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Hokule‘a navigators urge Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community to stay resilient amid coronavirus pandemic

  • DIANE S. W. LEE / 2019
                                A crowd greets the Hokule‘a as the Polynesian voyaging canoe arrives at the Ala Wai promenade near the Hawai‘i Convention Center.

    DIANE S. W. LEE / 2019

    A crowd greets the Hokule‘a as the Polynesian voyaging canoe arrives at the Ala Wai promenade near the Hawai‘i Convention Center.

Navigators of the Hokule‘a canoe encouraged the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community to stay strong amid the pandemic, likening it to a sea voyage, in a video released today.

The video was created in partnership with the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Collective COVID-19 Awareness and Prevention Campaign, a group of 10 ethnic organizations that utilizes cultural approaches to spread awareness of coronavirus safety throughout the NHPI community.

The collective, formed last November, is led by Kamehameha Schools, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Members of the collective include The Queen’s Health Systems, We Are Oceania and Kawaiaha‘o Church.

The video features Hokule‘a navigator Chadd Onohi Paishon and canoe captain Pomai Bertelmann, who have both sailed on multiple voyages on the Hokule‘a, including the 2013 Malama Honua worldwide voyage.

In the video, Paishon and Bertelmann urged the NHPI community to stay resilient and continue to practice healthy habits like wearing masks and sanitizing.

“Mental fatigue and a desire to return to our recent past weigh on us, and yet, we adjusted our sails and continued toward a destination of health,” Paishon said in the video. “Native Hawaiians and our Pacific Island brothers and sisters have been challenged before. We know the pathway to resiliency.”

According to Kauʻi Burgess, director of community and government relations at Kamehameha Schools, there was “nobody better than a navigator and a captain” to spread this message to members of the NHPI community.

“This message and the navigators and their experiences speak to us. It speaks to the root of who we are as people,” Burgess said. “Each of these Pacific Islander communities can all relate to this, about coming through a storm together.”

The NHPI community continues to be disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. Recent Department of Health data shows that Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Filipinos each make up the highest percentage of the state’s coronavirus cases at 20% each.

Since its launch, the collective created public service announcements featuring key community leaders and figures, provided and directed people to resources like food distributions and financial help, and more.

Mehanaokala Hind, senior vice president of community programs at the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, said she hopes that the work of the collective will inspire members of the NHPI community to rely on their culture in times of hardship.

“Hopefully what this collaboration has done also is shown that there is not just room, but there is definitely a good strategy of culture and heritage as part of the solution,” Hind said.

Burgess said that the collective’s work brought the NHPI community together in new ways.

“This effort has really brought our communities together and brought our members closer and helped us to exercise a muscle that we have as a community, and provided us an opportunity to consistently collaborate and advocate in ways that are unprecedented, in order to better care for Hawaii’s NHPI communities,” said Burgess.

The video featuring Paishon and Bertelmann will be shared through email blasts and will be posted on the member organizations’ social media channels and websites.

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