The Hawaii Tourism Authority has appointed a new director of cultural affairs about six months after the abrupt ouster of the previous director drew criticism from the Native Hawaiian community.
Kalani Kaanaana assumed the post Monday. Before joining HTA, Kaanaana served as coordinator of clinical health and community programs in the Native Hawaiian Health Program at The Queen’s Health Systems.
“I was drawn to this position because of its significance to the Hawaiian community and to all the people of Hawaii. I see the responsibilities as a great opportunity to promote increased dialogue and collaboration, and to elevate our native culture authentically in our largest industry,” Kaanaana said in a press release.
George D. Szigeti, HTA’s president and CEO, said, “Kalani is deeply committed to the Hawaiian culture on a personal, community and educational level. He brings to HTA a vision and energy that will help guide us in supporting programs and issues that are key to perpetuating our islands’ native culture.”
Kaanaana replaces Keli’i Wilson, a Native Hawaiian whose parents were pioneers in the Hawaiian language immersion program.
Former HTA Board Chairman Aaron J. Sala and Native Hawaiian advocate Vicky Holt Takamine criticized the board in January over Wilson’s abrupt dismissal. Takamine told the board in January that Wilson built HTA’s Hawaiian program from a $50,000 afterthought to a $10 million endeavor, strengthening the relationship between the authority and the Hawaiian community.
The board, which declined to discuss Wilson’s departure because it was a personnel matter, hired Bishop & Co. to oversee her replacement.
Kaanaana from graduated Kailua High School and from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, earning bachelor of arts degrees in both Hawaiian language and Hawaiian studies, according to the HTA. He is fluent in Hawaiian and served as a student marshal for the Hawaiinuiakea College of Hawaiian Knowledge. Kaanaana also served as a legislative aide to State Rep. Ken Ito and State Rep. Pono Chong.