My land tells a story, I have known it since childhood.
On my way to work at Kelkehe High School, I see the sky and the ocean falling to my left in a monstrous mass of blue, and the wall of the aggressive, dark green monster collapsing to my right. I walk from my house to Mauka, i.e. ‘towards the mountains’, in the south corner where it rains heavily.
When I go to the city, to the north where things are not wet and green, I take a right. I closed Hawaii Belt Road and walked behind the gym which used to be a bookstore that used to be a remnant of a hundred old lava streams. As I walk down the Ane Kehokalole Highway, I practice naming myself out loud, thinking about my dad hitting me if he can hear me pronounce cassava. People run down the street as soon as the lights of our football field stadium come in front. I see the same people every day at this time of the morning. In this small society, familiar faces are given.
In the corner of Puhulihuli (I also take this name, and I’m happy with how easily it moves my tongue), I turn the hill between the sprawling high school campus and the protected area where the school was originally supposed to be built. . The plot of land does not look much at first glance. The growth is intertwined with the fence. The thin branches reach through the crack. Small symbols are posted in bold: no transfer.
Words for cut, sacred, forbidden and sacred thing. It brings back a story I was told a few years ago before I set foot on campus. The idea was where the school should be until the rare native plants were found before construction. This halted the whole project and the new school that everyone wanted could no longer be built as planned.
One of the plant species found is Vahini Noho Kula, a ‘woman living in the field’. A powerful woman will really need to stop such efforts completely. Āina, meaning “that which feeds”, is a Hawaiian word commonly used to speak of land. As a native Hawaiian, the word always carries a lot of weight for me. It is the land that connects me to my history, my ancestors and my culture. It gives me life and I am fortunate to see this appreciation of the land among my students.
I often ask them what they do outside of school and their answers are always around the ground. Diving, fishing, hunting, soaking up the sun on the beach and exploring the past at the end of the trail-my students not only love this land, they are a part of it.
The idea of a deep and strong connection to the ground has always come to me naturally. However, I understand that teachers who do not identify as either Kamina (born and raised) or Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiian) lose the key connections needed for a classroom that survives culturally on indigenous soil.
As a Kanaka Maoli teacher, I have come to the conclusion that teachers in indigenous lands like Hawaii have a responsibility to educate themselves about the history of the land on which they stand and the people they have come to teach.
Teachers must work
The teacher’s place in the classroom is a strength. All teachers need and need to consider their own privileges and inherent biases, but especially non-indigenous teachers in Hawaii. Teachers need to adapt their teaching pedagogy to understand the importance of cultural and personal relationship with the land. This effort should be self-directed, honest and humble.
This is more than the text of the authors Kamina and Kanka Mauli in place of Shakespeare and Austen, and ‘Sarah bought six apples’ to ‘Canoe bought six mangoes’ is not a rich, culturally sustainable course for our students. Teachers need to rethink the way we engage our students in the learning process.
Get knowledge By members of the community, especially when incorporating indigenous knowledge into your class. In Hawaii, our cousin, the ‘father’, is the most beloved person in our society. We look to them for guidance, knowledge and wisdom which is almost always based on the story. Sometimes the most important thing non-indigenous teachers can do is realize that some things are well said by trusted community members like Kupuna or other Kamina / Kanka Maoli teachers. Some stories are not for you to tell.
Use the resources available to you. The Department of Air Education presented a comprehensive education framework Learning outcomes. There is a framework designed to help teachers guide their students in socio-emotional learning and academic rigor. However, I have noticed that some teachers take the necessary steps to implement this framework in the classroom. Use the resources conceived and created by Kamana / Kanka Maoli teachers.
Avoid focusing on the class around you. Identify the repressive mechanism while playing and move forward with your students without following you. You can focus on the ‘story’ in your classroom by participating in a face-to-face conversation about the skills, lessons, concepts and text that students engage in the classroom. Break the barrier between you in front of and behind the room. Students face each other and allow them to speak clearly in pairs, groups and whole-class seminars. In doing so, you should work to make yourself a respected observer, an active listener, a learner. They know more about this place and these people than you do, and that’s fine. Your students are the true leaders of their community and it is your job to nurture them.
Administrators also have an obligation
Not only classroom teachers but also school and district administrators need to provide meaningful opportunities to their teachers, professional development under the leadership of Kamina / Kanka Maoli forces teachers to think seriously about their place. Occupy this land.
I have found that location-based learning for teachers is a great way to enhance cultural relationships and understanding that can lead to collective change to dismantle and nationalize education. In my time as a teacher, I have given teachers so many opportunities. Here on the island of Hawaii, there is a professional development course called Kia’i -ina Kualoloa. It is a year-round curriculum for teachers to acquire ancestral knowledge and apply it to their classrooms. However, these opportunities are often presented orally or closed in the large catalog of available professional development.
For this change to take place, location-based professional development targeting non-Kamina / Kanaka Maoli teachers must be promoted and, if not necessary, promoted both at the school and district level. Most of the indigenous teachers do not even know that they should take part in it, so it is the responsibility of the administrators that their professors are involved in that work.
Teaching in Hawaii means teaching on indigenous soil. It means teaching piece by piece, plot by plot. This does not mean facing the truth of its history and staying away from it.
Through these methods, you can enjoy learning the language of the land through your students and using your power to increase their voice. This is an opportunity to undoubtedly challenge the system by pushing back and up.
In Hawaii, the place where I am fortunate to be called home, to honor the indigenous land is to teach a small plant, where no one knew, that the surrounding world could stop.