POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Dec 23, 2012
A leader of a group that became a catalyst for social change during the emerging Hawaiian Renaissance in the early 1970s has died.
Henry "Papa Kihei" Welokiheiakea‘eloa Niheu Jr. died of complications associated with diabetes on Nov. 30 in Honolulu. He was 69.
"He was an independent fighter for indigenous rights in Hawaii and the Pacific and an early supporter of ethnic studies," said Ibrahim Aoude, chairman of the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Hawaii.
Political observers said Niheu, also known as "Soli," and other leaders of Kokua Hawaii (not to be confused with Jack Johnson's Kokua Hawaii Foundation) were at the vanguard of a social movement that empowered threatened ethnic communities and backed Native Hawaiian rights.
Kokua Hawaii supported the concept of "self-determination," empowering communities to determine their destinies, an idea that buoyed the concept of Native Hawaiian sovereignty.
Former Gov. John Waihee, who met Niheu while both worked in the federally funded Model Cities Program, said Kokua Hawaii became the training grounds for scores of volunteer community organizers.
"It wasn't an academic exercise," Waihee said. "They went into the community. That was the magic of it.
"The Hawaiian movement started back then with Kokua Hawaii."
Niheu became a symbol of the new island social consciousness, criticizing the destruction of ethnic communities for new housing developments. He helped form a group protesting the eviction of Hawaiian residents and farmers in Kalama Valley.
Some 32 people, including pig farmer George Santos and more than 14 Native Hawaiians, were arrested in Kalama Valley in 1971.
"They had the political conscience to stand up and say, ‘This is wrong,'" said Davianna McGregor, a University of Hawaii professor in ethnic studies and a leader of the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana.
Niheu used his skills in business administration to help organize Hawaiian music fundraising concerts at Andrews Amphitheatre and the Waikiki Shell to help evicted residents.
Kokua Hawaii helped to support resistance to other evictions in several ethnic communities, including Ota Camp, Waiahole-Waiakane, Hikina Lane in Kalihi, and Niumalu-Nawiliwili and Nukoli‘i on Kauai.
Kokua Hawaii brought a coalition of hundreds of community residents onto the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus in 1972 to lead a sit-in protest and back the continuation of an endangered ethnic studies program.
The program, now a department, teaches students about histories of Hawaiians and of ethnic immigrant plantation laborers, the precursor of the University of Hawaii's Center for Hawaiian Studies.
Retired university professor Haunani K. Trask said Niheu was the first to defend her when administrators wanted her removed in light of her political activity on behalf of Native Hawaiians.
She said Niheu's action helped to open the way for many politically active Hawaiians on university campuses.
"They may not know it, but they owe their current positions to Soli as much as anyone else," she said.
Niheu is survived by daughters Kala‘iokamalino, Kalamaoka‘aina, Aloha‘aina Harawira and Keali‘ikauila Hinewhare-Niheu; son Kekahikoa; brothers David and Luther "Hoppy"; sister Karen Gomes; and four grandchildren.
Services are at noon on Jan. 5 on the grounds of Iolani Palace. Traditional maoli attire.
Services at his house in Waimea on Hawaii island are to be announced.