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Keaohou: culturally-responsive Indigenous education

Kūlaniākea is decolonizing and reimagining Indigenous Education in order to address socio-economic disparities among Native Hawaiians.

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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional insights gathered from Beneficiary Feedback in this field

1. We had different types of input - from phrases to full sentences, from small details to global vision. We left it as is, even though it might look fragmented, we didn't want to polish it too hard, so we don't lose the diversity of the input. 2. The tool was hard to use. It is somewhat linear, while we work within a nested model of education - child is within his/her teachers, peers, family, classroom, and community. So our map tries to capture the linearity, but accounts for our realities.

Why does the target community define this problem as urgent and/or a priority? How is the idea leveraging and empowering community assets to help create an environment for success? (1000 characters)

The urgency of our work comes from escalating disparities, current environmental challenges, and changing demographics of Native Hawaiians. Native Hawaiian children under age of 9 are the fastest growing segment of Hawaiʻi population. By 2040, the Native Hawaiian population will be predominantly under age 25 bracket. At the same time, Native elders, carriers of the language and culture, are dying younger and at the faster rate than any other ethnic group in Hawaiʻi. Our communities still have elders – Native speakers and cultural practitioners. Our coastline and historical places are not yet underwater due to the rising ocean and king tides. There is still time to leverage our cultural resources to teach children the Native worldview and scientific mindset, which supported the Great Polynesian migration and creation of multiple thriving nations across the Pacific, and can still prepare children to face future challenges (climate change, lack of resources, protection of native species).

How does the idea fit within the larger ecosystem that surrounds it? Urgent needs are usually a symptom of a larger issue that rests within multiple interrelated symptoms - share what you know about the context surrounding the problem you are aiming to solve. (500 characters)

The need for culture-based education is not a symptom. Stripping children of their cultural identity has been the root cause of many symptoms and needs (low educational attainment, higher levels of incarceration and foster care, broken families, violence, addiction, lower income, homelessness, etc.) among Native communities for centuries. Culture-based education has proven to be a protective factor, which leads to multiple/cascading positive outcomes at both individual and community levels.

How does the idea affect or change the fundamental nature of the larger ecosystem that surrounds it (as described above) in a new and/or far-reaching way? (500 characters)

As minority children are becoming the majority in the U.S., we need to recognize multilingual and multicultural approaches to support every child and every identity. The current U.S. monolingual and monoculture policies and practices result in unacceptable socio-economic disparities and massive societal burden for all of us. We need to change the norms of Indigenous and mainstream education, so we can serve all children, not only few.

What will be different within the target community as a result of implementing the idea? What is the scope and scale of that difference? How long will it take to see that difference and how will it be sustained beyond BridgeBuilder support? (500 characters)

Within the next 3 years, Kūlaniākea will graduate about 25-30 Native children, ready for any educational path. However, through its partners, we will reach over 4,000 children annually. All lesson plans, curriculum, teacher’s guide and parents’ companion of our materials will be available to general public. Kūlaniākea will change the narrative around Native education at local and national level. Our educational materials will generate income, which will be put back into the programs.

How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

Kūlaniākea has an established process for collecting user feedback on a continuous basis (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually) from parents, partner organizations, and the greater community. Time-wise, the Beneficiary Feedback Phase didn’t fit really well into the already established, organic process of feedback collection and program implementation, which accounts for community availability, academic year, and schedules of families with small children. Several modifications to the program have already been planned and announced for the next academic year, which took months of community discussion and coordination. Plus, Kūlaniākea was in the last two weeks of its summer session. Many other schools are already on break. Families are on vacation or have other commitments. Not many people could participate in discussions. Overall, our community reconfirmed that our work is critical and no immediate changes are necessary.

What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (You can attach a timeline or GANTT chart in place of a written plan, if desired.) (1000 characters)

Our work schedule doesn’t have a dependency on completion of certain tasks before moving to another. Our process is reflective of our work environment and yearly academic schedule – gradual and continuous learning for both children and adults. All activities are broken into smaller tasks in order to have a rapid implementation and evaluation cycle. 1. Curriculum and material development – the program staff prepares lesson plans and necessary materials during a school break in July. However, the staff continuously develops, adjusts, and modifies all lesson plans and materials during a school year, based on how the children progress along the curriculum. Such process supports individual and group learning. 2. Professional development –The teaching staff takes college-level courses when they are available. Kūlaniākea also organizes cultural workshops on a quarterly basis, based on the content, needed for that particular year. In-house observations and trainings happen bi-weekly.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (Feel free to share an organizational chart or visual description of your team). (500 characters)

Ms. Robins, Executive Director, has over 25 years of experience in Native Hawaiian early childhood education. She is a Native Hawaiian speaker with an extensive understanding of language learning across different ages and abilities. She is responsible for overseeing all programmatic activities. Ms. Nguyen, COO, is a Kazakh (tribe Argyn, line Toka, Middle Horde). She oversees all operations. The teaching staff has 13 years of combined experience working in the classroom with children under 5.

What aspects of the idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (500 characters)

The funds will support professional development for teachers and development of educational materials. As our teachers gain more cultural insight from Native practitioners, they will be able to develop more culturally-appropriate lesson plans and educational materials and provide a higher quality educational process to the students. These elements are important for the organizational long-term sustainability.

In preparation for our Expert Feedback Phase: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in your project? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea and needs.

Our current focus is on developing educational materials, apps, books, etc. for ourselves and our partners. We are committed to elevating local talents, artists, and community members. We welcome feedback and input. However, please be cognizant that this is a Native-led project, based on the cultural knowledge and practices. Our experience with experts has been mixed - many of them come from a different worldview and tend to perpetuate the colonial narrative, without consciously realizing it. The majority of the contemporary methods, techniques, and strategies are not ethically and culturally appropriate for us, as they are based on the deficit-based approaches (take away resources from Indigenous communities around the world; use non-Native suppliers and manufacturers; outsource to countries, where child labor is common, etc.). If you have an expert, who is Indigenous/Native and has worked within a culture-based environment, we will be very happy to connect! If you don't have such an expert, please consider expanding your circle of experts.

Final Updates (*Please do not complete until we reach the Improve Phase*): How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

We have been working on refining our work plan for our proposed activities: • Educational Materials - Since the initial submission, our team has mapped out educational materials into a cohesive plan. The organization is currently working with a Native Artist, whose artwork will be used for some of the materials. The ED also established contacts with several craftsmen in Hawaiʻi, who can manufacture puzzles and other wooden items to our specs. Several educational organizations also approached us to pilot-test our curriculum and materials and partner on future projects. • Professional Development – our teaching staff has enrolled in college-level course. The staff also discussed which cultural practitioners the team needs to work on this year and when we can have workshops/trainings with them. Overall, our parents and parners were happy to hear about all changes and advancement.

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

What came through the comments on the platform is that people identified us with the narrative change and change in the power structure (“ change the mindset”, “uplift the indigenous wisdom into mainstream consciousness”, etc.). Narrative and power change has always been integral to our work. However, we have never perceived it as our main activity. We actually do it regularly through our interactions with both Native and non-Native organizations and systems. In the last few years we have seen an increase in requests from non-Native educators and organizations in the effort to present the U.S. history in a historically accurate, honest, and transparent way. The world is starting to recognize the role of Native/Indigenous people as protectors of environment, e.g. Standing Rock, Mauna Kea, Bears Ears, environmental refugees crisis throughout the Pacific Rim. We are continuously refining our own storytelling - the value of Native peoples in the history, arts, environment, and culture; transferability and applicability of our work to non-Native education; Native leadership and excellency, and ways we all can change the narrative and systems for our children in an honest and transparent way. It has been easier to connect to people, with whom we share values - respect for family and elders; responsibility to care for the land; and an obligation to do right by the next generation. There is no lack of interest or desire to improve both mainstream and Native educational systems. However, there are many barriers to full integration and implementation, mostly, lack of time, resources, and support for teachers. Kūlaniākea has already started woking on systemic barriers - we consult on narrative change and grassroots network building (Ashoka/Robert Woods Johnson Foundation) and educational processes change/integrated curriculum development (Chaminade University, Hawaii State Department of Education). The staff had a discussion how we should articulate our consulting capacity, especially to other educators and organizations, who are ready to deliver equitable education to children of all cultures and backgrounds. We do not know all the answers, but we can help them bridge the past and present, individuals (children, parents) and communities, different cultures, languages, and geographies, traditional and modern, abstract knowledge to practical implementation.

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

For many cultural and historical reasons, mainstream education hasn’t served Indigenous children and families well. The Western-style education and forced assimilation also resulted in the loss of Native Hawaiian language, culture, and, most importantly, traditional systems, that ensured thriving Native communities. Kūlaniākea is building a holistic model, which honors every child, family, and community. Our culturally responsive, strength-based, and child-centered model of early childhood education ensures that infrastructure, workforce, pedagogical materials, and curricula meet unique needs of Native families, teachers, learners, and communities. Our bottom-up approach not only delivers culture-appropriate educational services to most vulnerable children, but also builds communities around them for a long-term success. CHILDREN: Kūlnaiākea is creating and implementing a bilingual Hawaiian-English STEM program for children from 2 to 6 years old. Our approach bridges the Hawaiian and English languages and traditional and Western STEM. PARENTS & FAMILIES: Integration of family is an underlying value of the Native Hawaiian education. Not every parent is language and STEM proficient. We provide our parents with tools and knowledge to become the best role models for their children. TEACHERS: Kūlnaiākea provides professional development opportunities to teachers in order to address the unique needs of students within the context of Native Hawaiian culture, language, and traditions, Native and Western STEM, and bilingualism.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our main beneficiaries are Native Hawaiian preschool-aged children and their families. Compared to other ethnic groups in Hawaii, they score lower on math and reading in 4th and 8th grades, are less likely to continue their education beyond high school, earn less than the state average, and are more likely to be unemployed, in poverty, or incarcerated. In what becomes a vicious cycle, parental income is a strong predictor of a child’s lifespan, health, and educational achievements. Currently, our lab preschool serves 14 children, 2 to 6-year-old, and their parents/families. 80% of the children are Native Hawaiian, and 70% are from low-income families and the rest are from financially insecure households. Our families are representative of and typical for our district – they work full-time, long hours, and more than one job; some are single-parent households, and many of them take care of their elders and children at the same time (multigenerational households).

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

One of the major issues for Native Hawaiians is the opposition between the traditional and Western education - Native Hawaiian science culture vs. modern STEM. Hawaii’s students historically study mainstream, textbook-based science, but do not learn about Native Hawaiian science practices – navigation by stars, building canoes and voyaging, Native Hawaiian agricultural and ethno-botanical practices, traditional medicine, solar and lunar calendars, and its relationship to ocean, winds, and stars. Such disconnects serve to perpetuate the under-representation of these students in the STEM pipeline. Our approach is a result of the staff’s experience, and extensive academic and applied research on early education, literacy, bilingualism, and curriculum development. A rigorous STEM + literacy culture-based dual language curriculum is an innovative way to break silos between cultures and content areas. Currently no other school in Hawai’i is providing this option to Native families.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Majority Adoption: I have expanded the pilot significantly and the program product or service has been adopted by the majority of our intended user base.
  • Full Scale Roll Out: I have already tested and scaled this idea significantly with the intended user base.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Kūlaniākea,, is a Native Hawaiian-serving and Native-managed non-profit organization, whose mission is to advance Indigenous education. Kūlaniākea serves Native Hawaiian communities through multi-generational dual language educational programs.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

In the 1980s our Executive Director, Wailani Robins, had her daughter and realized that there was no culturally-responsive and academically-rigorous education for Native Hawaiian children. She left her accounting job and started working as a Teacher Assistant in a Hawaiian language immersion school. Since then, she became a highly respected educator and community leader. She has worked on different aspects of Kūlaniākea’s approach for over 25 years.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Traditionally the Native Hawaiians operated within the context of families, geography, greater community - all of which provided for a deep grounding in the sense of identity, connections, and purpose (PEACE). People derived agricultural and aquacultural products, while ensuring environmental balance (PROSPERITY & PLANET). Colonization and systematic racism broke down many systems, decimating the culture and resulting in generational poverty, fragmentation of families, and health disparities. Destroying the traditional way of living resulted in dependency on imported foods, great environmental damages to the Islands, and extinction of Native species. Kūlaniākea is applying centuries-old, tried and proven, cultural knowledge to the modern day problems. It’s bridging the traditional and contemporary in order to strengthen our community in their culture, which carries the knowledge of PEACE, PROSPERITY, & PLANET, specific and relevant to the Hawaiian Islands and its people.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Our main community - children and parents of the school. Our families are active contributors and participants in providing quality programming for all stakeholders. Kūlaniākea also actively collaborates with cultural practitioners, non-profits (Papahana Kuaola, Kanehunamoku), and educational organizations, from preschools to schools (immersion schools and Hawaii State DOE schools), to universities (University of Hawaii, Chaminade University of Honolulu), in our geographic area in order to create reciprocal learning communities and provide our children and their families with formal and informal opportunities (taro patch, fish pond, voyaging canoe, etc.). We share resources (lesson plans, materials), take our children on whole day excursion to taro patches and ocean, organize cultural workshops, led by Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners. As a member of the community we support other Native Hawaiian organizations in our district and include them into our events.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

In 2015 families with children came together to discuss their challenges as Native parents, whose language and culture are at risk of disappearing. As a result, members of that conversation formed Kūlaniākea. Our organization has been formed and is operating bottom-up – the people, most affected by challenges, are the people implementing solutions. Because of it, our community found space for our preschool; they provide us with resources, attend our events, and fundraise.

Geographic Focus

Kaneohe, O'ahu, Hawai'i

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

up to 36 months.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)



Join the conversation:

Photo of Vladislav Yefremenko

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Photo of Christina Schwanke

Kulaniakea  I really enjoyed reading your project! Preserving cultural heritage is so important! I've really started to grapple with this in my personal life in the past 10 years. My mother was born in Tokyo and moved to the US (hawaii) when she was 5. The school district told her parents to stop speaking to her in Japanese. Over her childhood she lost a lot of her native language and became disconnected to her culture. I believe this has been a source of confusion in her life and subsequently her children's lives because so much of who we are is rooted in the Japanese culture. Instead of embracing who I am for a long time I wondered why I wasn't completely like my peers. It is exciting to see that you are working toward keeping Native Hawaiian children rooted in their culture. I believe it will build a prosperous community who uses their natural talents and gifts for good. I would love to connect on Linkedin to follow your work! You can connect with me: Congratulations on a beautiful program! I can't wait to see more of it's success!Best,

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Aloha e Christina,
thank you for your kind words! yes, the sense of self is so important in our development. There has been too much damage done for generations. and I wish your family found that something to heal and bind you all through generations.
I sent you a request to connect. Yes, let's stay in touch. Mahalo!

Photo of Christina Schwanke

Thank you for connecting. While somethings can never be truly regained (the loss of language fluency) we have dug deep into the matter and reconnected. I personally spent 6 months in Asia and learned more about my heritage, history etc. It was a great time of self discovery and it has fueled so many aspects of my life. With some work, support and love most negative things can cultivate people to do positive things IMO. Best wishes on your project! I can't wait to see more. Christina

Photo of Charles Zulanas

Hi Kulaniakea! You have a great program, and I like how you are teaching both Hawaiian and English in your classes. Have you considering incorporating the elderly Native Hawaiian volunteers to help in instruction of your classes? I know that structure was used with a school called Lumiar in Brazil with success -

In reading your proposal, I admire your optimism in scaling. If your lab preschool serves 14 children, 2 to 6-year-old, and their parents/families, and intends to graduate 25-30 Native children, do you plan to reach over 4,000 children annually through efforts with Chaminade University, Hawaii State Department of Education, Ashoka and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation? Do you have ways of measuring your impact with these organizations?

Having an educational nonprofit with online programs, what medium will you use to release all lesson plans, curriculum, teacher’s guide and parents’ companion of our materials to the general public, while also generating income from these materials?

In your proposal, you state that "culture-based education has proven to be a protective factor, which leads to multiple/cascading positive outcomes at both individual and community levels." Do you have metrics for culture-based education working in other areas to solve the widespread problems among low income families that you are talking about?

I see this program as a worthwhile effort! It is great how you are adapting to each child to help them succeed in a way that they haven't before using cultural education. Being a bottom-up organization, you have some significant support and partnerships already. I wish for your success!

Photo of Kulaniakea

Aloha e Charles Zulanas,
Mahalo for your many questions! Let me see if I can answer all of them.
1. yes, elders are an integral part of our program; they always are in Native programs; otherwise, we wouldn't have a culture-based program. That's just given. Also, every time you see "cultural practitioner" mentioned, that's usually an elder or a person, who is considered as an elder by the community.
2. 4,000 is the number of confirmed children annually we serve through all of our partners. This number will increase as more partners are signing up with us to use our curriculum/lesson plans and materials. Yes, we have a way to measure all our impacts with our partners. There are a few things we track (Hawaiian langauge and culture scale and qualitative feedback on implementation, partner capacity building, and ability to meet their evaluation goals). However, the rest is dependent on each individual project. For example, with Asoka/RWJF - change of the narrative is measured through earned media and specific targets/goals/eval metrics, which are agreed on for that particular project. Kamehameha Schools and U.S. Department of Educaiton have their own metrics, some of which we add to our projects in order to meet their funding requirements on short- and long-term educational outcomes.
3. There are parts of our products, which we promised to release free through our website (grant funded). However, there are also materials, which we are developing, based on requests from educators and partner orgs. Those are fee-for-services. In some situations, the shared materials lead to development of more specific, in-depth learning tools.
4. We do have our own metrics, most of them relate to practice and applicaiton of both languages and body of knowledge, basically how well people apply the knowledge to every day lives. Our metrics cover socio-emotional development, relathionships, integration with community, dual literacy, and academic success. We also collect qualitative feedback from our family members on the impact of our program on their work/family situation, educaitonal gains, increase in work hours, etc. There are decades of research of Native/Indigenous education by Native researchers. Short of going into the underlying philosophies and debates on educaitonal evaluation in culture-based programs, the answer is yes, we do have metrics, which we have been working with over the last decade, as our program originated before we started this organization. As any research field, it's emerging. So we are incorporating recent development from other Native/Indigenous/Aboriginal and Western models.
Hope I answered your questions, mahalo!

Photo of Charles Zulanas

Thank you for your feedback! You've clarified all of my concerns! Best of luck on your proposal!

Photo of Enrique  Olivarez

Great work and exciting project. I appreciate your recognition of the deep wisdom and value of indigenous practices and worldviews. I'm curious if there will be an element of creating community dialogues to uplift the indigenous wisdom into mainstream consciousness. Wishing you all the best!

Photo of Kulaniakea

Aloha e Enrique,

Everything we do is to normalize the Indigenous Education at every level - individual, community, and collective. Right now, 16% of our enrolled students are not Native Hawaiian. Their families recognize the value of the Native education and come to us. We provide language classes and culture camps. We partner and work with many non-Indigenous based organizations, including the Hawaii State Department of Education, University of Hawaii, Chaminade University. We respond to requests from the continental U.S. from different schools about culturally-appropriate lesson plans. Our COO is also on the Board of Children's Wellbeing Initiative (CWI), a nation-wide movement. The goal of the CWI is to change the narrative around children's wellbeing as it is defined by each individual community. We present locally and nationally; we host guests and delegations from all over. Our daily work already provides multiple channels for educating people on culture-based education and Native Hawaiian worldview. We see an increase in requests from other non-Native orgs in how to create an equitable educational process for their environments and populations.

Our main focus is to shift power structures from education pushed down into our communities to the community, establishing and controlling the education/solutions we wish to see (from top-down to bottom-up). The goal of uplifting the indigenous wisdom into mainstream consciousness - this is not our main focus, and there are many orgnaizations, already working on it. We partner with Native-owned and managed media agencies and orgs in Hawai'i. There are many Native American and First Nations media outlets, e.g. Indian Giver, Native America Calling, etc., who are actively working on uplifting Ingidenous narratives and worldviews - from education to housing, from employment to community development. They provide a broad coverage and bring many Native/Indigenous stories forward. For example, RECLAIMING NATIVE TRUTH PROJECT has recently published messaging guides and a narrative-change strategy framework that will be used to begin to change the false and misleading narratives about Native peoples, When we need to reach out, we use Native media, so we don't have to do it from scratch. We trust their expertise and ability to elevate all of stories and experiences, not just our own/one story.

To answer your question - the channels are already built into our work through our processes. We also believe that we are only as strong as our eco-system, therefore, we share and partner - we are just one organization in a bigger movement for social justice.

Photo of Katie Messick Maddox

Hi, this is a great proposal and terrific initiative - congrats! Many moons ago I worked at Cultural Survival an indigenous rights organisation in Cambridge, Mass and covered indigenous rights in North America, reading your proposal jarred my memory about many of the stories I covered while I was there. I wish you the best success in supporting indigenous children in Hawaii with culturally-responsive education, to serve all - as you said - not just a few. Best of luck!

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Aloha e Katie,
Mahalo for your kind words!

Photo of Anubha Sharma

I love your project, Ive often rued the loss of not just cultural education in our schools but also the apathy among the youth towards our history and culture that make us who we are. We are a lost people without a connect to our cultural roots, which is why what you are doing is so meaningful to me. I am trying to incorporate some of our cultural values into our lifeskill education content as well in our program, do have a look.

Photo of Kulaniakea

Mahalo for your kind words! I will most defenitly go and read your project.

Photo of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO)

This project sounds amazing and is definitely super important considering the direction in which US education seems to be heading. Would you ever consider expanding beyond Early Childhood Development and working with older kids?

Photo of Kulaniakea

Aloha e SHOFCO,

Yes!!! It is in our strategic plan to expand our program to children of all ages - from 0 to 18 years old. We are currently discussing two programs: 1) prenatal to 3 years old, and 2) K-elementary grades. These two are the biggest priorities for our current parents and community - there are so very few options for baby/toddler care, and our currently enrolled families wish to stay with us beyond preschool. We want to respond to the community needs fast, but, at the same time, we do not want to grow too fast and lose the quality of our program. So our Board, parents, and staff have been discussing it for about a year - the idea is there, but the implementation (details) will determine how well we will grow.

Since we don't have K-12 ourselves, we, however, share our curriculum and knowledge with the Hawai'i State Department of Education and non-profits, who work with those grades. These partners are implementing our lesson plans and elements of them with children of different ages (both formal and informal settings). We are receiving input that our current program is working well in different grades with children, who are just being exposed to Hawaiian studies, even though our content is created for children 3-6. Based on the input from our partners, we are confident our expansion will happen within the next few years. We just want to be thoughtful in our preparation and implementation.

Photo of Marnie Glazier

This is a really inspiring project, and especially in a time when within the US the national trends point more and more towards a streamlining of curriculum, I applaud your courage and your insightful approach to providing culturally responsive indigenous education.

Photo of Kulaniakea

Aloha e Marnie,
You are absolutely correct - the streamlining of the educational process is happening, however, with very little evidence for better outcomes. For us, it is a matter of life and death of the language and culture. Not just Native Hawaiian, but many Native languages and traditional cultures. Mahalo for your kind words!

Photo of Marnie Glazier

I agree about the evidence for outcomes. Too often it feels as though our data driven evidence seeking takes all but actual human beings into account. Mahalo for your great work!

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

Kulaniakea this is such a great project, we have seen the same problem in refugee camps - where education can often be completely westernized and irrelevant to the culture of the refugee. I would love to read any research you have about how to go about building a holistic model in these settings.

Photo of Kulaniakea

Aloha e Chloe! oh, that's such a great question, that might not have an easy answer.

There are several models we have looked at:
1. Nā Hopena A‘o (HĀ)/Hawaii State DOE -
2. Kamehameha schools, there is a small visual, which is a good example of a nested model -
3. Native Americans/Notah Begay III Foundation's research on a holistic health model, p.10, however, is reflective of the approach one can use for education and other fields -
4. More practical description of a Native Hawaiian educational model -

I can probably dig up more research papers. However, how research translates into reality would differ from our situation to your situation. Also, some traditional views are not always found in research papers. For example, play - our kids use outdoors for scientific exploration (sun, tides, wind, marine plants, and fishes, etc.) and gaining necessary skills to live within this environment. Many people consider swimming, surfing, diving, or playing on the beach leisure activities. However, these activities are critical to knowing the environment and gaining and maintaining skills, necessary for both people and the land to thrive. There are also traditional games, which cultivate physical, emotional, and social development. However, for an outsider, they might not make much sense, because they are based on the history, tradition, geography, and growth within one’s culture.

We do follow the latest research development in the Native and Indigenous Education. However, many aspects of our program come from continuously talking with families, residents, and educators within our community - their hopes, wishes, views, experiences, etc. We incorporate families, because our education is only as strong as the family situation. For your project, your parents and elders can tell you more about what is culturally-appropriate and what’s not; what they would love to see for their kids and what potential barriers might prevent them from getting the benefits. All the knowledge you need is already within your own community.

So there is research, community, traditional practices, and there is also us. Culture-based educational models come from civil and human rights movement. We try to examine our own contribution to the work - are we bringing our own biases, blind spots, and colonial narrative into our work? Is it business as usual and we are just perpetuating a practice, that doesn’t support us? I don’t know if you have done this within your group, but it helps to be aware of what the working group brings to the table.

I don’t think I gave you a straightforward answer. We work in a community-driven environment, where we start with the community, go to research, and then go back to the community. This what has worked for us. Please feel free to disregard anything that is not applicable. It takes time to work and develop any model. You might not have time or resources within a refugee camp to do it the way you wish.

P.S. I read your project, and I immediately connected with it - my husband spent some time in a refugee camp when he was a small child. You are doing amazing and critical work, which is also hard. If it were easy, it would have been done by now.

Photo of Kulaniakea

A friend of mine just shared this - It will probably have more info you are looking for.

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

Thanks SO MUCH @Kulaniakea these are such useful resources, especially the list- many articles i didn't know off :) it sounds like we follow a similar approach, involving the community in the design- I guess our struggle is more with the larger system- how do you change the mindset of a system that prioritizes western education as the "right" way. For us we have tried to use play to shift that mindset- because it is so universal, but still it is a challenge some times. Anyway, thanks for such a thoughtful and elaborate answer- super helpful to discuss this with others working on similar problems.

Photo of Kulaniakea

Chloe, I love your questions, which go beyond the superficial and straight to the core of the issue!!! The top-down and charity style mindset in addressing human needs is still around. From the beginning of our organization, we decided that, if we are what we do, then we have to work on it every day, like going to a gym or eating 3 meals. However, it’s not only the mindset of people, who are outside looking in, but also our own - we have to lead by an example.

We have three main strategies about shifting people’s mindset:

1. As an organization, we keep working on creating a viable alternative to the systems, built on institutionalized colonialism and racism. We also decided not to wait for anyone to come and save us. We are very lucky for the community to recognize what we are doing from the beginning and trust us with their most valuable, their children. Destruction is easier than creation. So we are not focusing on breaking the system, we are focusing on creating/building an alternative system and giving our community a choice to opt out. The more people opt out, the less likely the old system to survive! So basically, you and I - by building our alternative universes, we are dismantling the old systems.

2. We also focus very strongly on changing the dominant narrative. All our applications are a description of our work + education around Native issues, which many people do not know much about. It's been bumpy. Sometimes it feels like we are speaking a foreign language, because people have absolutely no frame of reference or similar experiences. However, it also brings terrific connections - organizations, supporters, funders, etc. (for example, you!)

There are a few resources we have looked at:
a. Framework Insitute, In the top menu, go to Research on Issues, there are resources on specific issues. You are on the intersection of several, so you would probably read through several issues they researched.

b. Reclaiming Native Truth Project,, just released several fantastic reports on changing the narrative about Native Americans. There are so many concrete and practical offerings, it’s very inspirational! You don’t have to be Native or work on the Native issues to see the value of their work, and how we all can start shifting the old, harmful narratives.

3. Professional development and education for our staff - There are many organizations, working on shifting the mindset from different angles and utilizing different tools. We need to know and be equipped with the best, if we want to effectively advocate for our communities. This is the work, not often seen by many, but very critical. Our own minds need to keep up and not be stuck in the thoughts and models, that were dominant 10 or 20 years ago. We are fortunate that our age and experiences allow us to articulate our own biases and blind spots. But there is so much more to learn.

I know it sounds like we are oh, so very enlightened, but we are slugging through it, just like anyone else. Your struggle is our struggle! We don’t have all the answers, but we can share our experience, so it might be a little bit easier for you. Again, feel free to disregard anything not applicable or transferable.

Thank you for this conversation! I so appreciate this connection and opportunity to talk about underlying assumptions, which are usually left out of regular conversations.

Photo of Maija West

What a great project! I would love to hear more about the core values and procedures you have used to support the Native-managed culture of your organization. I am working in support of Native communities in California and New Mexico and we are working hard to build strong legal and procedural foundations for projects and organizations that are Native-led.

Photo of Kulaniakea

Maija, thank you for your message. I am slightly confused by the wording, but will try to respond to the best of my understanding of your message.

We are a Hawaiian culture-based organization, our core values are cultural values, which have been around for generations and you can probably find a lot to read about it. Our procedures come from implementing the traditional values. One of the foundational document for our organization is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which can be a good primer for people, who haven’t worked or lived within a Native culture.

I do not know where you are in your work with the Native communities. I do not know about your level of knowledge of Native values, practices, and realities. Your message didn’t reveal much. However, it would be disrespectful of us to impose our stories onto theirs, without them asking us first. Tribal councils and organizations also have established legal and procedural foundations for governance and knowledge of what works for them. This body of knowledge is not something that needs to be built from scratch for Native communities. I believe Taos Pueblos have their own Tribal Council, so do many tribes in California.

We would be very happy to share and, most importantly, show you what it’s like to have a Native-managed and serving organization. However, you already have a Native community, you are working with. Reach out to Native colleges, CDFI, law firms, foundations, collectives, non-profits, and companies within close proximity to the community you are working with. You also have an access to Native healers, who have always been highly regarded. I would recommend spending time observing their work for a prolonged period of time. They are the carriers of values, and only they can tell you what exactly they need in terms of legal and procedural foundations. Even though Native cultures share values and believes, how things play out in each community is different. Also, there is no substitution for learning directly from the source (elders, healers, cultural practitioners). There is a reason why an apprenticeship under a cultural practitioner is highly valued. Let the Native communities in California and New Mexico lead your quest.

If I misread your message, I am sorry, let me know what exactly you are looking for.

Photo of Maija West

Kulaniakea, thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. I agree and appreciate your thoughts on local source learning in respective Native communities. My inquiry is more related to the legal structures and principles, in furtherance of this work. My day job is as an attorney, whose firm supports non-profit, social purpose businesses and tribal organizations. I am working on legal documents which protect sovereign principles and governing composition, while also complying with the applicable state laws. If you know of any resources connected to this inquiry, it would be much appreciated.

Photo of Céline null

love using sailing for education!

Photo of Kulaniakea

Aloha e Celine, we use the traditional Native Hawaiian navigation and voyaging knowledge and history as an integral part of our curriculum, since they contain a lot of STEM, language, protocols, and traditions.

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Mahalo Kulaniakea  ! I lived on Big Island for 7 months doing my masters fieldwork, traditional Hawaiian heritage is key to solving today's social & environmental issues.

Photo of Kulaniakea

Mahalo nui, Celine! We are glad that the narrative about the role of the Native people and traditional knowledge is changing; and more and more people are recognizing that preserving the fragile island environment like ours is impossible without its peoples.