The isolated two-mile square peninsula jutting off Molokai’s north shore was the focus of attention at a forum sponsored by the White House and the Department of Interior May 9 in Washington, D.C.
The forum on Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage at the Yates Auditorium inside the Department of the Interior was attended by over 500 people. The forum’s purpose was to discuss how the legacy of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders should be recognized, preserved and interpreted for future generations.
After opening remarks from the new Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell, and Assistant Secretary, Rhea Suh, the discussion turned toward identifying priorities of the AAPI community in the work of the National Park Service at the Department of Interior.
The National Director for the Park Service, John Jarvis, addressed the crowd, raising awareness about Kalaupapa and other historical landmarks of importance.
“I really took away from the Director’s remarks, a sense of commitment, a deep understanding about the incredible texture that is the AAPI experience, whether from an immigrant perspective, or from a Native viewpoint,” said Robin Danner, president of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and an invited speaker at the forum. “He was very knowledgeable of Kalaupapa, a colony established in 1866 for patients of Hansen’s disease, and didn’t shy away from the pain and joy that Kalaupapa represents for the Native Hawaiian people.”
Danner spoke at the forum, thanking the administration for the dedication of Assistant Secretary Suh who traveled to Hawaii in December 2012 to see and meet firsthand with Native Hawaiian community leaders. “It was the first time since 1999, and making those kinds of efforts creates positive energy around things that can get done by an administration in partnership with community,” Danner remarked.
When asked how the National Park Service can make sure that AAPI communities are not missing from history, Danner responded, “culture is certainly our expressions through art and hula, but culture is also a people’s knowledge and good ideas about spirituality, about the environment, about us, and about politics and the interaction of mankind. The NPS has done an amazing job over the last two or three decades, and I would challenge us to bump it up a notch — to not just identify physical places important to our respective communities, but to reach for partnerships with our communities to care for those places and to tell our own stories.”
Kalaupapa is managed by the National Park Service and in 2009 President Obama signed into the law the Kalaupapa Memorial Act to establish a memorial dedicated to the 8,000 that were sent and eventually died at Kalaupapa. The Act also named a Native Hawaiian NGO for the Secretary of the Interior to work with to complete the memorial.
“It would be such a meaningful accomplishment to enter into a standard cooperative agreement on the memorial at Kalaupapa with the NGO created by the patients and their families,” Danner said. “And as a Native Hawaiian, I can honestly say, I would much rather see the Obama Administration hire a Native Hawaiian in shorts and boots, managing Kalaupapa than appoint a Native Hawaiian to any high level secretary position in the Administration. We would be thrilled to see the very first ever superintendent at Kalaupapa be from our community — having someone from our homeland, sharing the history and stories of Kalaupapa with all who visit this very special place.”
CNHA Senior Vice President Michelle Kauhane and Danner met briefly with Department of Interior Secretary Jewell in her office and presented her with a gift from the Ka ‘Ohana o Kalaupapa President Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa.
“I’m very encouraged by the Secretary that President Obama appointed,” Kauhane said. “She is very down to earth and accessible, as we have seen the Obama Administration demonstrate time and time again in his first term.”