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The Kanaeokana Network: Reflecting on Five Years of Envisioning a Hawaiian Education System and Aloha ʻĀina Leaders

The Kanaeokana Network: Reflecting on Five Years of Envisioning a Hawaiian Education System and Aloha ʻĀina Leaders by  Liezl Alcantara Houglum and Malia Nobrega-Olivera

Author(s): Liezl Alcantara Houglum and Malia Nobrega-Olivera


How might a network approach be used to address issues and goals seemingly impossible for individuals to tackle alone? Established to increase momentum and synergy among multiple organizations through mutual work and shared goals, the Kanaeokana network was forged five years ago and today demonstrates progress toward supportive infrastructure, cohesion and collective strength, member engagement, and reach beyond our primary Indigenous-serving base. Kanaeokana includes more than 80 Hawaiian language, culture, and ʻāina-based (place-based) organizations and schools (preschool through university level), collaborating to develop and strengthen a Native Hawaiian education system. The network’s underlying value of aloha ʻāina, or love of the land, involves a deeply rooted connection and commitment to place, people, and cultural practice. The network fosters cultural knowledge with a community focus and a global reach, notably produced in digital and nondigital spaces, both preceding the pandemic and in response to it. Kanaeokana works at the intersections of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language), culture, advocacy, media, community engagement, and education, all toward the unified goal of developing and strengthening a Native Hawaiian education system. In this article, we reflect critically on Kanaeokana’s approach over the past five years, with a focus on network health, adaptability, and social change in practice.


Please click here for the PDF version of this article.


Kanaeokana is a network of Hawaiian-serving schools and organizations that took form in 2016 (see Figure 1). Kanaeokana works at the intersections of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language), culture, advocacy, media, community engagement, and education to develop and sustain a system of Hawaiian education that will nurture the next generations of aloha ‘āina leaders—those who love and are loyal to Hawaiian lands. In this article, we reflect critically on Kanaeokana’s approach over the past five years, with a focus on network health, adaptability, and social change in practice. This article is an extension of a presentation made by the authors at the 2020 International Conference of Community Psychology.


Figure 1: Logo of the Kanaeokana network     


Positionality Statement

Both authors are closely involved with Kanaeokana. The first author is a US-born daughter of Filipinos who emigrated to Seattle, Washington. Liezl is trained as a community psychologist and relocated to Hawaiʻi in 2012, where she works for the Kealaiwikuamoʻo department at Kamehameha Schools, which provides financial and resource support for Kanaeokana. She has been involved with Kanaeokana since 2018. The second author is a Native Hawaiian educator from Hanapēpē Valley, Kauaʻi, who is trained as an instructional designer and a hula and Hawaiian language teacher. Malia is currently a faculty specialist in community engagement at the Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She has been an active part of the Kanaeokana network since its first community meeting in 2016 and serves as a member of its Kōmike Hoʻokele (steering committee).



ʻO wai kou makuahine? ʻO ka ʻāina nō! ʻO wai kou kupunahine? ʻO ka ʻāina nō!  (Who is your mother? The land! Who is your grandmother? The land!) (Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu, 1895).


These words, written by Iosepa Hoʻoluhi Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu, are just as relevant today as they were in 1895. Our discussion about Hawaiian education begins with ʻāina (land), because for Native Hawaiians, ʻāina was—and still is—our primary learning environment and source of well-being. ʻĀina is generally translated to mean “land,” but the Native Hawaiian concept of ʻāina is more complex and includes pilina (relationships, connections) between the land, its resources, and people. These pilina transcend time—connecting us to our past and our future, and space—linking ma uka and ma kai (the uplands and the oceans) and remote areas such as Kaʻū (the southernmost district on Hawaiʻi Island) and Kekaha (the westernmost town on Kauaʻi). ʻĀina is that which feeds. We sustain ʻāina, and ʻāina sustains us. Aloha for the ʻāina is embodied in moʻolelo (stories) and cultural practices such as oli (chants), mele (songs, anthems, poetry), and hula as forms of pule (prayer) that honor wahi pana (storied places) such as fishponds, salt ponds, islands, communities, and forests. Aloha for ʻāina often manifests in collective efforts such as the work of the Protect Kahoʻolawe ‘Ohana in the 1970s to cease US military bombing of the island and, more recently, the 2013-2019 Mālama Honua worldwide voyage to increase awareness of protecting the environment for future generations as well as the movement to protect Maunakea from desecration and development. “Aloha requires one to speak and act out in the face of injustice. Aloha is active and something that needs to be put into practice, not something that is a state of being” (Beamer, 2014, p. 13). 


Practicing aloha for the ʻāina entails living in balance with nature (McGregor et al., 2020). It also means seeing ʻāina and “places as people, as ʻohana, as the most precious kūpuna [elders] from whom we can learn, and who, when cared for, will continue to nurture us” (Abad & Gonzalez, 2020, p. 201). Such interconnectedness is captured in the term “aloha ʻāina,” which connotes loyalty and allegiance to the land. Aloha ʻāina holds special historical, cultural, and patriotic significance for Native Hawaiians and for the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. Acting in support of social, cultural, and ecological justice is critical to aloha ʻāina (Beamer, 2014).  


Aloha ʻāina is foundational for the objectives of the Kanaeokana network. The definition of aloha ʻāina espoused by Kanaeokana reads: 

Aloha ʻĀina is deeply rooted connection and commitment to the physical and spiritual health of Hawaiʻi’s lands, seas, and skies; a devotion to protect and support Hawaiian cultural practices that take place within the embrace of ʻāina and through the lens and voice of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi; and an unwavering dedication to the well-being of ʻŌiwi Hawaiʻi, including matters of social and political justice. (Kanaeokana, 2022)

Place, therefore, is essential to the cultural survival and identity of Native Hawaiians. Teaching and learning on and with the ʻāina plays a crucial role in shaping identity. Trask (1999) notes that     

Hawaiian education and language instruction is cultural because it seeks to preserve the core of a way of thinking and being that is uniquely Native, and political because this attempt at preservation takes place in a system where the dominant group has employed legal and social means to deny the use and inheritance of the Native language by Natives themselves. (p. 42)

Cultural restoration, community participation, and educational self-determination are critical aloha ʻāina goals in the context of transmitting values, nurturing character, shaping intellect, and developing skills for ʻōpio (youth) and adults. Hawaiian culture-based education honors time and place; haumāna (students) in kula Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian schools) look to the past, see in the present, and live for the future. Haumāna learn on the ʻāina and from the ʻāina, in the kai (seas), from all of the elements, and with the community.


Network Approach

A network approach represents an opportunity for systems change, particularly in our context of addressing historical oppression of Hawaiian culture, language, education, and sovereignty. Calls to action emerge for learning communities to “engage in collective action to dismantle oppressive social arrangements” (Evans et al., 2017), to work toward transformation by participating in social movements as fellow citizens and not as academics or researchers (Gokani & Walsh, 2017), to build coalitions between those inside and outside the Native experience (Trask, 1999), and to place ʻāina and community well-being at the forefront of economic and political systems (Abad & Gonzalez, 2020). Systems change is a shared responsibility that requires collective efforts. Here, we posit that the Kanaeokana network is uniquely equipped to change educational systems. This position acknowledges certain facets of networks and coalitions that are pertinent for exploration: Networks address a range of issues and comprise a diversity of stakeholders (Lawlor et al., 2020); networks have a greater capacity to mobilize and impact change than do individual organizations working alone (Evans et al., 2014); networks follow stages of development, adapting and evolving over time (Kegler et al., 2010; Network Impact and Center for Evaluation Innovation, 2014); and network success can be measured in a variety of ways (Hajjar et al., 2020; Lawlor & Neal, 2016; Marek et al., 2015).


Within the Kanaeokana network, practitioners, researchers, and educators form an interconnected learning and action-oriented community, fostering human connection and interdependence to work against institutionalized cultural oppression and inequitable conditions that negatively affect Native Hawaiian individuals and groups. But addressing these issues is complicated by the fact that solutions are not known in advance and require invention, testing, and adoption (Network Impact and Center for Evaluation Innovation, 2014). The situation is also complicated by historic trends. For example, fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi—though on the rise, is still rebounding from a low point in the 1980s, when only two thousand Native speakers—mostly elderly—and fewer than fifty children could speak Hawaiian (Souza & Walk, 2015). Like other Indigenous groups, Native Hawaiians experience the consequences of colonization as displacement from everything that is essential to identity (Rua et al., 2020). Furthermore, longitudinal data show that Native Hawaiians continue to face the highest rates of unemployment and poverty and, compared with Hawaiʻi’s other major ethnicities, “have higher rates of smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, disability, and cancer mortality” (Kanaʻiaupuni et al., 2021, executive summary). These obstacles are part of the reason Native Hawaiians are increasingly turning to cultural traditions for insights and solutions. The possibility for positive impact becomes more apparent when individuals, groups, organizations, and communities work together rather than separately to actualize the power of social change. Realizing the substantial work involved in raising the profile of Hawaiian language, culture, and ʻāina-based education, the founding members of Kanaeokana converged to develop a Native Hawaiian education system and to grow aloha ʻāina leaders. The true measure of success for Kanaeokana—its organizations, collaborations, priorities, and activities—is the aloha ʻāina that we see in the rising generations. 


This article covers the development of the Kanaeokana network and includes reflections on successes and lessons learned. We begin by describing the network’s origins and innovative approaches. Then, we explore the growth and responsiveness of the network in the “Adaptation and Evolution” section. We conclude by connecting to the themes of knowledge expansion and practice through intercultural dialogue and “repowering” (Rua et al., 2020) in contexts where oppressive social arrangements continue to constrain the capacities of indigenous and minoritized cultural groups. We also include implications for the field of community psychology and note areas for future research and action.


Network Origins and Development

Compared with Hawaiʻi’s other major ethnic groups, Native Hawaiians are faced with the lowest proficiency rates in language arts, mathematics, and science; the highest rates of chronic absenteeism; the lowest rates of on-time high school graduation; and the lowest rates of college completion (Kanaʻiaupuni et al., 2021). Such educational disparities have persisted for decades and result in subpar academic, financial, and emotional well-being for many Native Hawaiians. The disproportionately poor educational outcomes among Native Hawaiian learners demand that we confront the realities of historical inequity and racism within educational, political, and socioeconomic systems and decolonize such oppressive arrangements (Kanaʻiaupuni et al., 2021; Rua et al., 2020). Changing the status quo is an urgent priority that requires new practices and perspectives to establish a system of education that values, benefits, and uplifts Native Hawaiian learners.


Against this backdrop, 69 educational and community leaders supportive of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, Hawaiian culture, and ʻāina-based education responded to an invitation in 2016 to envision a network together. The participants gathered with excitement, partly because of the compelling call to action, and also because many had not seen one another for extended periods of time due to living and working on different islands—from Hawaiʻi Island to Niʻihau and beyond. 


One of the network’s first activities was an art exercise where participants described metaphorically how their organizations are lāʻau (plants) that contribute to the larger “educational ecosystem.” The community of educational leaders overwhelmingly recognized the value of having many similarities and diverse strengths that each contributed over time. These contributions were also depicted through a collective development of a Hawaiian education mural that recognized participants’ shared history, representing the momona (rich or fertile) soil in which each lāʻau is rooted today (see Figure 2).


Figure 2: Mural about the story of kula Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian schools), June 2016


Examining the many symbiotic connections that contribute to a thriving ulu lāʻau (Hawaiian forest) prompted the ecosystem of friends, organizations, and leaders to say YES to continue contributing to the ulu lāʻau. Thus, the network was born. 


The Power of a Name

The network needed a name. Because naming is an important cultural practice for Native Hawaiians, those with experience in naming proposed ideas based on the intentions of the collective ʻohana (family) or network. The network chose the name “Kanaeokana,” which refers to the nae, or net, of Kana, a powerful kupua (supernatural being) who was born as a piece of hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus) rope and later assumed human form. Hawaiian moʻolelo describe Kana growing to extraordinary size and lengths and taking varied shapes to fulfill the many challenges he encountered. One of his most famous deeds was rescuing his mother Hina from the fortress at Hāʻupu, Molokai, and returning her back home to Hilo (Fornander, 1917).


The word nae refers to several kinds of netting. For example, fine-meshed nae served as the foundation to which ʻuo (feather bundles) were attached in making traditional ʻahuʻula (feather cloaks), which required expertise and dedication spanning multiple generations. These nae were created from the endemic olonā plant (Touchardia latifolia), one of the strongest natural fibers available. Nae also refers to fine-meshed fishing nets for catching small fish and shrimp. These intricate nets involve the tying of many hīpuʻu (knots) to ensure cohesion and strength. Native Hawaiian custom holds that well-maintained nets are essential to sustaining the health and vitality of a community (see Figures 3 and 4).


Figure 3: Nae—a traditional Hawaiian fishing net, credit: Hana Yoshihata


Figure 4: Nae, with Kanaeokana member organizations representing hīpuʻu, or knots, that strengthen the netting, credit: Hana Yoshihata and Ryan “Gonzo” Gonzalez


The name Kanaeokana, therefore, suggests strength, endurance, focus, flexibility, and excellence. Participants connect and strengthen the collective efforts of the network to grow and positively impact Hawaiʻi and beyond.


Kahua of the Network

Building upon relationships tied together like the hīpuʻu of the nae, leaders representing Hawaiian-serving schools and organizations desired to work toward a shared vision grounded in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and ʻike kupuna. Leaders recognized that it was the right time to take action together as a network and to scale up Hawaiian culture-based education for all. This meant making a commitment to a kahua (foundation) where: 

  1. Meaningful, cutting-edge, and engaging learning is occurring in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, Hawaiian culture, and ‘āina-based kula and programs.
  2. Hawaiian culture, worldview, and practices are ancestrally rooted, relevant in our modern context, future-minded, focused on collective well-being, both locally and globally.
  3. Students nurtured in such contexts strengthen the long-term well-being of communities, Hawaiʻi, and our planet.
  4. Hawaiian approaches to education are valuable for all students in Hawaiʻi and beyond and are a solution to systemic problems in education.


In 2017, Kanaeokana collaboratively developed a vision, mission, and strategic goals. This important step set the kahua for network participants to increase collaboration and communication. This work also led to a formal shared leadership structure that included kōmike (committees) and responsibilities. 


Kanaeokana Nuʻukia (Vision)  

A strengthened lāhui that grows and sustains future generations of aloha ‘āina leaders. 


Kanaeokana Ala Nuʻukia (Mission)

Collaboratively develop and strengthen a Native Hawaiian education system—built on a strong foundation of ʻōlelo Hawai‘i and ʻike Hawai‘i (Hawaiian knowledge).


Kanaeokana Pahu hopu (Strategic Goals)

  • Convene network members dedicated to supporting ʻōlelo Hawai‘i, Hawaiian culture, and ʻāina-based education to forward Kanaeokana efforts.
  • Assert educational sovereignty in the process of strengthening our lāhui.
  • Honor and demonstrate the diversity among participating organizations, fostering mutual trust, respect, and pilina among all members.
  • Prioritize renormalization of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi in all sectors of society.
  • Generate and advocate for Kanaeokana policy positions.
  • Develop and share educational resources (curriculum, instruction, and assessment), ideas, approaches, and strategies through a centralized, virtual waihona.
  • Ensure multigenerational continuity and synergy in the evolving work of Kanaeokana.


The six kōmike created zones for innovation—spaces that invite members to collaborate, explore, design using all the tools available to create something new, and implement work aligned with Kanaeokana’s vision and mission. These are also safe spaces to share an idea or a challenge and look at it from all angles and solve them together.


In 2018, ʻAha Kūkā (plenary work sessions) served the purpose of reviewing our efforts over the previous two years and creating a plan for where we wanted to go next. These gatherings prompted the network to begin to identify impact indicators (which are discussed in further detail in the section “Kanaeokana Resources and Documents”) to help measure collective progress in the different stages of growing aloha ʻāina leaders.  Equally important, ʻAha Kūkā encouraged new approaches and activities that reflect the diversity and shared vision of the group. The kōmike work groups shared highlights of their efforts during our zones of innovation time to support and create communities of practice–opportunities for kula, ʻohana, kaiāulu, and individuals to ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi, cultural practices, etc.  Each of the kōmike were also encouraged to establish 1, 3, and 5-year S.M.A.R.T. goals[1].  Our intention throughout the year was to empower one another by fostering ideation, creativity, intuition, innovation, group intelligence, and collective talents. 


The next progression of growth led to the creation of ideation spaces in 2019 at the ʻAha Kūkā to engage in a set of brainstorming and discussion to identify and share ideas members were most interested in working on. Some examples of ideations included more navigational classes on the other islands and cooking classes that foster ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and healthy recipes using native foods. Figure 5 illustrates one of the ideas from a community navigator from Anahola who shared a dream of working with our kula Hawaiʻi and having small community waʻa (canoes) for educators and families.


Figure 5: Community based navigational schools comprise a dream shared by a community navigator on Kauaʻi during our ideation space at ʻAha Kūkā


Creating safe spaces to exchange ideas served to strengthen our communication channels while honoring and sharing our ʻike kupuna (ancestral wisdom) through mele, moʻolelo, film, poetry, and games. From a professional learning standpoint, these activities also offered educators new content and approaches to use with their learners. These efforts also set the stage for greater progress and adaptation in the following year. 


The Kanaeokana network began 2020 by continuing to envision a new Hawaiian education system. To coalesce key aspects about what such a system might look like, alakaʻi and members of the network drafted a declaration (see “Kanaeokana Resources and Documents” later in this article). Because of the importance of he alo a he alo (face to face) exchanges in Hawaiian gatherings, in-person interactive workshops had been key in our networking activities. However, when the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020, Kanaeokana quickly adapted our focus to facilitate virtual workshops and webinars, online learning resources, performances, and forums (see Figure 6).


Figure 6: Virtual workshops and webinars produced by Kanaeokana and Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian knowledge included practitioners, teachers and students of all ages and from different schools throughout Hawaiʻi 


Kanaeokana’s intention was to redirect the constraints of the public health crisis to allow our network to continue to uplift Hawaiian culture, language, and knowledge, to nurture education within families and communities, and to connect people around the world. This proactive approach proved to be exceedingly important during more than a year of physical and social isolation. 


In 2021, the network continued to engage virtually. This includes live virtual ʻAha Kūkā that provide a platform for sharing ideas and energy, networking, solidifying visions, and taking next steps to enliven and actualize projects (see Figures 7 and 8).


Figure 7: ʻAha Kūkā was adapted as a live virtual experience to engage Kanaeokana members, April 2021  


Figure 8: Virtual attendees used emoji paddles during the interactive ʻAha Kūkā, April 2021


A highlight of our April 2021 ʻAha Kūkā included the Aloha ʻĀina Leader Awards, which recognized exemplary high school seniors from across the Hawaiian education landscape. Hawaiian-focused charter schools, immersion schools, and private schools each recognized a single student, selected by their kula leaders, who most strongly embodies aloha ʻāina leadership. Although this recognition included a modest monetary prize, the primary objective of the Aloha ʻĀina Leader Awards is to elevate young ʻōiwi leaders and recognize that their accomplishments and goals are valued by schools and by our lāhui (see Figure 9).


Figure 9: Aloha ʻĀina Leader Award recipients, Class of 2021


A new project-based process was also launched to replace the kōmike structure utilized for the last five years and empower collaborators to join together around like-minded projects. We share more about this process in “Adaptation and Evolution” below.  


From the onset, the network has been committed to sharing the stories about Kanaeokana and ramping up our collective efforts toward social change. We knew that stories celebrating the growth and success of Hawaiian education, grounded in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and ʻike Hawaiʻi, would inspire and generate support locally and globally. Within the network’s first five years, Kanaeokana has shared diverse messages on social media platforms and garnered a following of over 545,000 as of February 2022.


Over the years, Kanaeokana has convened 11 ʻAha Kūkā and numerous committee working group sessions, and we continue to strengthen our connections, relationships, and communications (Kania et al., 2018). These gatherings, both in-person and virtually, have reinforced the need to celebrate our accomplishments—which include maintaining cohesion over a five-year period, sustaining educational offerings throughout the pandemic, sharing resources, amplifying success stories of individual kula within the network, and enhancing our collective identity as Native Hawaiian educators. For example, survey responses from ʻAha Kūkā 2021 indicate that as a result of the latest virtual plenary convening, 93% of members deepened their understanding of Kanaeokana’s vision, mission, and goals. In addition, 98% of members believe in Kanaeokana’s dual role in developing a Native Hawaiian education system and growing aloha ʻāina leaders (Kanaeokana, 2021 Summer). The gatherings also provide opportunities to learn from our challenges and commit to being flexible to the needs of our members, adaptive in our processes, and transparent in our decision-making and collaborative work. Like Kana, who had the ability to grow, find allies, and take varied forms to overcome challenges, the success of the network is made possible through the collective strength, flexibility, and commitment of active members, partners, and supporters.


The “How” of Kanaeokana

The shared work of Kanaeokana is about changing mindsets, relationships, and power dynamics in support of a new Native Hawaiian education system. Building this system on a strong foundation of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and ʻike Hawaiʻi involves shifting the conditions that hold the problem in place (Kania et al., 2018) while envisioning and working toward a thriving lāhui. What does this future look like? Kanaeokana envisions that people of Hawaiʻi will be inherently connected to local and global communities whose well-being flourishes alongside the well-being of the ʻāina. The ʻāina will sustain us as we sustain the ʻāina.


How do we create a healthy network that supports the growth of aloha ʻāina leaders? Key factors that have contributed to creating a healthy network include a shared leadership structure that supports active member engagement, cohesion and collective strength, a supportive infrastructure, and reach within and beyond our Indigenous-serving base.  


Our kūpuna teach us through their many ʻōlelo noʻeau (wise sayings) that guide us in our work and in our lives. One such ʻōlelo noʻeau is “O ke kahua ma mua, ma hope ke kūkulu—The site first, and then the building” (Pukui, 1983, p. 268). Having a strong kahua for the network, guided by a shared leadership structure that supports active member engagement, has helped us sustain our efforts thus far. This structure allows for nonhierarchical decision-making, flexibility and adaptiveness, and responsiveness to community needs. The shared leadership initially included a kōmike hoʻokele (steering committee) and six kōmike hoʻokō (working groups). Each kōmike was designed to have a specific function to directly align with the vision and mission of the network.


Kōmike Hoʻokele

The Kōmike Hoʻokele comprises well-respected and revered cultural practitioners, founders and poʻokumu (principals) of Hawaiian-focused charter schools, leaders of ʻāina-based organizations, university professors, specialists and academic researchers, and vital voices in political, educational, and social movements impacting Native Hawaiians. The Kōmike Hoʻokele members include 17      Kanaeokana participants who were nominated and confirmed by the Kanaeokana membership. The Kōmike Hoʻokele has four main responsibilities, as agreed upon by the network:

  1. Alakaʻi—Provide leadership to help move the groups’ goals and work forward 
  2. Kūkulu—Organize work to develop synergy among kōmike, set meeting agendas, and facilitate collaboration.
  3. Kaʻaʻike—Ensure effective communications to facilitate collaboration and avoid duplication of efforts. 
  4. Pilina—Cultivate cohesion, shared identity, and commitment to common goals among kōmike and member kula (schools) and organizations.


Kōmike Hoʻokō

Six kōmike hoʻokō, established in 2017, recognized that the network included innovative collaborators who were ready and eager to scale what they were already doing in their communities, and that work groups were a mechanism for this kind of expansion. For example, an in-person event was to be held on the island of Oʻahu, hosted by a member organization in their wahi pana. When the pandemic hit, a request to pivot to a virtual event was proposed to the kōmike. In 2021, this event expanded to include Ka Pae ʻĀina Hawaiʻi (the Hawaiian Archipelago), connecting and feeding communities in different ways as we celebrated its extended reach to our global community by utilizing our social media platforms (see Figure 10).  


Figure 10: Virtual Kūʻokoʻa Kūkanono hosted by Kauluakalana, in partnership with many other Kanaeokana partner organizations throughout Ka Pae ʻĀina Hawaiʻi, November 2020


The six kōmike hoʻokō, which were designed to advance Kanaeokana’s strategic goals, included:

  • Kōmike Hoʻokuluma ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i—Encourage and facilitate Hawaiian language use in all sectors of society.
  • Kōmike Hālau ʻŌiwi—Support community- and family-driven efforts to provide after-school cultural experiences.
  • Kōmike Recruiting and Retaining Hawaiian Culture-Based Educators—Encourage young educators to enter teaching fields, support      seasoned educators to continue, and provide opportunities for master educators to mentor others.
  • Kōmike Hālauololo—Secure funding to forward our collective efforts.
  • Kōmike Advocacy—Advocate for policy positions that advance the vision and mission of Kanaeokana.
  • Kōmike Hoʻolōkahi—Bring partners together to engage in the collective learning of students and teachers.

Each of the kōmike served as a community of practice, providing opportunities for network members to collaborate and share projects, experiences, and resources. Along the way, opportunities to learn from Kanaeokana members and reevaluate our approaches have also contributed to the health of the network. From a Network Health Survey conducted in 2019, members identified areas for possible improvement. These include membership expansion and engagement, more varied meeting venues (e.g., virtual, ʻāina-based), increased and more diverse funding streams, and improved communication (Kanaeokana, 2019a). These have become areas of focus for the Kōmike Hoʻokele.


Historical Roots of the Network           

The cohesion and collective strength of Kanaeokana are rooted in shared history. More specifically, an older network of Hawaiian-focused charter schools began in 2002 and received support from Kamehameha Schools. These earlier efforts saw leaders of 17 Hawaiian-focused charters working together successfully and committing to a common Vision of the Graduate. This set the stage for larger-scale collaboration by Kanaeokana.


Similarly, relationships between many individual members and organizations predated the formal establishment of Kanaeokana in 2016. Some Kanaeokana participants have been colleagues for decades, working in tandem to develop Hawaiian places of learning from preschool to the university level. Other participants, who previously had a student–teacher relationship, are now working side by side as peers within the network. Many members share long histories of rallying together as activists, advocates, and allies within and for Native Hawaiian communities. Thus, the threads of interwoven pilina underlie and fortify the network partnerships and collaborations. In the words of one Kanaeokana member, “Collaboration moves at the speed of trust.” 


Infrastructure of Kanaeokana     

Kanaeokana operates under a shared leadership model with a supportive infrastructure. Shared governance allows for members to be accountable to their kuleana (responsibility, duty, and purview), rather than to an organizational leader. In other words, “Kuleana is da boss.” When a member is led by their kuleana and “sets the agenda” for the work we do, it ignites our passion and fills us with joy. This leads to greater commitment of time and aloha to work collectively to further our progress in accomplishing our vision. Communication channels, regular meetings, and participatory processes bring the larger network together for activities and opportunities for nonhierarchical decision-making. Within this highly decentralized network, membership connections are essential to holding work and people together. 


Backbone support is provided by Kealaiwikuamoʻo, a department at Kamehameha Schools that supports Kanaeokana via meeting coordination and facilitation; project management; development and dissemination of strategic content in cultivated social media channels, promotional communications to internal and external audiences; development and dissemination of educational resources; and in-kind and financial support to advance Kanaeokana goals. 


An ongoing concern involves the perception by some that Kanaeokana is controlled by the backbone organization. In other words, some may believe that Kamehameha Schools (KS)—the largest educational organization serving Native Hawaiians—controls Kanaeokana because of the resources it contributes toward network activities. This concern warrants brief discussion.


The context surrounding Kanaeokana’s formation stage includes KS playing a significant role in convening the network and establishing an organizational structure and communication processes (Kegler et al., 2010). Perceptions of Kanaeokana as a KS-owned initiative can be likened to perceptions of higher education institutions driving community–academic partnerships and benefiting from them over and above the benefits realized by their community partners (Alcantara et al., 2015; Amon et al., 2020; Castleden et al., 2015).


A pertinent question emerged during network evaluation interviews conducted in 2019: How do we make it clear that Kanaeokana is a community-driven network? While there is inherent danger of the backbone support team overstepping its kūlana (position), efforts have been made to ensure that Kamehameha Schools staff implement the decisions that the network members make, rather than assuming the role of decision-makers. Frequent reflection and check-ins with network members and the Kōmike Hoʻokele help with accountability and upholding integrity in relationships and decision-making. For example, feedback from the 2019 Kanaeokana Network Health Survey (Kanaeokana, 2019a) pointed to the need to distinguish between Kanaeokana’s strategic goals and KS’s strategic goals. Actions such as the development of foundational documents, which are described in the next section, have led to a better articulation of the network’s intentions and identity being distinct from those of the backbone support organization.  


Expanding Kanaeokana’s Reach

Kanaeokana has expanded the network by encouraging participation both within and beyond Native Hawaiian communities and Native Hawaiian-serving organizations. To date, the network comprises more than 80 member organizations. Kanaeokana is not currently organized as a nonprofit organization or a legal entity; however, the Kōmike Hoʻokele continues to explore options that may fit the needs of the network.


The diverse membership of Kanaeokana is an asset that has spawned creativity in achieving Kanaeokana’s strategic goals. Examples include holding ʻohana and community events focused on learning and renormalizing ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, asking candidates for elected positions where they stand on education issues and posting answers on the Kanaeokana website, and conducting virtual communities of practice with kumu who share their classroom haʻawina (lessons) and develop resources together for an online waihona (repository) accessible to kumu across Ka Pae ʻĀina Hawaiʻi. To more broadly connect Hawaiian culture to those beyond Native Hawaiian communities, we imagine a world where Hawaiian culture is omnipresent. Normalizing Native Hawaiian culture is more likely to occur when all sectors of society are saturated with the ʻano (character, disposition, nature) of uplifting ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and ʻike Hawaiʻi. For Hawaiian culture and language to live, we must see, hear, and experience it everywhere—at the center stage of shopping centers, at farmers’ markets, on coffee shop marketing signs, and on radio, television, and social media platforms. Bringing down the walls that keep the culture from thriving is part of creating and maintaining a healthy network.


While Kanaeokana remains focused on maintaining pilina and connections within the network, the relationships outside the network—especially with institutions and leaders in power—are equally important. In action, this means influencing those in power directly and creating the conditions needed for others to build power (Kania et al., 2018). Kanaeokana supports efforts for expanded influence and for increased capacity to amplify community voice, especially regarding Hawaiian educational and cultural sovereignty. For example, addressing power dynamics on a personal level has occurred when Hawaiian-focused charter school haumāna (students) appealed to elected officials to protect the precious Ala Wai watershed and surrounding Waikīkī ahupuaʻa (land division extending from ma uka to ma kai). On a community level, political change has resulted from encouraging stronger engagement of Kānaka Māoli (Native Hawaiians) in government, particularly within the Neighborhood Boards on Oʻahu for 2021–2023. These boards were created to assure and increase community participation of residents in the decision-making process of government. Native Hawaiians, comprising about 21 percent of Hawaiʻi’s population, are underrepresented in government, which limits opportunities to take part in political processes. Supported in part by Kanaeokana’s help in promoting political action as being tied to aloha ʻāina leadership, at least 161 Native Hawaiians filed to run for their local neighborhood board, and at least 124 were elected in 2021.


Tackling power imbalances at the community level was also seen during Hawaiʻi Rising, a gathering that Kanaeokana played a key role in helping to organize, where hundreds of people occupied the Hawaiʻi State Capitol when the legislative session opened on January 15, 2020, centering and celebrating Hawaiian cultural protocols, classes and presentations, and voter engagement (see Figure 11).


Figure 11: Hawaiʻi Rising attendees participating in protocol at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol on January 15, 2020


Similar to the 1997 gathering led by the ʻĪlioʻulaokalani Coalition, a political advocacy group composed of kumu hula, Kanaeokana recognized the opportunity to shift the political landscape toward a future rooted in aloha ‘āina. Hawaiʻi Rising participants maintain that aloha ‘āina is a high priority in our communities and in government decision-making, and gathering at the capitol was one way to add their voice to actions that lead to solutions. 


Kanaeokana Resources and Documents

Foundational documents add a layer of legitimacy to Kanaeokana’s efforts and complement the strong trust that exists among many network members. One key resource is the Kanaeokana Handbook (Kanaeokana, 2020, Winter). Inspired by the Valve Handbook for New Employees, the Kanaeokana Handbook is written in a casual and welcoming manner that reflects Kanaeokana’s communication style. The handbook introduces how the network operates and encourages new participants to jump into the hana (action, work).


Two documents disseminated to network members in April 2021 are helping to define and redefine Kanaeokana: Palapala ʻŌnaehana Hoʻonaʻauao Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian Education System Declaration) and Palapala Hoʻoulu Aloha ʻĀina (Proclamation on Growing Aloha ʻĀina). These documents synthesize what Kanaeokana means when it refers to the Hawaiian education system and aloha ʻāina leaders. Each document has a distinctive moʻolelo moʻokūauhau (genealogy story).


Palapala ʻŌnaehana Hoʻonaʻauao Hawaiʻi

For the Palapala ʻŌnaehana Hoʻonaʻauao Hawaiʻi, manaʻo (ideas) and suggestions for refinement were gathered from attendees of ʻAha Kūkā in 2019 and 2020 (see Figure 12).


Figure 12: Gathering manaʻo for Palapala ʻŌnaehana Hoʻonaʻauao during ʻAha Kūkā, February 2020 


Through self-reflection about critical moments in their own lives, Kanaeokana members were invited to share experiences to help envision the desired state of the Hawaiian education system. The Palapala ʻŌnaehana Hoʻonaʻauao Hawaiʻi is a living document that declares essential components of the Hawaiian education system envisioned by Kanaeokana. Examples include: 

1.2 The Hawaiian education system will require a land base as a means to enable ʻāina-based education, connecting people to land and land to people. 

2.3 ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi is a critical liberating force that provides a common belief system to foster social, political, and economic change and development. 

3.5 Kānaka (Hawaiian people) have the right to teach and learn our moʻomeheu (culture) on our own cultural terms as a crucial part of our cultural legacy. 

This Kanaeokana declaration is nested within the context of a larger worldwide movement of Indigenous education in communities in which some Kanaeokana members have played significant roles. In turn, this movement has shaped the landscape that has enabled Kanaeokana to take form. Foundational documents of this Indigenous education movement have inspired the Palapala ʻŌnaehana Hoʻonaʻauao Hawaiʻi and include the Kari-Oca Declaration (1992), the Coolangatta Statement (1999), and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2015). These declarations and statements assert vital rights, freedoms, and entitlements that uphold human dignity for Indigenous populations, providing the context for Kanaeokana’s own declaration in support of Native Hawaiian people and places.  


Palapala Hoʻoulu Aloha ‘Āina

Work on the Palapala Hoʻoulu Aloha ʻĀina began in 2018 in response to reflection questions posed to the Kanaeokana network: How will we know we are on track to creating aloha ʻāina leaders? What are the key characteristics of an aloha ʻāina leader? What are the critical elements to develop aloha ʻāina leaders, and what role does your organization play in that work? A small working group of cultural practitioners, educators, and historians convened in October 2018 to tackle these questions, eventually formulating an aloha ʻāina leader “growth cycle,” also known as aloha ʻāina impact indicators. The group referenced traditional moʻolelo about Hawaiian leaders such as ʻUmi-a-Liloa, a chief known for his haʻahaʻa (humility), as well as “Na Kulana o ko ke Kanaka Ola Ana” (stages of becoming a healthy person), which was printed in the nūpepa (newspaper) Ka Lanakila in September 1909. These sources informed the working group’s understanding of the developmental journey toward becoming an aloha ʻāina leader. 


The Kōmike Hoʻokele shared the Palapala Hoʻoulu Aloha ʻĀina during the April 2021 ʻAha Kūkā, proposing five dimensions of an aloha ʻāina leader: ʻāina, ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi, lololo (intelligent, deep thinking), moʻomeheu (culture), and kuleana. An aloha ʻāina leader progresses along four stages of growth, reminiscent of a plant growth cycle: kupu (sprout), lau (leaf), liko (bud), and lehua (flower). The Palapala Hoʻoulu Aloha ʻĀina is a resource for Kanaeokana members and their institutions to use as they see fit. Table 1 provides an excerpt of this growth cycle for the ʻāina dimension.


Table 1: Example of the stages of growth for developing aloha ʻāina leaders   


As an example of organizations using the stages of growth for their purposes, a group of kumu from Hawaiian-focused charter schools and ʻāina-based partners utilized the Palapala Hoʻoulu Aloha ʻĀina as a reference document and kahua for their creation of ʻĀina Learning Competencies for Preschool to Grade 12 students (Keehne et al., 2021). Thus, by building common language and shared understanding, the Kanaeokana Handbook, Palapala ʻŌnaehana Hoʻonaʻauao, and Palapala Hoʻoulu Aloha ʻĀina have propelled Kanaeokana’s overall efforts to develop a Hawaiian education system and grow aloha ʻāina leaders.


Adaptation and Evolution

Given Kanaeokana’s long-term vision and commitment to evolving community needs, network sustainability is an ongoing concern. Kanaeokana, like other networks, has a “chain of impact” that includes the network’s impact on its members, the members’ impacts on their local communities, and the members’ combined impact on their broader community and environment. Open-ended feedback from members illustrates some of these impacts:

“Being connected with like-minded people has helped me in just a short amount of time that I have been a part of this hui.”

“The vision is super helpful and I have used [it] to support the vision at my institution.”

“Kanaeokana has helped to raise the visibility of Hawaiian-focused charter schools, bolstered grassroots efforts to advance Hawaiʻi, and its live streaming of ongoing efforts to protect Maunakea has had global impact. These are important and significant strides forward.” (Kanaeokana, 2019c)

Furthermore, networks are dynamic and can adapt to changes in their context or changes among their membership, creating additional layers of complexity (Younis, 2017; Network Impact and Center for Evaluation Innovation, 2014). Such shifts, adaptation, and evolution are familiar to Kanaeokana and provide insight into where the network has journeyed so far and what may lie ahead. 


Based on the literature, Kanaeokana is functioning in the “performance and adaptation” stage of development (Network Impact and Center for Evaluation Innovation, 2014). This means that the network is fully operational with members involved in key activities, that goals and strategies are in the process of refinement, and that there is evidence of influencing and supporting positive changes for Native Hawaiian communities at individual, organizational, and systemic levels. Possible next avenues for Kanaeokana include growing and expanding the education focus to apply more directly to building      capacity and creating the conditions necessary to transform the local economy, as shown in the ʻĀina Aloha Economic Futures Action Agenda, which envisions Hawaiʻi’s post-pandemic economic recovery being rooted in the identity and culture of Hawaiʻi. Linked to Kanaeokana’s goal to grow aloha ʻāina leaders, the ʻĀina Aloha Economic Futures document outlines essential leadership qualities to build a healthier, more cohesive, and sustainable Hawaiʻi guided by ʻŌiwi insights, innovation, and community values (ʻĀina Aloha Economic Futures, 2020).     


Another way Kanaeokana may evolve is to position the network as an agent of change. This would mean strengthening Kanaeokana’s capacity, visibility, and reputation for innovation in Hawaiian education and aloha ʻāina leadership. With a robust and supportive following on social media, Kanaeokana is poised to influence and amplify transformative results of individual network members, member organizations, and the community at large. What does it feel like, on the ground, to follow Kanaeokana’s chain of impact from individuals to organizations and to the broader Native Hawaiian community? We witness signs of an evolving network in the ways Kanaeokana has connected individual members, who then create joint projects together, which in turn raise the prominence of Hawaiian culture and language across communities in Hawaiʻi and beyond. Also, we notice how Kanaeokana members bring elements of the network’s vision, mission, and strategic goals into their own institutions, sparking new dialogue and action within Hawaiian places of learning.


At the time of this writing, long-standing Kanaeokana members serving on Kōmike Hoʻokele are deliberating key questions such as, “What role might documents such as the Palapala ʻŌnaehana Hoʻonaʻauao Hawaiʻi play in member organizations?” and “To what extent can member organizations be held accountable for upholding the affirmations in Kanaeokana’s foundational documents?” We are seeing instances where members’ organizations are serving as hīpuʻu of the nae—strong knots within the netting—and are becoming hubs of offshoot networks, supporting other collaborative partners outside of Kanaeokana while uplifting the lāhui through educational activities, collaborations, and community engagement that prioritizes aloha ʻāina, ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, and ʻike Hawaiʻi. As witnessed by members of Kōmike Hālau ʻŌiwi during a September 2018 ʻāina engagement trip to Hāmākua, Hawaiʻi Island, haumāna from Kanaeokana member organization Hui Mālama i ke Ala ʻŪlili (huiMAU) recounted moʻolelo and shared oli they wrote about their ʻāina and the chief ʻUmi-a-Liloa, reflected in vibrant murals erected on the ʻāina of their kula, Paʻaulilo Elementary and Intermediate School (see Figure 13).


Figure 13: Haumāna from Paʻaulio Elementary and Intermediate School with huiMAU and Kōmike Hālau ʻŌiwi, September 2018


As a result of their learning, these haumāna prompted their kula to adopt Native Hawaiian protocols as a part of their school’s morning routine to mimic the protocols they learned as a part of their afterschool program led by the nonprofit organization based in their community. This is just the beginning of the kind of transformation that can occur when ʻāina-based organizations strengthen their relationships in their community and become hīpuʻu of nae, developing new relationships to the ʻāina and one another through Hawaiian culture-based education. In this manner, individual members of Kanaeokana carry the torch to effect change within their own local networks. 


At the other end of the spectrum, Kanaeokana organizations have helped to effect change at a large scale, standing shoulder to shoulder with one another and alongside the broader community in an unprecedented expression of cultural continuity and asserted sovereignty: the effort to protect Maunakea and ensure its cultural and environmental integrity.


At issue was whether the Thirty-Meter Telescope project would be built near the summit of Maunakea, the tallest mountain in the Hawaiian Archipelago situated on the largest island of Hawaiʻi. This mauna (mountain) is seen by many throughout the community as one of, if not the single most sacred ‘āina in Hawaiʻi. 


With the summit’s light atmosphere far above the cloud line and its remote location many miles from any source of evening lighting, Maunakea is also considered by many astronomers to be the best place on the planet to site a telescope. The TMT project is supported by multinational corporations and universities in the United States, Canada, Japan, China, and India. If built, it would tower 18 stories high, intrude two more stories into the ‘āina, and engulf five acres of surface area.


The TMT also would sit within a protected conservation and historic preservation area on an island where zoning laws prohibit structures higher than seven stories. The land it would occupy is part of some 1.8 million acres illegally seized from the Hawaiian Kingdom government and Queen Liliʻuokalani in 1893 by US interests in a US military-supported overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom—a nation whose sovereignty was recognized by the United States through formal diplomatic relations and multiple treaties dating back to 1843.


The overlapping sectors of society standing unified in protection of the mauna (mountain) include Native Hawaiians, environmentalists, and those who support the need for government and the judicial system to act in the best interest of ‘āina and the populace rather than the interest of influential corporations.


Many members of Kanaeokana have played key roles in the struggle to protect Maunakea. Although we, as authors, have not been involved in the front lines to the degree that many of our colleagues have been, Kanaeokana has had the honor to assist in protecting the mauna by creating and disseminating educational and advocacy videos and social media posts, giving voice and bearing witness to the events on the mauna.


For example, in July 2019, Kanaeokana members overwhelmingly affirmed the decision to ramp up Kanaeokana advocacy and media efforts around Maunakea. As evidence of Kanaeokana’s community and cultural credibility, the network contributed to major shifts in public opinion’s via its prominent social media presence, advocacy efforts, broadcasting of pivotal events on Maunakea, fact-checking and thought pieces, activism art, and amplification of the voices of kiaʻi (guardians)—kūpuna, mākua, and ʻōpio. For example, from November 2015 to September 2019, support for TMT plummeted among Native Hawaiians and the general statewide public (Blair, 2019; Dayton, 2019; “How has the state,” 2019; Hurley, 2018; Kanaeokana, 2019b; Simmons, 2015).


This shift occurred while the TMT and its corporate supporters were investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into a media campaign to grow support for the project. The slick ads turned out to be no match for coordinated community voices, including Kanaeokana, a handful of Native Hawaiian curated social media platforms, and over 500,000 followers that together reached millions in Hawaiʻi and beyond with each of their coordinated posts (Abad & Gonzalez, 2020).


The mark of a healthy network includes the ability to adapt and evolve in response to the needs of members and communities the network serves. The Kanaeokana network has been fortunate to play a part in supporting social movements like the effort to project Maunakea, which directly impact cultural preservation and community well-being.


In spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges across our communities. We saw the urgent need to pivot, partner, and develop a platform to connect communities, families, and global classrooms through cultural content in both English and ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. Kanaeokana utilized available technologies and skills of network members to create virtual spaces including webinars, online learning resources, performances, and forums. The goals of these virtual spaces are to uplift Hawaiian culture, language, and knowledge, to nurture education within families and communities, and to connect people around the world. 


Lei Ānuenue and ʻAi Kole are examples of engaging webinars that families came to rely on during the isolation and uncertainty triggered by the coronavirus. Early in the pandemic, we initiated cultural programming five times a week. We were consistent in starting programs at the same time and on designated days. After one month, there was demand—and network capacity—to broadcast two additional programs, featuring content and discussions in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. These virtual spaces created a community for ʻohana to engage regularly with others and to explore Hawaiian culture and language in new ways. The hosts of the webinars found engaging and culturally grounded ways to connect with live participants through chat discussions, always inviting the community to honor the ʻāina they were connecting from. Cultural practitioners, musicians, artists, mānaleo (Native speakers), educators, and others were passionate about sharing stories and lessons through creative educational programming such as mele, oli, art, cooking, exercise, hula, and more (see Figure 14).


Figure 14: ‘Ai Kole episode hosted by Ekela Kaniaupio-Crozier, featuring mānaleo Ipo Wong and Kahea Faria


Regardless of the subject matter, all of the webinars demonstrated ancestral connection to the ʻāina and encouraged the virtual community to explore these cultural connections in their remote locations.


Technology has been key in supporting these virtual educational experiences and connecting with our growing global community—which includes more than a half million followers on Facebook and Instagram. One of the additional technologies Kanaeokana and partners are further utilizing is Duolingo, a free app that provides bite-sized lessons, personalized learning, immediate feedback, and fun ways to learn ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi at your own pace. Currently, 585,000 learners worldwide are on the app and learning the Indigenous language of Hawaiʻi. The partnership that Kanaeokana and its backbone organization, Kamehameha Schools, have forged with Duolingo has led to ‘ōlelo Hawai’i being the first Indigenous language to be offered on the Duolingo platform, a result of Kanaeokana creating each of the lessons involved. 


As Kanaeokana continues to grow, the needs of our community also continue to grow. As a network, we prioritize flexibility and adaptation to address new challenges. This was evidenced at the April 2021 ʻAha Kūkā, where we pivoted from the kōmike hoʻokō model to a new project-focused approach. This adaptation was based on observations by the Kōmike Hoʻokele and survey data, which showed that only 16 percent of Kanaeokana members rated themselves as extremely or very active in the network, while one-quarter indicated they were not at all active (Kanaeokana, 2019a). This new process allows members to explore new tools, work through a simplified process to enliven new project possibilities to collaborate with one another, and move from ideation to implementation. This new project emphasis includes four main steps: (1) Self-assess, (2) Share idea, (3) Interact with idea, and (4) Decide (see Figure 15).


Figure 15: Project Process Flow Chart


The evolution from a committee approach to a project-based approach is a recent operational shift to increase member engagement and allow anyone in the network to pitch ideas, offer help, and actualize success collectively. At the time of this writing, we continue to explore this project-focused approach with our network members and are encouraged by the number and quality of new projects proposed for the coming years.


Challenges and Lessons Learned

Despite the cohesion and collective strength inherent within the network, Kanaeokana also has faced challenges and occasional counterproductivity. Network survey respondents noted that a subset of Kanaeokana members carry the work of the network (Kanaeokana, 2019a). This finding suggests the need to involve more members in the projects and also reveals the danger of burnout for those who are more consistently active than other members in leading and implementing projects. In addition, the relative absence of kumu and haumāna in the network illustrates a major opportunity for improvement. Drawing in these populations to participate in Kanaeokana could benefit the network and more fully actualize the desired Native Hawaiian education system. One Network Survey respondent candidly expressed: “I think Kanaeokana has become a really powerful tool. I just wish I could be there more. While the new work within Kanaeokana is great, I can’t keep up and can’t figure out how to do so” (Kanaeokana, 2019a). Questions arise as we seek solutions for improving engagement and communication: How can we use technology tools to communicate and work efficiently and productively? How can we put out the kāhea (call) and conduct more targeted outreach for those who might need more support to engage with Kanaeokana? How can we boost awareness about projects and get people energized about contributing to the work? For now, our new project-based approach (described above) is intended to address this issue. If other models emerge, the network will continue its commitment to being flexible, adaptive, and transparent in how we progress together.


Although the professional pilina that existed before the creation of Kanaeokana were sources of strength, some relationships were nuanced and brought potential discord to the network. For example, in the early phase of the network, competition between some of the organizations colored interactions between network members. However, through Kanaeokana’s shared goals and work, interagency competition has transformed into collaboration. Respondents from 2019 Kanaeokana Member Interviews stated: “Kanaeokana is rebuilding relationships that may have been lost or where there have been divisions. This has come about through consistent convening and kōmike work. It is the shared work that builds bonds. Kanaeokana brought us together” (Kanaeokana, 2019d).


A third challenge was balancing the dynamics of a diverse group of professionals who are known for their strength of conviction and influence. On occasion, deference to the loudest and most powerful leo (voices) in the room has resulted in a disparity of who gets heard and whose manaʻo gets attention. The diversity of Kanaeokana means that organizational membership spans large colleges and universities and small neighborhood-based nonprofits. Individual membership includes both poʻokumu and their former haumāna. To mitigate challenges associated with power imbalances, Kanaeokana ʻAha Kūkā have included activities such as small-group work, processing and post-it feedback sessions, and polling where each member is given an opportunity to vote.


Influenced by the stages of network development across the five years, the repositioning of activities and relationships entails adaptation for both the network itself and the members within it. The Kanaeokana network, though unique, seems to follow stages of development that are typical for network formation (Network Impact and Center for Evaluation Innovation, 2014). Over the initial five years, network leaders and members have modified methods and expectations as the network has evolved. We take this as a sign that the network is healthy and is willing to change and adapt based on the shared goals of developing a Hawaiian education system and growing aloha ʻāina leaders.     


Concluding Comments

We are humbled to be a part of this Special Issue and hope that our reflections on Kanaeokana contribute to expanding knowledge and practice through intercultural dialogue and illuminating what “repowering” (Rua et al., 2020) looks like in our Native Hawaiian educational contexts. The innovative strategies espoused by Kanaeokana demonstrate how the intentional formation and development of a network with a focus on network health and effectiveness can help the network achieve its goals. In our case, a healthy network is a recent example of long-standing efforts to uplift Indigenous cultural values and practices, to uplift a Native Hawaiian education system, and to uplift generations of aloha ʻāina leaders.


Kanaeokana’s approach to network development is unique in part because of the network’s responsiveness to the needs of communities within a context of the emerging importance of Native Hawaiian and Indigenous cultural, educational, and social values. Kanaeokana actively embodies and broadcasts to others the past, present, and promising waiwai of Native Hawaiian language, culture, and culture-based education. With implications for the field of community psychology, Kanaeokana offers a blueprint for designing and implementing coalitional structures, relationships, and processes toward social change goals. In this paper, we have offered reflections on the past five years of forming a kula Hawaiʻi network, from its origins and naming to its infrastructure and foundational documents, a sampling of initial successes, signs of adaptation and evolution, as well as challenges and lessons learned. To advance work regarding the development of networks, we invite community psychologists, practitioners, educators, and researchers to investigate factors that sustain network health in the long term, as networks naturally adapt and evolve over time. Particular attention should be paid to collaboratives that seek to decolonize oppressive social arrangements and elevate Indigenous and other marginalized voices. Further exploration into how networks act as agents of systems change would also benefit work such as Kanaeokana’s, as the network matures and increases efforts related to media and communications, advocacy, educational resources, and educational policy.


Kanaeokana’s approach is inherently collaborative and participatory, since it relies heavily on network members coming together to share talents, resources, ideas, and energies. As a result of this synergy, tangible achievements for members and communities are attained: Knowledge is created and disseminated, decolonizing learning spaces—both virtual and place-based—are built and utilized, and new connections are forged personally and professionally across Ka Pae ʻĀina Hawaiʻi and the world. Aspirationally, we look to Rua et al. (2020) as an example for Kanaeokana; in their case: “The network within which we are immersed functions as a kind of insurgent movement for knowledge production and action in which we all contribute a piece of the puzzle of how to ensure healthy lives for Māori” (p. 22). As a network rooted in Native Hawaiian values and practices, Kanaeokana aspires to continue fostering cultural knowledge with a community focus and a global reach.


As we reflect on five years of Kanaeokana, we humbly recognize the many successes the network has observed since 2016:

  • New relationships have been built, and long-standing pilina have been strengthened among network members.
  • The network continues to survive and thrive during the pandemic.
  • Network leadership has been stable.
  • The network has grown from 28 to more than 80 kula and ʻāina-based organizations.
  • Six new webinar series, with 153 episodes, have broadcasted to a global audience.     
  • The Waihona digital repository was created and now hosts 839 digital resources for 1,308 users representing 141 organizations.
  • The network has been a significant contributor to such initiatives as the ʻĀina Aloha Economic Futures, Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, and Hawaiian History Month.
  • We have over 545,000 followers on social media.

We attribute these achievements to the hardworking Kanaeokana members and backbone support, who, like Kana, have stretched their capacities, hearts, and imaginations to envision a Hawaiian education system nurturing generations of aloha ʻāina leaders. As we continue to add new hīpuʻu to our nae, we seek to maintain the existing hīpuʻu to forge strong relationships between each other and, most importantly, with the ʻāina, whom we sustain and who sustains us. 



We acknowledge the many hands that contributed to this work and the voices of network members we are privileged to represent. Notably, mahalo nui to Ekela Kaniaupio-Crozier and Hōkūlani Holt, our 2020 International Conference of Community Psychology co-presenters whose manaʻo are interwoven with ours in this article. We also extend our heartfelt gratitude to Matthew Corry for his gracious and skillful editing and to Kēhau Abad for artfully ensuring clarity and impact. 



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Hua ʻŌlelo (Glossary)

ʻAha Kūkā                     plenary meeting/session


ʻahuʻula                        feather cloak


ahupuaʻa                      land division extending from the uplands to the sea


ʻāina                             land; that which feeds


alakaʻi                           leader


ala nuʻukia                    mission


aloha ʻāina                    love for the land; patriotism, patriot


ʻano                              character, disposition, nature


haʻawina                       lessons


Hālau ʻŌiwi                   native schools and name of kōmike that is committed to
                                    engaging ʻohana and community members through programs
                                    that are beyond the traditional school hours


Hālauololo                    name of Kana’s canoe house that housed his waʻa; name of
                                    kōmike focused on securing funding to forward the
                                    collective efforts of the network


hana                             action, work


hau                               Hibiscus tiliaceus


haumana                      student


he alo a he alo             face to face


hīpuʻu                           knot


Hoʻolōkahi                    to bring about unity


hoʻokuluma                  to normalize


hui                               group


ʻike Hawaiʻi                   Hawaiian knowledge


ʻike kupuna                   ancestral wisdom


kaʻa ʻike                        communication


kahua                           foundation


Kana                             a powerful kupua, or supernatural being


Kanaeokana                  The net of Kana 


Ka Pae ʻĀina Hawaiʻi      the Hawaiian Archipelago


kiaʻi                              protectors, guardians


kōmike                         committee


kōmike hoʻokele            steering committee


kōmike hoʻokō               working group


kūkulu                           to build


kula                               school


kūlana                           position


kuleana                         responsibility, duty


kumu                            teacher


kupu                             sprout


kupua                           supernatural being


kūpuna                         elders; ancestors


lāʻau                             plants


lāhui                             people, race; nation


lau                                leaf


lehua                            flower


leo                                voice


liko                               bud


lololo                            intelligent, deep-thinking


ma kai                          toward or from the sea


mānaleo                        Native speakers


manaʻo                          idea, thought


ma uka                         toward or from the uplands


mauna                          mountain


mele                            song, anthem, poetry


momona                       rich, fertile


moʻolelo                       story, history


moʻolelo moʻokūauhau  genealogy story


moʻomeheu                   culture, cultural


nae                               net, netting


nuʻukia                          vision


ʻohana                           family; extended family


ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi                 Hawaiian language


oli                                 chant


olonā                             Touchardia latifolia


ʻōpio                              youth


pahu hopu                     strategic goals


pilina                            relationship, connection


poʻokumu                      principal


ulu lāʻau                       Hawaiian forest


ʻuo                               feather bundle


wahi pana                    storied place


waihona                       repository


waiwai                         value, wealth, importance


[1] S.M.A.R.T. goals refer to the following: S – Specific, sensible, significant; M – Measurable, meaningful, motivating; A – Achievable, agreed to, attainable; R – Results-based, relevant, resourced, realistic; T – Time bound, timely.


Figure 1: Logo of the Kanaeokana network
Figure 2: Mural about the story of kula Hawai?i (Hawaiian schools), June 2016
Figure 3: Nae—a traditional Hawaiian fishing net, credit: Hana Yoshihata
Figure 4: Nae, with Kanaeokana member organizations representing h?pu?u, or knots, that strengthen the netting, credit: Hana Yoshihata and Ryan “Gonzo” Gonzalez
Figure 5: Community based navigational schools comprise a dream shared by a community navigator on Kaua?i during our ideation space at ?Aha K?k?
Figure 6: Virtual workshops and webinars produced by Kanaeokana and Hawai?inui?kea School of Hawaiian knowledge included practitioners, teachers and students of all ages and from different schools throughout Hawai?i
Figure 7: ?Aha K?k? was adapted as a live virtual experience to engage Kanaeokana members, April 2021
Figure 8: Virtual attendees used emoji paddles during the interactive ?Aha K?k?, April 2021
Figure 9: Aloha ??ina Leader Award recipients, Class of 2021
Figure 10: Virtual K??oko?a K?kanono hosted by Kauluakalana, in partnership with many other Kanaeokana partner organizations throughout Ka Pae ??ina Hawai?i, November 2020
Figure 11: Hawai?i Rising attendees participating in protocol at the Hawai?i State Capitol on January 15, 2020
Figure 12: Gathering mana?o for Palapala ??naehana Ho?ona?auao during ?Aha K?k?, February 2020
Table 1: Example of the stages of growth for developing aloha ??ina leaders
Figure 13: Haum?na from Pa?aulio Elementary and Intermediate School with huiMAU and K?mike H?lau ??iwi, September 2018
Figure 14: ‘Ai Kole episode hosted by Ekela Kaniaupio-Crozier, featuring m?naleo Ipo Wong and Kahea Faria
Figure 15: Project Process Flow Chart


Liezl Alcantara Houglum and Malia Nobrega-Olivera Liezl Alcantara Houglum and Malia Nobrega-Olivera

Liezl Alcantara Houglum is a community psychologist serving as principal research associate for Kealaiwikuamoʻo within the Hiʻialo group at Kamehameha Schools. Her work supports Native Hawaiian learners and learning environments as well as educators, advocates, and practitioners within Native Hawaiian communities.


Malia Nobrega-Olivera is from Hanapēpē Valley, Kona, Kauaʻi. She is currently the Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge director of strategic partnerships and community engagement and also serves as a member of the Kanaeokana Kōmike Hoʻokele. Malia is a Native Hawaiian educator, kumu hula, event strategist, certified health coach, and advocate of Indigenous rights at all levels—locally, regionally, and internationally. Her experiences demonstrate her commitment to her people, language, and culture and to Indigenous peoples worldwide.

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Keywords: network, network health, education, Native Hawaiian, Indigenous, collaboration, Hawaiian education