Ending Discrimination Against Hawaiian Nationals – 28.06.2020

SR No. 159

“[U.S.] Federal laws prohibit discrimination based on a person’s national origin, race, color, religion, disability, sex, and familial status. …[Thus, it is] illegal to discriminate because of a person’s birthplace, ancestry, culture or language. This means people cannot be denied equal opportunity because they or their family are from another country, because they have a name or accent associated with a national origin group, because they participate in certain customs associated with a national origin group, or because they are married to or associated with people of a certain national origin.” — The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division

In violation of their own Federal laws, the State of Hawaii has been constantly harassing, persecuting, arresting, prosecuting and jailing Hawaiian nationals, treating us as if we are criminals or illegal aliens and preventing us from leading normal, ordinary lives. The State denies Hawaiian nationals services that are otherwise available to anyone else living in the Hawaiian Islands — unless we say we are “U.S. citizens” and that we reside in the “State of Hawaii.” Thus, the State has been forcing us Hawaiian nationals, through coercion, to assume U.S. citizenship in order to be able to live and function normally in our own country. Forced citizenship is a huge violation of international law.

Senate Resolution 159 on Hawaiian Nationality is being heard at the State Legislature. It is a rude awakening for lawmakers. It had never occurred to them that this shocking form of discrimination is going on, imbedded throughout the State government system. Senate Resolution 159 not only brings the violation to their attention, it forces them to create a remedy. SR 159 is predicated on the presumption that we Hawaiian nationals already exist and as such, have the right to live freely in our own country. The fact of Hawaiian nationality is yielded. All the State has to do is figure out how to make way for us.

The resolution calls upon the State to form a commission to recommend what the State should implement to treat Hawaiian nationals (and Hawaiian nationality) with proper respect and fairness under their own law. The good thing is, whether Senate Resolution 159 passes or not, the cat’s already out of the bag… This means the State’s discriminatory acts against Hawaiian nationals have to stop immediately, even before they figure out how they are going to adjust to us.

Mahalo for the interest in SR 159. In a nutshell: First of all: the State of Hawaii can (and should) stop treating us Hawaiian nationals as if we are criminals or illegal aliens. The State can (and should) stop forcing Hawaiians to be U.S. citizens in order to live and function freely in our own country. This resolution is predicated on the premise that we Hawaiian nationals already exist and have the right to live freely in our own country. The action the resolution calls for is: for the State to form a commission to point out what the State has to do to treat Hawaiian nationals (and Hawaiian nationality) with proper respect.

Hawaiian Nationality Forum

Hawaiian Nationality Forum
Liberary of Congress
Public Law 103-150


Celebrating the Hawaiian Kingdom
If you are (or if you know of someone who is) interested in helping facilitate any aspect of “Celebrating the Hawaiian Kingdom,” please contact: info@HawaiianKingdom.net

The campaign to Free Hawaii continues to gain momentum … we expect significant movement soon in gaining support from the global community. Your kōkua, large or small, is vital to this effort…To contribute, go to: https://GoFundMe.com/FreeHawaii

To contribute in other ways (airline miles, travel vouchers, clerical help, etc…) email us at info@HawaiianKingdom.net
Check out the great FREE HAWAII products you can purchase at…
All proceeds go to help the cause.

Mahalo Nui Loa!
Malama Pono,
Leon Siu
Hawaiian National

Hail the Hokule’a, Twin Hulls of Heaven

Sam Law

By Sam Low  (Thursday, February 4, 2016 )

Four years ago today, Hokule’a, a faithful replica of an ancient sailing vessel used by the Polynesians to explore and settle the entire Pacific a thousand years before Europeans even knew that vast ocean existed, was sailing toward Martha’s Vineyard for a three-day visit. As I was involved with planning that visit, I will be celebrating this fourth year anniversary on this page with a variety of posts.



To a modern sailor’s eye, she appears strange. Her twin hulls are joined by laminated wooden crossbeams and fastened to them by six miles of rope lashings woven into complex patterns reminiscent of the art of M.C. Escher. A deck is lashed over the crossbeams. The hulls rise up sharply at bow and stern and terminate in a graceful arc, called a manu, where wooden figures with high foreheads and protruding eyes, the aumakua or guardian spirits, stare out over an empty sea. Viewed from above, the canoe’s strangeness is dispelled. She looks like a catamaran.

Hokule’a is a replica of the vessels used by Polynesians to settle one-third of our planet a thousand years before Europeans knew the Pacific Ocean existed. Launched in 1975, she has sailed 150,000 miles, following the routes taken by intrepid Polynesian explorers, navigated always as they would have done — without instruments or charts — by relying instead on signs in the stars, waves and flight of birds. In July, Hokule’a will visit Martha’s Vineyard on a voyage around the world to malama honua, care for Planet Earth.

Hokule’a’s shape is ancient but her construction is not. A thousand years ago, her sails would have been woven from Pandanus fronds, but no one knows how to do that today, so they are made of Dacron. Her hulls are fiberglassed marine plywood because the art of carving such canoes from live wood has vanished along with the ancient canoe makers, the kahuna kalai wa’a. She is a performance replica, designed to perform like an ancient vessel by using plans made by European explorers of the canoes they encountered in the 18th century.

“We wanted to test the theory that such canoes could have carried Polynesian navigators on long voyages of exploration throughout the Polynesian triangle,” said navigator Nainoa Thompson, “We wanted to see how she sailed into the wind, off the wind, how much cargo she could carry, how she stood up to storms. Could we navigate her without instruments? Could we endure the rigors of long voyages ourselves? Frankly, that was enough of a challenge. It didn’t matter if the canoe was made of modern materials as long as she performed like an ancient vessel.”

Hokule’a is 62 feet long, displaces about eight tons and carries a cargo, including her crew, of six tons. Sailing with a strong wind behind her, she rockets along at 15 knots. Sailing into the wind, on a voyage between Hawaii and Tahiti, she averages about five knots and a 2,400-mile journey usually takes about 25 days.

We sleep in the hulls, in small compartments about four feet wide and six long, covered by a tent stretched over the handrails. We cook on deck using a two-burner propane stove encased in a waterproof box. To go to the bathroom you walk aft, crawl under the handrails, stand on a narrow catwalk and hang on.

I first sailed aboard Hokule’a in 2000, on a voyage from Tahiti to Hawaii. Five years earlier, I had made the same voyage on a 40-foot sloop of impeccable modern design. The voyage turned out to be a severe test of endurance and patience. The sloop heeled over in the trade winds — about 30 degrees from vertical — and thrashed her way through heavy swells. We lived in a canted, pitching world for three weeks, emerging from that experience thrilled but exhausted.

My voyage aboard Hokule’a was quite different. A sailing vessel with a single hull like the sloop heels away from the wind, but Hokule’a distributes the wind’s torque across two hulls so she does not heel, providing a stable and comfortable living platform in even the most terrific of winds. And her hulls are lean and narrow, so she does not pound into the waves. She slices through them with what can only be described as grace. The contrast in oceangoing comfort between the modern sloop and the Hokule’a is like that on land between a truck and a Cadillac.

There are other advantages as well. Our navigators steer the canoe by the rising and setting stars and find their latitude by measuring a star’s altitude with their hands, or observing pairs of stars whirling together across the meridian over the north or south celestial poles. The open deck of the canoe, uncluttered by superstructure, permits clear sightlines all around — an open-air observatory. Her twin hulls also provide an opportunity for her crew to deploy other subtle human senses to determine direction at sea. Hokule’a invites her crew to dance and she dances one way if she’s encountering swells from forward and another way in swells from abeam. Her motion differs if she’s running with the wind or sailing into it. The possible combinations are infinite, so the choreography is complex. Hokule’a demands attention from her human partners. If they falter, she reminds them. If they turn off course and into the wind she slows and shakes her sails. “Listen to me,” she says, “Can you hear it?” An alert helmsman knows to push the canoe’s steering paddle down to help her fall off. If the helmsman turns downwind she speeds up and pulls at her tiller. “Pay attention,” she says. All these are clues to maintaining a steady course, an important task for any navigator but particularly so for one finding his way without instruments. Determining longitude depends on dead reckoning, and dead reckoning, in turn, depends on keeping track of your course.

Catamarans are considered a recent innovation inspired by racing sailors seeking speed. But in Polynesia, such craft were invented thousands of years ago. Limited by stone and shell tools and the lack of iron fastenings, Polynesians could not fashion large European style plank-on-frame ships. Small outrigger canoes would not be seaworthy for long voyages, nor could they carry the cargo and people necessary to settle new islands. Large outrigger canoes would be unwieldy. So someone, thousands of years ago, thought of bridging two canoes with a solid deck. An advanced sailing craft was born out of necessity confronting the limits of a primitive technology.

Part three of a series. To learn more about Hokule’a and her voyage around the world, visit hokulea.com. To learn more about her visit to Martha’s Vineyard you may contact Sam Low at samfilm2@gmail.com.


Cost of living in Hawaii


Cost of living in Hawaii is a major concern. Let’s take a look at how housing investments affect this concern.

There is embedded within the psyche of our community a theory generally expressed by the term, “Free Country.” Around that concept we have seen wound the principle of contract, of capitalism, of economic principles of investments and return on investments. We have been led to a belief that these principles, if we just leave them alone and let them work themselves out, there will be an “invisible hand” which will swoop down on the society and make everything right.

Yet, we are constantly reminded of the misery which our population continually experiences, which has gone on for at least 40 years that I am aware of. This misery is the sickness of homelessness, where we see a growing population of individuals and now families, forced to live without proper shelter, and in that life-style they are tossed into, often being tagged with criminal violations and treated in the society with deep prejudices because of those houseless conditions. Those homeless cases are the extremes. There are many more individuals and families hiding in places away from public notice and police detection. And there are those in our population who are simply unable to afford the cost of owning their own home, or renting a home.

The ills of a homeless condition reach far beyond the matter of shelter for an individual or a family. From such a condition flows the impact on a deteriorating health, loss of employment, a personal sense of loss of self-worth, a break-up of the family unit, fear, alcoholism and drug abuse, shame. Homeless communities are forming and being chased out of public areas of hiding, to seek other hiding places. Some have even gone under freeways, under bridges, up into mountains, along crevices at the seashore, in abandoned vehicles, etc.

We have a tyranny of the market that has gone berserk. Hawaii’s housing sales have become a world-wide competition such that foreigners and aliens are free to transport their monies across our Hawai`i borders with little resistance. That world capital investment game can see a large flow of money entering our shores and purchasing as many housing units including condominiums, tying up the market and sitting on these units till the next buyer decides to invest and a trade-off occurs. The State government says nothing of it because they are happy to tax these transactions and the counties too profit by the increase in “property values” determined by the increase sale transactions, which only goes to fill up the counties’ coffers. Our banks and other financial institutions say nothing about it because they too are tied into this affair, profiting from the economic activities of lending and collecting for the increased construction and the increased services they produce.

Let us be mindful that it is not only foreigners (those living in the U.S.A. mainland) and aliens (those living outside of U.S.A. mainland, but not of Hawai`i) who are important aspects of our problem of housing shortage, but they also include residents of Hawai`i who also see Hawai`i housing as investment opportunities. Many of these investors see the increasing housing demand as favorable for their investments, giving little or no attention to the social ills which they contribute to by this investment!

The other part of this economic cycle lacking the proper social consciousness are sellers of such real property, whose general interest is found in a profit motive and will naturally sell to the highest buyer.

The government, generally expected to act as the watchdog over the social and economic wellness of the society, have not connected the economic activity adequately with the social impact such activity is having and is engaged in supporting these economic activities.

We need to call for a new public policy aimed at making homes available to our residents. One way of doing this is to limit to 1 resident an individual is entitled. There should no longer be any hording of real property for investment purposes. If a buyer is not going to use said property as his/her primary residence, there will be a penalty to pay for the purchase and for the continuing annual retention of such residence to assist in the housing shortage which exist in Hawaii.

Any person owning more than one residential unit in Hawaii will be prohibited from purchasing another unless and until that person has relinquished his current residence to a local buyer in Hawaii who will use said residence as his/her home.

There will be attempts by some individuals to disperse their real property residential ownerships to members of their family who may not actually use such other real property as their residence. There may be attempts to name children still living in the same family household as residence of another home which the investor wishes to retain.

Laws will have to be adjusted to meet those attempts to circumvent the policy, including investigations and penalties whenever a person claims to reside in a property and it is found not to be the case. Any transfer of title to real property to a person who does not truly reside on said property, or if the transfer is merely a sham covered over with a title transfer, but with a side agreement or understanding that the property will be returned or managed under the instruction of the transferring person, if found out, the “side agreement or understanding” should be considered an attempt to defraud the government and such a side agreement could be set aside or declared null and void and the transfer will be recognized as valid without any such side agreement.

There may be other attempts to circumvent the law and such attempts will have to be dealt with by the courts or the legislature after the initial policy and the guidelines and legal codes adopted to carry out the policy is made. There are other experiences in Pacific Island nations which follow somewhat similar prohibitions against certain types of investments, and although there have been attempts to circumvent the law, the legal systems have dealt with such situations.

Real estate in Hawaii is too important to be used with such a negative impact as the type of homelessness which we suffer today. We should not have to continue under the present condition which sees the incoming flight of capital to Hawai`i while at the same time, we witness the outgoing flight of our local population because they can’t even afford to have a home in Hawai`i.

Yes, the adoption and practice of this policy of limiting investing families only one residential unit will take time to become a practice. But if we are serious about controlling Hawaii’s future for Hawaii’s people, this is certainly one place where we need to begin that control.

Poka Laenui for the Hawaii National Transitional Authority Working Group


Hawaiian Perspectives


Choose Federal Recognition or Free Hawaiian Kingdom


This is a re-post on another page, (Aha Aloha Aina). I am re-posting believing it important to be shared here as well.

A woman writes, “Why would you choose federal recognition when you can have a free Hawaiian Kingdom with reparations for the illegal occupation?”

1st, she presents the question as either one or the other, i.e. one automatically eliminates the other! Federal Recognition OR Independence. I challenge that limited view of the fight for Hawaiian Sovereignty. As a Hawaiian National, I will not limit my fight for Hawaiian Sovereignty by sticking my head in the sand and pretend that there is no other reality. As I stand in the U.S. Courts and challenge the jurisdiction of the courts over myself or my clients, I also prepare to use the laws of the United States, of Hawaii, of the applicable rules of court, of the U.S. & Hawaii Constitutions, the Ordinance of the various counties, etc. in defense of my clients. I will also use international laws and principles to assert such defense. The fact that I declare myself a Hawaiian national in no way foreclose my right and responsibility to my clients, to raise all appropriate defenses, wherever found.

Of course, those who do not want the Hawaiians to have sovereignty are glad to see this all or nothing approach. It means there will be no trouble with Hawaiian nationals who will not fight but just complain about lack of U.S. jurisdiction as they are marched (defiantly) off to jail!

There is also the other extreme side of Federal Recognition. Those are the folks who do not want Hawaiian independence, wants to stay now and forever, a part of the United States. At most, they can go along with a degree of reparation – ala the Native Alaskan Settlement Claims Act, or the Aloha bill with an attached extermination clause! They see Hawaiian rights only to the extent of Indigenous people’s rights to autonomy within a U.S. colonial regime.

As for me, I choose to use whatever tool, weapon, device, tactic, or advocacy that is appropriate to the fight for Hawaiian sovereignty. As I’ve said before, “The quest is not to walk the straight path, but to learn to walk the crooked path straight!” To the extent Federal Recognition can provide advantages which can be used to advance our education, the protection of Hawaiian trusts, loan programs, etc., I say use those advantages. To the extent Federal Recognition will give greater assurance to the protection of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, to the protection of the Hawaiian Homestead programs, to the protection of and recovery of Native Hawaiian burial and other sacred sites, to the protection and practice of our traditional religious forms, to secure the perpetuation of our environment, I believe we should champion those provisions.

Any time any program within Federal Recognition calls for the extinguishment of our right to self-determination or any other right established in international law, we should fight against it and always stand firm that any declaration of such extinguishment made by the colonial administration is legally and morally invalid. We need not wait to see that call for extinguishment when Federal Recognition comes into effect. Even today, without Federal Recognition, the State and Federal government’s agents carry on a pretense that we must accept extinguishment of our National claims in order to work within the U.S. systems. We need to be vigilant to those attempts and stop it in its tracts.

An example of this practice was employed against me by Federal Judge Sam King who insisted that I could not practice law in the Federal Court if I refuse to say I was a U.S. citizen. He found me in contempt of court. I challenged that determination and the result is that I continue to be authorized to practice law in all the Federal and State courts in Hawaii, without having to declare U.S. citizenship. There are many other examples of such tactics to erase our identity as Hawaiian nationals. Many of our public schools continue to practice the morning American pledge of allegiance as part of the school day. My daughter, when in the 1st grade at Wai`anae, told her teacher she would not join in because the American government stole the Hawaiian nation from our Queen. The next day, a boy in her class said that if Pua`Ena need not say that pledge, he was not going to say it as well. Within a month, the full class refused to join in that pledge. Our vigilance in protecting our national identity must be a constant alert, regardless of whether Federal Recognition is accorded us by the U.S. government.

Progress has been made. You may recall the State/OHA attempt to call a Native Hawaiian Convention, sometimes called the Na`i Aupuni convention in 2016. Three significant things occurred there. 1 – the State/OHA did not require one be a U.S. citizen in order to be nominated or vote for delegate in that election process. 2 – the U.S. government’s Department of the Interior changed course in its final rule, dropping the requirement that a member of a Federally Recognized Hawaiian nation must be a U.S. citizen! 3 – the members of that congregation agreed that we should continue to strive for our full rights of self-determination as understood in international law! The failures of that gathering were numerous but let us not also observe those positive aspects of that aha. (My full evaluation is scheduled to be published soon.)

Hawaiian Independence and Federal Recognition contain numerous common attributes. We need to see the potential for both pathways to unite our people as we continue to strive to bring about our sovereignty. A nation divided against itself cannot stand.

A hui hou. Poka Laenui


Eddie Aikau is one of the most famous of all Hawaiian big wave surfers and watermen. During the ten years he served as head lifeguard at Oahu’s Waimea Bay, his supervisors credited him with over a thousand rescues. In 1971, because of his daring and disarmingly humble demeanor, he was voted “Life Guard of the Year” by his peers. In 1977, he won the prestigious Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championship. A year later Kālepa Baybayan (now a pwo navigator) met Eddie for the first time at a Hōkūle’a crew training session – and was introduced to a man that he will never forget.

“In 1978, when the canoe was going to go back to Tahiti, I got to try out for the crew. That was a big experience in my life, and the whole richness of the experience was the guy I met in crew training. When I walked into the room for the first meeting I saw that they were looking for big-time lifeguards and I felt kind of intimidated. I was from the neighbor islands and I was real shy. I didn’t know anybody and I thought that my chances probably weren’t real good. I walked into the room and there was this big wave surfer that had just won a surf contest on Oahu and I kind of didn’t want to hang around in that crowd. I just wanted to leave right away, so as soon as the meeting got done I rushed up to the elevator and as I got into the elevator, that big wave surfer got in with me. It was just me and him and I remember standing in the corner and trying to blend into the walls and that guy looks me in the eyes and in this real Hawaiian way he walks over and looks at me and he says, ‘Hey brother, we’re going to be trying out for this crew together, hey, more better we start out by being friends.’ And I still remember those words, ‘more better we start out by being friends.’ And he stuck his hand out and he says, ‘Hi, my name is Eddie Aikau.’ And that’s how I met Eddie Aikau.
Eddie Aikau was probably the most different guy I ever knew. He was this big wave surfer but he was just so humble, just so pleasant to be around, so befriending, you know?
He gave me a ride back to school that night and he drove this old beat-up bug and I remember that his car was like bussup on all sides, but inside it was immaculate. And he said he had a rule that no one could smoke in his car. And then, he said, ‘hey, call me up if you ever need a ride or if you ever want to come over and hang out.” He took me over to where he lived and I met his family and I just found out how really different was this guy. He was really healthy. He told me ‘I have to be healthy because of my job as a lifeguard. It requires that I don’t do drugs or anything like that. I just can’t. If you are going to surf big waves,’ he said, ‘if you want to survive you got to be strong.’ Here was a guy that to me recognized the things he wanted to do in life – which was to surf big waves and be a lifeguard – and he also recognized that to do that and survive there were certain things that he couldn’t do, so he was really disciplined. He was in great shape. He lived next door to his parents. He had his own house. His house was the same way like his car – immaculate. You walk into his house and there are all these surfboards in the rafters of the ceiling but it was just so neat. And you know he used to go to church on Sundays. He would take his parents to church, which I found really unique. Most guys, if the surf was up, they would go surfing but Eddie had a commitment to his parents. He cared for them that way.
His middle name was Makua Hanai, which means “raised by parents” or “caring for parents” – both ways – your parents care for you and you care for your parents. Meeting Eddie just changed my whole attitude toward how you treat people. I still remember those words, ‘more better we start off by being friends.’
My esteem – my evaluation of myself – was not very high and here was a guy that really just wanted to be my friend. He was just a humble guy and he just – that was all he wanted to do, He was a famous big wave surfer but so what? What it changed was my attitude towards treating people when they step on the canoe. You know, we are going to start off by being friends. I am going to treat you like family because that is what you deserve. Anybody that steps on the canoe, or anybody that becomes involved in my life deserves that kind of respect.
I had never been recognized that way – that I had something valid, and some kind of potential to offer – anything. In the Voyaging Society I soon realized that I had a lot to offer but part of that was recognizing that when you get on the canoe you gotta treat each other like friends, like friends.”
The above is from an interview in February 1999 by Sam Low. He hopes that the insights captured in this interview will last through all time…
Eddie Aikau perished at sea in March of 1978 after Hōkūle’a capsized while on a voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti. He heroically attempted to paddle to land to alert rescuers of the peril of his crew clinging to the overturned canoe drifting in high winds and seas.
His memory is carried aboard Hōkūle’a on all of her voyages in the hearts of her crewmembers. The “Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau” event was established in 1984 in his honor.
Inspired by Eddie’s treatment of him at that crew meeting, Chad Kālepa Baybayan has come a long way. In 2007, Mau Piailug initiated him and four other Hawaiian navigators into the order of Pwo, the two-thousand-year-old society of deep-sea navigators. He has sailed on all major Hōkūleʻa voyages and has served as captain on Hōkūleʻa as well as voyaging canoes Hawai‘iloa and Hōkūalaka‘i. Kālepa currently is the Navigator in Residence at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i developing wayfinding activities, curriculum materials, and conducting outreach.

Sam Low repostet this in The Navigators – Pathfinders of the Pacific 11.06.2020

Economic fairness in tourism in Hawaii


Earlier, I addressed one aspect of economic fairness in tourism in Hawaii, and elsewhere. There are many other concerns but this is just a sample of the type of equity or pono we need to infuse with all of our activities.
The next area which I did not address is the humanity aspect of tourism, what’s good and what’s bad. Tourism or visiting is not good or bad in and of itself. People’s curiosity, wonderment, and discovery are wonderful things for the human spirit. Exchange of understandings, appreciation and friendliness are traits we should all support. But when that exchange of humanity is turned into an economic commodity within a run-away capitalist system, we degrade the beauty in this exchange and degrade the people who are used as pawns and “economic factors”. We somehow lose the essence of human interaction with a pretend sense of “Aloha” which cheapens the tourist experience and ourselves who engage in it merely for economic profit. We can compare it to fresh flower leis picked and sewn by human hands and plastic leis manufactured in chemical laboratories and mass produced on conveyor belts.
We need to reassess tourism as an exchange, first and foremost, of humanity and for Hawaii, Aloha. In all interactions among guests and hosts, we must cherish those interactions as valued cultural expressions of ourselves. Guests should come to our shores with some understanding of who they are, where they come from and what values they have. They need to explore what’s in their own baggage and what they can share with people they will interact with. Money is not the only commodity of trade on their end. They could also commit to learning of the history and cultures of Hawaii and return to their homelands as ambassadors of pono.
On our part, we must see tourism as people wanting to fulfill a part of their human spirit to explore, to understand, to experience, to learn of the vast treasures in this prism called Hawaii, which somehow is a window into many other parts of the world. We should be proud of our Hawaii, yet be frank about the challenges we face, in our environment, in our economic system, in our colonization by the U.S., and in our hopes and dreams of a future for Hawaii and the world.
In this fair treatment of Tourism from a humanities perspective, we can convert this important economic activity into a boon for Hawaiian political rights, for cultural rights of our multiple cultures, for religious tolerance and appreciation, for environmental protection, and many more things of great value to our society.
Aloha `aina, Poka Laenui

An Interview with Estria, Urban Art Living Legend and Co-Founder of The Estria Foundation

Estria is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Estria Foundation, which raises social consciousness on human and environmental issues through public art and educational programs. He pioneered a number of programs, including Mele Murals, which focuses on Hawaiian lyrics (mele) that explore stories of place (mo’olelo ‘aina); Water Writes, which highlights critical water issues in 10 cities around the globe; and the Estria Battle, which served as the premier U.S. urban art competition and honored Hawaiian culture and community. Before co-founding The Estria Foundation, he received commissions from President Bill Clinton, MTV, Redbull, and others, co-founded Visual Element, a series of free-for-youth workshops which targets at-risk children, and presented the first ever TEDx talk on muralism. Estria used his 1994 arrest to speak out about graffiti’s sociopolitical impact on CNN, the National Inquirer, the San Francisco Chronicle, and other platforms. He is the recipient of a number of awards, including Miami New Times’ Best Mural, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s Certificate of Congressional Recognition, and East Bay Express’ Best Graffiti Artist.

As I understand, you’re originally from Hawaii. How did you become interested in graffiti?

When I was a teenager, my mom sent me to the YMCA to volunteer after school and in the summers. My friends were break dancers, and they’d look for stuff with breakdancing. They’d see graffiti on jackets, in the backgrounds, or on trains, and they were like, “what is this?” One day, we got an airbrush kit, and we hopped the fence and went into the canal to paint it after school. It was bright daylight and people were walking by watching. No one was really freaking out over what we were doing. I don’t even think we really realized that it was… illegal. We tried to do the word ‘fresh,’ and because it was a little airbrush kit, we did ‘fr’ and then ran out of air. But, it got us juiced, so we went and got spray paint and started trying that. I fell in love with spray painting and just kept going with it.

Did spray painting speak to your friends too? Or did they just go back to breakdancing?

We spray-painted for a year– or maybe two years. I think I was 16 years old when we started, so I’m pretty sure by 18 they had already quit. But, when I went to college in San Francisco at 18, I think it was probably by the second week that I had gone painting at the project rooftops already. Back then, people had 110 film cameras and little flash cubes on top of them. For every photo, you would think, “it’s going to cost me this much to take this picture.” It wasn’t like digital cameras or cellphones nowadays, where you don’t even think about that– you just click away. So, these guys who I’d just met took me painting. But, at the end of it, no one took pictures of my piece. I was like, “Oh, I suck!” [laughing] I didn’t know I sucked until that moment! It was one of those turning points where I went, you know what? I want to get good at this. I want to be as good or better than these guys. I started painting all the time.

It sounds like you really channeled your frustration into positive energy and motivation, two qualities that undeniably show through your work. Do you think that particular experience shaped your belief in the mission of empowerment?

Oh, yeah! Writing is like a contact sport: you can run into cops, gangs, trains, trucks. You might even have to walk for three miles, in the dark, to get to a wall. It’s kind of crazy to think that we were doing those things. But, you know, it makes you feel alive. You’re in a train…you’re out at night trying to paint cold steel… and there are sound that you just can’t explain. You know they’re from the trains, but they just sound like eerie monster things, I guess as the metal is contracting and expanding with the temperature drop. And so, you’re just kind of freaked out. But, I also think you feel alive– your heart is pumping and your senses are hyper-aware. It’s almost this rite of passage for young people to do this dangerous thing, to know what it’s like to really be alive and out there. And it’s dangerous… so yeah, there was definitely that thrill.

And to be honest, I sucked at doing the lettering, which is the whole main part of style writing. But, I could draw characters and stuff. All of the guys that were really good at the letters were like, “Okay, I’m gonna do my name– you do the background….” Right? They wanted me to do the stuff around their pieces. [laughing] But because of that, I later ended up getting the commissions, because people would say, “Oh, can you paint this Middle Eastern restaurant scene?” or whatever scene their business needed–grapes, pizza, or whatever. The style writer guys could only do letters, so they didn’t get the jobs.

That’s just on a more superficial level. Maybe, looking at past lives, it was almost meant for me to be in a creative expression pathway. You know, having that experience, or working in the YMCA and giving to kids, or taking care of other people at an early age… it just infused that whole idea that you give back, that you take care of others, that you teach others. I always think I was trying to say more than just my name, or that I’m alive, you know? I did my share of that, but I reached a point where that wasn’t gratifying anymore. When you’re going out bombing, and you can bomb a billboard over the freeway or a tunnel of the freeway– you’re just like, “Wow, I’m alive. I can do whatever I want. I have power.” Then, you have to learn to be responsible with your power… like Spider-Man. So, I think that just pushed me towards using art for some kind of purpose– to say something.

What did your mom think of you graffitiing?

Back in the day, we had a Betamax, like a VHS recorder. I remember the first time the news covered graffiti, they were interviewing this guy from a different part of my island. To this day, he’s still world famous– he’s made a good career for himself. But, as I’m taping the interview on the Betamax, my mom is sitting next to me watching the interview, and she’s like, “I hope they catch these hoodlums!” [laughing] I’m not sure she even knew that I was doing graffiti yet. Then, years went by and she could see that, in college, I was trying to make a career of it already. So, she started to want to understand it: she took drawing and photography classes at the local museum just to have a deeper understanding of why I do these things. Now, she’s on my board, and to me, she’s my biggest fan.

On the Estria Foundation website, it seems like there’s a lot of emphasis on incorporating Indigenous themes and even preserving specific language, like mele (Hawaiian lyrics) or mo’olelo ‘aina (stories of place). Do you want to speak a little bit as to some central Hawaiian themes?

Yeah! I think there’s two things I could start with. One is the concept of ‘we. When we say the word ‘we,’ we normally refer to we in this room, or our family, or our friends– those that are living right now. And ‘we,’ in a Hawaiian and Indigenous perspective, doesn’t just go laterally– it goes up and down. It means connecting with the earth, connecting with the heavens, connecting with your ancestors, and the belief that you never walk alone: that your ancestors walk with you– your ancestors on your father’s side and your ancestors on your mother’s side. With the Hawaiian and Indigenous ‘we’ comes the idea of being mindful. Are you living a righteous life? Are you making righteous decisions? Being mindful is something that Hawaiians tend to think about a lot. Whereas, in Western society, that’s not always up for concern. [laughing]

Also, in the Hawaiian perspective, things aren’t separate: there’s no separation of church and state, or education and religion. Spirituality, cultural practices, environmentalism– all of those things are connected, not separate. So, the Hawaiian perspective means coming to understand that the Earth is a living thing and that you need to communicate with it in order to take care of it. Our role is not to have this ego and to conquer Earth; our role is to take care of it. Our position is between the heavens and the Earth. In that way, you always set priorities. Is this good for the land and the water? Is this good for people? And then, is this good for business?

That’s really how I think government should set their priorities too– in that order. But, politicians are allowed to say whatever at election time and then do whatever later… without any agenda that they’re actually held accountable to in a way that a CEO or a board of directors would be held accountable. If we held politicians accountable, a whole lot would be different– so many of our decisions would be different. The reason the cultural piece, the environmental piece, and the spiritual piece are all so important to us is because, if we keep going the Western way– we’re not an entire continent, where it’ll take you a long time to destroy it. We’re a small island. You could probably destroy it in our lifetime. So, we need to redefine our notion of ‘success’ from, “How do you go off to college and make a lot of money?” to “How do you become a guardian, or a caretaker, of this place?”

In Hawaii, we have what we call a ‘brain drain,’ where supposedly our best kids go to private school, because their parents will do whatever it takes to pay the tuition, and then private schools are always college-preparatory, so the best kids all go off to college. In my class, only one or two kids didn’t go to college. That’s less than 1 percent. So, a half of my class went to the continent for education. Then, out of that half, a huge percentage of my class never came back to Hawaii. We’re developing our best and brightest kids and then exporting them to the continent permanently, as opposed to using their brain power to solve problems here. For us, redefining ‘success’ would be shifting the idea of a successful person from one who’s financially successful to one who’s grounded in their place, who’s in tune with it, and who knows how to take care of it, or is willing to find solutions to fix it in sustainable ways. That would be successful for us because those people are going to be around for the future generations.

So, on one hand, lots of Hawaiians come to the continent to study and be successful in a Western, business sense. On the other hand, there seems to be a culture of Hawaiian residents who define success differently, who are maybe more community-oriented and in tune with the land. From what you see, how does that dynamic play out more concretely?

I see the hope for Hawaii in the young people. We have a lot of Hawaiian immersion charter schools. In the ’80s, they were saying that Hawaiian, as a language, was going extinct. Then, they started forming these charter schools and teaching the Hawaiian language– Hawaiian perspective and Hawaiian values. Now, it’s not weird to hear Hawaiian out in public.

With the language comes the perspective. In English, there’s usually one word and one meaning. A sentence is defined to be very specific so as to avoid confusion about what you’re saying: this person did this thing to this place. But, in Hawaiian, words are structured around a multitude of meanings. If you’re pregnant, people will say you’re hapai. But, hapai doesn’t mean ‘pregnant’– it means ‘to carry.’ The mountain could be hapai with waterfalls, or the land could be hapai with food growing. So, when you think with hapai in that multitude of ways, you should be seeing how it connects you back to the Earth, or back to ancestors, or back to the stars– it connects you to your place at all times with several different meanings.

For us, we didn’t have a written language. When people have written language, they have secret codes, secret ways to communicate messages to the troops, or from royalty to royalty. But, without a written language, our secret code had to be hidden in poetry. There was language structured for the common folk, or for everyday use, and then there was that poetic, riddlelike way of using the language that was taught to chiefs so that when they spoke in public, only the chief would get what they were trying to say. And the public was like, “Oh, everything’s okay!” [laughing]

How do you connect with your Hawaiian heritage now? Do you just bring the message along wherever you travel?

At this point, I can’t say that I’m a writer anymore– I just say I came from there. Now, the purpose of my artwork is to tell the stories of our places. Most of these stories have never been put down on paper, so they’re being cast from generation to generation. When Westerners came and started settling here, Hawaiians died off by the tens of thousands, and those storytellers went with them. So, they tried to tell those stories. At this point, Hawaiians are about 10 percent of the population in Hawaii, and I would say that most people living here know next to nothing about Hawaiian culture.

That being said, people living here don’t realize that a lot of the daily, little things are Hawaiian. The way we behave in this situation… that’s a Hawaiian thing. [laughing] I tell people that we may be 10 percent of the population, but we should be 100 percent of the voice on the walls. Using the walls as our visual storytelling medium, instead of books or other things, is a more powerful way of communicating our culture; it works perfectly for someone like me that’s a community-based artist, where my work is in the community. I don’t paint highbrow, high-end art. I don’t paint modernism. I’ve gone to archives and all these different art shows around the country, and my takeaway is that modernist art is about nothing and for rich people. It’s got nothing to do with the culture; it doesn’t talk about change; and it’s rare that it’s got really insightful criticism. I think art gets off really easy nowadays on having no content. It’s a shame because I think we’ve got to hold artists to a higher standard. Not to say that I’m better or higher than everybody else, but my art isn’t for that audience: it’s for the commonfolk in the streets, here in Hawaii.

When I see a Hawaiian family stand there and watch us paint, or start crying just by looking at the painting… then you know they’ve never been to an art gallery. They don’t have art. They haven’t studied art or art history. None of them can name five American artists, whereas in Europe, they can name all their favorite artists. But, when a Hawaiian family stands there and takes in what we’re doing, when they start crying and understanding it, when they come up to me and explain what they see, and when I start crying with them– it’s like, “yeah, this mural is for you guys.” If I painted in the gallery, they never would have seen it; I did it in the community, and they get to see it every day. It’s a different purpose, a different intention.

So, in your view, there’s a whole world of untapped potential for art–what’s the disconnect?

Oh, yeah. Art in a gallery is like, “man– get it out!” Even in discussions on a community organizing level… people around the country, and especially museums, talk about breaking the fourth wall and getting into the community– that’s because they tried to get the community into the museum, and they only had so much luck doing that. They know their sweet spot is really people who are over 40, white, and single. Those are the ones that are going to give them the endowment. Those are the ones who are going to sign up for annual membership and come to all the events. The sweet spot, for museums, isn’t Mexican family with 10 kids down the street, or the Black family across the way. These highbrow art museums just aren’t culturally, or historically, part of their daily life. So, instead of trying to get the community to the museum, they’re trying to take the museum to the community. What some museums will do is actually coopt what non-profits are doing. They’ll see what the non-profits are doing, they’ll write a grant for the same thing, they’ll get the project, and they’ll put that non-profit out of business. Then, when that project is no longer in vogue, the museum will move onto the next flavor. It sucks! Trying to do this by the people for the people in the community is a whole different thing.

When Banksy’s painting self-destructed during an auction and a highbrow art collector decided to pay even more for it, how did that make you feel?

Well, it’s a novelty, right? It’s an exciting thing. I think Banksy is cool– it’s a great example of using street art, in public, to exploring new ways of saying something. But, for us, it’s really about going back to who we are. The bulk of education in the United States was designed in the industrial age to create factory workers. And with Common Core standards still in place, we’re actually still trying to produce factory workers. But, we don’t have factories anymore, so it’s not benefitting us to create obedient soldiers: we need out-of-the-box, visionary leaders to do creative problem-solving. Our system doesn’t encourage that; it encourages potential leaders to use their heads, to learn how to take tests, and to study standards. All of that is using your brain, and we’ve forgotten that the other way to access knowledge, to tap ancestral knowledge, is through your gut, through activities like meditation, or talking to your ancestors, or praying. Rather than going through your head, you’re going through your gut to tap into that knowledge.

I’ll give you a good example. We have this canoe called Hōkūle’a, which means “brightest star.” Basically, they built a canoe, using mostly traditional methods, to navigate by the stars; they don’t navigate Hōkūle’a by newer instruments or GPS. So, they’ve gotten all these other nations–Tahiti, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa–to build canoes too, and they’ve got this whole fleet of canoes to sail around the world. They just completed the trip about a year or two ago. They went all the way around the world to prove that Hawaiians didn’t just end up in Hawaii by chance; we were navigating to places. The message they were trying to spread, everywhere they went, was that we should take care of the ocean. But, the knowledge of how to build that canoe had been lost. There was no one alive who knew how to build that canoe, so they looked at artist drawings. Some of the things they had to figure out–how to carve a certain way, what to carve with, what kind of knots to make, all of these little details–they had to do so by going inside and tapping that ancestral knowledge. They had to meditate in the forest, where trees were chopped, to regain that knowledge. That’s not a project that Western thinking will even allow you to entertain.

It does feel like we’re kind of desensitized in the West, often thinking mechanically with our heads rather than our guts. Do you want to expand a bit more on the difference between the Western and Indigenous perspectives, especially with regards to Hawaii?

Think about how the average person can walk down the street, spit anywhere, and piss anywhere. Western thinking is like, “I want to climb the highest mountain, or I want to climb any peak, so that I can jump off of it with a snow board, or a parachute, or whatever.” Westerners just think they can go anywhere and do anything. But, Indigenous thinking is like, “These are sacred spaces. And you need to ask for your ancestors’ permission before you enter.” You can’t just go. Take Mauna Kea for example. They’re going to build this huge telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea that’s going to affect the wind patterns. It’s the start of the water cycle, so they’re going to pollute their own water on the island. And it’s because they don’t think the earth is sacred. They think that, in the name of science, we need to see farther… “Hello!” You can close your eyes and see farther than that telescope can see.

When we talk about what is ‘sacred,’ most people don’t actually know. I was trying to teach the kids the other day. I asked them, “who determines if a space is sacred?” A kid’s answer was “Oh, somebody said the space was sacred!” and another said, “Maybe somebody was buried there.” Okay. Those are good possibilities… well, what makes a person say a place is sacred? They’re like, “I don’t know, somebody just said.” The thing you’ve got to understand is that if you listen to the land, you will know what parts of the land are more sacred, because the land feels different in each space. So, I try to teach the kids to meditate in different places in order to start to feel the difference in the power, or the mana, of the land. In the olden days, when people built sacred temples, they all built them on portal sites, or on ley lines. I see it in Peru, I see it with the Aztecs, with the Incas, and with the Mayans. I think it’s because they had people who were more in tune and could feel like, “Oh, this is the spot right here!” So, it’s not a person telling you that the space is sacred; it’s the land telling you it’s sacred right here. The land has its power– you’re just trying to tap into that. Since we’re no longer connected to the land in that way, there’s no considering those things anymore. We need to start listening to the land again in order to take care of it, or we’re not going to be around for much longer.

We’ve covered a lot of topics conceptually, but I wanted to give you the chance to speak about projects like Water Writes, Mele Murals, the Estria Battle, or “Sin Armas ni Violencia.” It would be great if you could connect them with some of the central Hawaiian and Indigenous topics we’ve been discussing!

Well, the Estria Battle… Man… I did that out of pocket for five to six years. I was finally like, “Alright, I’m done!” and people just thought I was making money. I’m like, “Dude, it’s free admission! What am I making money on?” From there, I went to Water Writes. We went to all these different cities and countries, where we would partner with people in those places. And I couldn’t get it funded, because the funders couldn’t see how two weeks in a place could make a lasting impact. But Water Writes was the older sibling of Mele Murals, and Mele Murals had a deeper connection to the land and to the community, so that’s the one that’s gotten the most support, both in terms of finances and community support.

Really, people have to go to a Mele Mural, or come to an unveiling, or come to the meditation sessions with the kids, to really understand the project. To see a group of kids meditating outside and getting messages…. What do you think would happen if you got twenty to forty kids to meditate together, and I’m telling them, “Okay! Ask the land what message should be in the mural. Ask the land what it wants.” What are they going to come up with? I’ve sat with groups on the continent for three hours, trying to come up with a concept for the mural while no one has an idea, and I walk out of the meeting clueless. I’m like, “I’m not doing this project!” The groups aren’t grounded, they’re not based in anything, so they don’t know what’s important.

But then you get kids. I remember one kid said, “Oh, I see the hands of ancestors carrying the baby’s spirit to the body of one of our kings.” And then, eight people went, “Whoa, that’s what I got too!” You can’t make that up! Right? We weren’t even talking about that. How did you even get that? Your schools not spiritual, so you wouldn’t talk about spirits and ancestors in that way. But, it’s confirmation: that’s the message they want us to paint about. So, we keep going around, and I circle any ideas that come to more than one person. I circle those ideas because I know we have confirmation. Our ancestors speak in riddles. They don’t give us the message directly, so you’ve got to figure it out. That’s how we arrive at the concepts of the murals, but unless you’ve seen that process, you don’t know what magic it is, or how trippy it is.

Then, each mural is loaded with messages from the spirit realm, and so many trippy things happen that it becomes normal. The first time I did this, I was like, “Oh, please, please work! I’m going to meditate and ask for the concept, and I don’t even know where it’s coming from. Please work!” And now, I don’t even question it. I know it’ll come. The process has built faith in me, and so now we meditate on all the big decisions for our organization. The crazy thing is that I’m often talking to spirits, ancestors, or guardians. Sometimes I see stuff, and sometimes they speak through me. All kinds of amazing things open up once you accept that side of life. But, to accept that side of life, you’ve got to let go of the Western perspective.

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