, a nonprofit spearheading the program.

Huliauapa‘a is overseen by Kelley Lehuakeaopuna Uyeoka, a UH Mānoa archaeology and UH Hilo anthropology alumna.

“The primary goals of this program are to develop leaders and advocates in Hawai‘i’s cultural resource management field by training more Native Hawaiians and kamaʻāina in both the cultural and technical sides of heritage stewardship, so they have a strong cultural foundation, elevate their kuleana to our places and communities, obtain higher education degrees, and gain professional skills to eventually secure jobs,” says Uyeoka.

The internship program launched in 2010 with support from Kamehameha Schools and has mentored more than 70 haumāna through conducting community based research and has transported participants to wahi kūpuna across ka Pae ‘Āina o Hawai‘i Nei (Hawaiian archipelago), from Hawai‘i Island to Kaua‘i.

-For more about the summer program, see UH System News.


Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.