The "Value of Hawaii" panel discussions at the recent Hawaii Book and Music Festival reinforced the sense that Hawaii has something the world desperately needs.
The conversations about land and water, the arts, energy, education, and the economy, tourism and transportation, social services, slow food and sustainability and the future of Hawaii in general, painted a picture of a place where people once lived in a way that cares for everyone.
It would cost millions to launch a marketing campaign to educate world leaders about a Hawaiian worldview that envisions people living what Jon Osorio described in the "Value of Hawaii" discussion as "a life directly nourished by the land." But come November, we will have leaders from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation nations right here in Hawaii talking about the things APEC leaders always talked about: the advancement of global commerce. And the conversation will go the way it always has: a revisiting of trade agreements, much rhetoric about working together and, of course, the obligatory photo op in aloha attire.
Unless we turn the same old way of doing things on its head. We could actually make sure that the native Hawaiian worldview and island values are given a central place on the agenda. Why, in this time of heightened global conflicts, would we not tell the story of the peaceful assertion of Hawaiian rights? We could make sure that our visitors understand that the sovereignty movement is about more than just the Akaka Bill. It is, in Osorio’s words, about "challenging our assumptions regarding the ways we live with one another by continually asserting a culture of sharing and interdependency with all the life around us."
Osorio’s essay invites us, for instance, to "imagine homelessness addressed by a vigorous back-to-the-land movement with training and housing and employment all located in ahupuaa that were naturally designed for growing taro and harvesting fish."
The fact that genuine efforts are being made to observe Hawaiian protocol is laudable — but it is not enough. We will have right here a captive, high-level audience of people who can make change happen. We will have their attention in a way that millions of marketing dollars could not buy. APEC brings with it media attention that millions in public relations and business missions abroad could not generate.
We could let this influential audience go away entertained by what they see of Hawaiian culture. Or we could insist that they go away at least somewhat educated and challenged by the Hawaiian view of how to build a sustainable community.
Over and over again we ask: Is Hawaii business-friendly? It suggests an expectation that Hawaii should trick itself out with tax credits and incentives to attract investment. APEC offers a platform to begin to change that perspective. We should celebrate the fact that during this past legislative session a bill promoting the triple bottom line — people, planet and profits — was passed to little fanfare. Senate Bill 298 was a small but important step in the direction of asking businesses to get beyond marketing taglines and mission statements about centering what we do in the native Hawaiian culture and island values and actually live that commitment.
While we have our APEC guests here, we can demonstrate through substantive content in the main tent events, not just through peripheral ceremonies, that Hawaii is rich with knowledge about building a sustainable community. We are in the enviable position of having something others could not buy if they tried. But if we can open the door to understanding how they might look at the world through a Hawaii lens, we might be able to make this APEC meeting one that is transformative for all.
Will we be able to do that? Or will we be talking about missed opportunities in December?