A Touch-Screen Is Not a Touch.

Alright, I concede that a great deal of what I’m about to contemplate can be seen in the light of having lived most of my life in a time when letter-writing was a life-changing art – emotionally wrought and eagerly awaited; telephones were attached to a wall – and refused to accompany us away from home or office; and an overheated car radiator required standing by the side of the highway in the rain waving down help.

And so our banks, bookstores, daily necessities were more than an interaction with keyboard or a mouse.  These were unavoidable reminders than we are not alone on this planet – and that other humans (disappointing, aggravating, and occasionally comforting human beings) share our world.

Human interaction looked very different.

I am a professional writer, and that will always account for the necessity of abundant screen time.  I wrote for 25 years on typewriters facing blank white papers – and so facing a blank Word Document computer screen isn’t so different.  I have no issue with this more modern tool – the process of writing remains solitary.

But I am sitting in front of a digital screen at this moment, and I am aware that I have developed a genuine dependency on my computer, quite apart from my occupation.  More and more of my day is speaking with and listening to that eerie sub-human voice emanating from the speakers.  This is where my essay begins.

I am, in this moment,  aware of the difference between what feels interactive and intellectually reciprocal but is not.  Human interaction is messy:  sometimes draining, sometimes filling, and genuinely reciprocal.  No stop at the dress shop, bakery, or post office avoids that mess.

Digital interaction is deceptive.  Google, Facebook, Wikipedia feel like an exchange.  We put in ideas – we are fed ideasAnd yet, I had a revelation after a car wreck (now almost five years ago) that knocked me unconscious for an hour or so, left me with amnesia for a week, and then short-term memory loss for almost a year.

Post-accident, it came clear to me that digital face-time drains.  It was for me during that year truly apparent that it was a physical, mental and emotional drain.  It is inanimate – but not at all like TV which encourages passivity only – not that.

It pretends to be an exchange between humans (emails, chat rooms) but the intermediary – the machine – actually extracts a price of its own.  I am neither a psychologist nor neurologist and my observations make no claim for science.  I make my case for human community.

We do not build community on-line.  We can reach an audience on-line.  We can summon folks to a a cause. We may even touch hearts on-line.  But  we build community when we – quite literally – touch elbows,  rub shoulders, and speak our heart-felt words into another scowling or grinning face.

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On the Road Again – And the Map Is Neither Blue Nor Red.

Our audiences are diverse:  ethnically, economically, geographically – and this year in particular, when these differences are so glaring and stark – politically.  Human beings appear to have been reduced to their silk-screened, t-shirt and baseball cap slogans.

And so before we began this winter’s speaking tour, I worried – a lot.  1. How do we speak words outside of the smothering political rhetoric?  2.  Within the current din of fear and anger, would our audiences care about the Native Hawaiian people and their generous but much-oppressed culture?

One month in, I have found my answers.  (Answers, I must admit, that ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani never doubted.)

We’ve been in New York City; we’ve been in rural Appalachia.  We’ve been in Blue states, in Red States, and in states that are still making up their political minds.  The difference in audience response across the great political divide is invisible to us.

‘Iokepa insisted that they would be.  He also insisted that our message was profoundly tuned to 2017 ears and fears. I’ve come to agree.

To a group of writers in mid-town Manhattan; to a gathering of Unitarians (theist and not) in Southwest Virginia the ancient rhythms of the Native Hawaiian chants resonate.  The chants – the oral transmission of culture for many thousands of years – speak still to hearts and to minds.  ‘Iokepa opens:  “Ka’ua hele haupu ka wa ma mua.   We come to remember the past….”

Our readers and supporters have heard ‘Iokepa’s message before. I’ve written it often.  You’ve heard him speak of a matriarchal culture that refused hostility, hierarchy, and war for more than 12,000 years – and then describe the rituals those women devised to assure that peace.  You’ve heard him celebrate the weave of all of Creation – the inseparability of the whale, the albatross, the ki leaf from the human family.  It is what the Native Hawaiians lived (3,000 miles from any large land mass) to survive. You’ve heard him speak of community – of responsibility for those leaves, fish, birds and humans.  All of us give and all of us take – no one gets to opt out of that circle.

Somehow, in the thick of this most ferociously divided America, the ancient Native Hawaiian culture – the gift of ‘Iokepa’s Grandmothers – resonates.  It more than resonates; it soothes; it inspires; it reminds us of a path out of the morass that suffocates us in forgetfulness.

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Women’s March: Then and Now.

A Bit of History

For about twenty years (starting January 30, 1997), ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani has been an obedient mo’opuna – grandson.  Daily, he has listened for the voices – the direct guidance – of his ancestral Hawaiian Grandmothers.  “I hear them as I hear you right now,” he explains to Westerners.  Native Hawaiians need no explanation.  They know they’d be lost without the direct intervention of loving ancestors.

They know, too, that they are descended from a matriarchal culture.  For 12,000 years, those Grandmothers created and enforced a ritual to ensure harmony in the tribe. Via ho’oponopono – a community-based, mediation practice central to their culture – they prevented war.  They insisted:  “God doesn’t need help taking the lives of our children.”

They birthed children; they grew the tribe; they defined positions of  cultural leadership.  The men honored their women.  The men acknowledged they themselves were half their mothers.  They recognized that balance within themselves, their women, and their culture.

And yes, after thousands of those uniquely sane, peaceful, women-inspired years, Hawai’i was conquered in 1320 by a brutal warrior-sect of  cousins from Tahiti.  The conquerors struck first at the women – cruelly segregating, shaming and demeaning them under a system they called kapu or “forbidden.”   The balance was broken.  Men lost access to the female within.  Wars began.

The Women’s March on Washington

And so, perhaps it needs no more explanation by way of understanding why ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani could not resist his aboriginal cultural imperative to stand with the half million women, last Saturday, who gathered in Washington, D.C. to reclaim their position, their privilege, and the global necessity to restore the balance.

He carried his home-made sign.  It simply read:  “Native Hawaiian Men for Wahine.”   I cannot put a number on the men and women who, in the blanket of people that covered every inch of central Washington, emerged to ask ‘Iokepa, “What does wahine mean?”  (It means women.)  Or, who already knew what it meant and wanted conversation.  Or, who begged to take a picture with this transparently Native Hawaiian man with his sign.  For ‘Iokepa, it was a twelve-hour day of speaking truth about his beloved culture.

I was there because I am a woman who spent so much of her life struggling to claim what was denied – the much-valued daughter after sons, expected to confirm gender stereotype.   I literally went to war those many years ago now, to prove that I could.  I was already fifty when I met ‘Iokepa and his people, and realized that there was a less combative way to claim my female advantage.

Standing Together

This day was nothing shy of miraculous.

On an ordinary day, my head-cold or my pulled-back muscle would have screamed forcefully to slow me down.  It did not.  I was a reservoir of energy and smiles.

On an ordinary day, when the Metro train broke down three or four stops before our destination, the mass of humans crammed inside  – their walk to the March site lengthened by miles – there would have been (at the very least) moans.  There were not.  Cheerfully, the train-load marched down the middle of downtown streets – stopping en mass at restaurant bathrooms where we were welcomed with extra toilet paper.

On an ordinary day, despite beginning our trek at 6:00 a.m., and still denied access to either video screen or amplified speakers at 10:00 a.m., we would have had ample reason to complain.  No one near me considered the possibility.  The sights and sounds from every vantage point and in every moment of this March were entertainment enough.

On an ordinary day, people cutting directly across your path (to where?)  would be (at the very least) hissed at.  Instead, they were gently waved on.  “Excuse me” was rampant; kind touches offered ubiquitously.

On an ordinary day, if we were stuck in one spot next to jiggling bodies navigating trips to nowhere for six or eight hours, there would be loud fights.  Hoisted signs blocking views (of what?) would be reason for staged battle.  Instead: I hugged  and was hugged by dozens of absolute strangers, complimented the originality of  hundreds of signs, gave a thumbs up in the direction of innumerable kindred spirits.  It was returned in spades.

We chanted with and for each passing passion and cause.  This was a gathering of hugely diverse people with impossibly disparate purpose…and yet.  We agreed to chant for each other.  We agreed to empathy for every different view.  We agreed to support community.

Perhaps that is the genuine miracle.  For the first time in a very long time, a million good folks from around the globe agreed that it might be time to listen to the sound of women’s unique and powerful voices – and to restore the balance as a prelude to peace

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Hawai’i Days, Hawai’i Nights.

During the five Winter and Spring months when we are not home on our Island, it is pretty darned obvious how we fill our days.  We drive through snow, ice, and sometimes sunshine to the disparate locales where we’ve been invited to speak – invited to share the empowering truth of the Native Hawaiian people and their ancient culture.

We ask for nothing except the hospitality of our sponsoring hosts. We encounter widely diverse audiences.  Every Return Voyage gathering is as unique as the faces in the front row.  We’re pretty darn agile.

And so, from sometime in January until sometime in May, we are on the road carrying the Hawaiian ancestral message to willing listeners across the American continent.  Predictably:  ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani chants;  we share stories:  we laugh and sometimes we are also moved to cry.  The gatherings are, without exception, empowering.

Those are the visible months of our year – we’re out, we’re about, we’re speaking the ancestors words to eager ears.  But we realize that we are far less visible to our supporters on the American continent when we return home.

We are, of course, highly visible here on Kaua’i.  Here, there is no anonymity:  not when we shop at the grocery, or tan on the beach, or pick up the mail at the post office, or lick an ice cream cone on a park bench. ‘Iokepa, with his full head of flowing silver hair (“It’s cultural,” he repeats his ancestral Grandmothers words) is anything but unknown here on Kaua’i.

Then, there is ‘Iokepa’s basic nature.  This a man who knows no stranger (even when they are, by all measures, strangers).  So imagine, if you can, this extrovert on a  very small Pacific Island (his ancestral Pacific Island at that).  He is known.  ‘Iokepa has yet another advantage:  he is a man who never forgets a name or face.

I am gifted, on the other hand, with a husband who quietly whispers names in my ear, so I don’t regularly embarrass myself.  I admit, too, to a self-protective introversion (living in a place that affords me little anonymity) that focuses narrowly on the job at hand.  (Hence, even good friends have to physically nudge some part of me, to tear me away from the milk carton or pasta in my grocery basket.)

Home Again

We have been home now for five months – invisible, I fear, to our myriad friends and supporters in Louisiana or Minnesota, Oregon or Florida, New York or New Mexico.  I’d like to remedy that.  But I’m not quite sure how I might fairly represent the fullness of our days at home.  From our lanai (balcony) overlooking a mountain called Ha’upu (to remember), we are constantly reminded of purpose.

We live the truth of my husband’s ancestral wisdom both here and there.  That must never  change.  Here, we live immersed in the power of that oppressed culture and it’s inseparable connection to  the land, the ocean, and its critters.  We reel under the assault to all of it.  We position ourselves to be credible in defense of the land and of the aboriginal stewards of this land.

I will make a seeming diversion here – but I assure you it is no diversion at all.

A newspaper story this week, distributed by the Associated Press, described the hugely problematic feral cat invasion on the Islands that spreads disease and death to our endangered, endemic Monk Seals in the ocean, and our magnificent native birds on the land.  But this news story could have as easily been written about the endangered Native Hawaiians.

The story described a fervent defender of the hundreds of thousands of sickly, starving, disease carrying feral cats on Island.  She said:  “Classifying animals with labels such as native and invasive creates a hierarchy in which the protection of certain animals comes at the suffering of others.”

I have heard these same words dismissing the Native Hawaiian cultural claim to stewardship and sovereignty.  Non-Natives gleefully accept the hospitality of our generous, compassionate, giving Native hosts – whilst doing everything legal and illegal to deny and over-ride their original national claim.

‘Iokepa and I work daily – here and there – to protect the land and the people of this land from extinction.  The work takes so many different shapes and  proportions that I am mightily challenged to characterize a typical day for us on Island.  Instead, I will speak to the breadth.

Outreach

There are the official interactions and appearances. We were summoned for a private meeting with the highest elected official for the County of Kaua’i.  Between Mayor Bernard Carvalho and ‘Iokepa ‘Imaikalani there is shared Native Hawaiian blood and deep reverence for their inherited Native culture.

But the Mayor is a politician who is the object of considerable and variable pressures to pave roads, build affordable housing, and win elections.  ‘Iokepa is not a politician; he is not bound by the same constraints.  He is a cultural advocate and guardian.  In the Mayor’s office, ‘Iokepa spoke; the Mayor enthusiastically listened.  The Mayor imagined ‘Iokepa’s words being brought to bear on the new County Drug Rehabilitation Center.  Healing modalities have always been a bedrock piece of their shared ancestry.

Then there are the clearly cultural celebrations.  Twenty years in the building (with volunteer labor alone), the Island’s traditional voyaging canoe – the Namahoe – was launched this summer in a powerful, many-hours-long ritual.  There is no way that ‘Iokepa and I would have missed this event.  His people were among the world’s most accomplished ocean voyagers – traveling the seas and populating Islands throughout the Pacific.  The modern Voyaging Society has awakened the ancient practice of sailing the open ocean with just stars, currents, birds, and whales to guide them.

‘Iokepa was honored (and taken by complete surprise)  to be summoned to the stage of the opening ritual for the launching.  He was asked to represent his Grandmother who lived on and cared for that specific slice of the Island.  It was his kuleana – or responsibility.  Extemporaneously, and with deep emotion, he spoke.

And there are our unofficial interactions and appearances.  These have much to do with being a presence in the presence of the Island’s varied actors and acted upon.   In this category, there is the National Tropical Botanical Gardens annual fundraiser:  Moonlight and Music, an elegant evening under the stars on the spectacular tented grounds of the magnificent Gardens.  These are the people who can afford $175 per person tickets (unless gifted) and very few Native Hawaiians.

It accounts, too,  for why we seldom miss the noise and the caramel corn at the County Farm Fair.  It is the rare social, ethnic and economic common denominator:  farmers, celebrities, hotel maids, road construction crews;  the rich, the definitely not rich. It seems that everyone’s children loves cotton candy.  And though the night sky is not as visible above the arcade lights for the $6 admission fee as they were at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens fundraiser – the lights beneath the top of the Ferris Wheel are pretty spectacular.

It also explain why, when we returned last May, we opened our home to a lavish and deeply engaging, Sunday brunch for forty friends and acquaintances .  These are folks from every ethnic and social pocket of this Island – who under ordinary circumstances wouldn’t speak a word to one another standing in line at Safeway.  But in our home, conversation is always paramount, or as ‘Iokepa likes to say, “We all insist that we love the Island.  In our home, we discuss what that actually means.”

This year ‘Iokepa has been in a fight for the life of a sacred Hawaiian site or heiau.  This particular heiau, aligned with the night sky, marks the true north of the Island, and is masterfully terraced above the visible horizon.   This dedicated place of ancient ritual and prayer is being threatened by a wealthy homeowner whose home on Island sits empty most of the year.  His five-acre vacation home abuts this protected site, and he is determined to do all he can to fence it off from the Native Hawaiians.  “I don’t want them looking into my bathroom when my wife is in the tub.”  Five acres of privacy is apparently not enough.

In this fight, ‘Iokepa has garnered the support of both our Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee and a Kentucky attorney who shares his passion for the Hawaiian people and culture – a man who is as generous as the people he seeks to help.

Finally we rest.  For ‘Iokepa, “resting” has meant hefting a 35 pound, 20 inch, chain saw for five hours a day – intent on clearing the invasive jungle from our acre of land in preparation for next year’s re-planting of indigenous trees that actually began their life on this Island.  And yes, I know there is a metaphor that slipped in there.

As for me, “resting” has meant planting fruit trees and flowers atop our now terraced yard – and because I am the only computer-literate person in this marriage, it falls on me to communicate via email or website with our friends and supporters in Louisiana or Minnesota, Oregon or Florida, New York or New Mexico, who wonder what it is we do when we’re home in Hawai’i.

 

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Hands in the Red Dirt: The Heart of Ka ‘Aina.

For those of our friends and supporters who have followed ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani and my journey  – our Return Voyage to cultural and personal authenticity – there is  really no need for background here.  But I always anticipate new readers, and so for those folks and others who may have missed last year’s post, I insert a link.

Na Ka’a Mea – Change In the Winds.

For those familiar with our story, begin here. And, yes, after eighteen years living in thirteen tents on the Hawaiian good earth (by choice and for purpose), we were gifted a home.  It is a lovely home – now adorned with family photos, our own books,  and clothing in an actual closet.  (Amenities that in another life may have been taken for granted, but after years without, there is little danger of that.)

No doubt, the house feeds our comfort:  a house to gather friends and acquaintances for  fish and poi;  a dinner table to stimulate the exchange of  ideas;  a roof under which to live the ancestral Grandmothers’ vision.

But though this gifted house soothes and comforts, what truly feeds our souls, stokes our spirits, and intensifies our purposes is still ka ‘aina – this ancestral land of ‘Iokepa’s forebears.  After eighteen years of our heads-on-the-earth bedding and our hands plucking cigarette butts and beer tabs from those self-same public beaches – the land now has a new meaning.  It is the land on which those closets and book shelves sit that replenish our faith.

We were told by our benefactor to choose a house:  in any town, on any rural road, or on a beach next to the ocean.  We were told to do this by someone who asked absolutely nothing in return.  With guidance from heart and ancestral Grandmothers, we chose  a house perched on a ridge with an acre of very steep hillside blanketed by impenetrable jungle.  The bit of flat land that might support fruit trees and flowers was shaded by the hillside Swamp Mahogany or Guava or Java plum or Albizia – all invasive species to these Island lands.

Interesting fact:  the invasive trees on this Island suck up the aquifer (ground water) and hold it; native species trees release the water back into the aquifer for communal use.

I feel certain that there is a metaphor here.  Native Hawaiians lived gently on their sacred ‘aina; they neither owned it nor abused it.  Stewardship meant they ( the earth and the Native Hawaiian) were  children of the same Creator.  They cared for and fed one another.  In other words:  they did not soak up all the water and keep it for their own.  Water – wai – was life.

‘Iokepa could not wait.  He rubbed his hands together; equipped himself with chain saw, pick and shovel and began.  This is year-two of the effort.  He completely freed the steepest hillside that denied us sun in morning and early afternoon of the huge trees and their clinging vines.  In the reclaimed space and uncovered sunlight, together we planted: Papaya, Mango, Banana, Avocado, Orange, and Lemon trees.  In that now terraced space and sun, I have planted birds of paradise and gardenias and orchids and so much more.  We have only just begun.

‘Iokepa, age sixty-six and pretty darn fit,  knows the reality of diminishing returns and he is adamant that:  “I don’t want land that I can’t walk on; I want to be able to see the land.  I want to clear all that is invasive on this ‘aina and plant as many native species as possible.”

The largest of the hillsides – bare of invasive species – will eventually sprout Koa and Ulu (Breadfruit), kukui nut, and so much more.  We are drawing from the wisdom of experienced Native farmers – what works or not in this particular locale.  Friends from every corner of the Island offer plants to our endeavor.  It’s the way it is done here.

‘Iokepa clears and terraces and digs very large holes for me.  I design the garden layout; I choose the plants; I settle them in place.  I fertilize with chicken manure, mulch and weed.  He installs the irrigation; we both wander and study the health of the fruit.  We both offer gratitude.

For almost twenty years we have lived head-upon-the-earth – but apart from clearing the ill-served public spaces of their garbage, we had little opportunity to put hand in soil.  I am married to a Native Hawaiian.  Native Hawaiians are genetically married to their ‘aina.  Their lives and their futures are one with the soil they stand on.  This is a concept alien to most who have grown up in the United States.  Even Western farmers do not regard the land as kin – the sacred sister born of the Grandmothers.

Newcomers are given to warning ‘Iokepa:  “You know that it will all just grow back.”  He smiles, but he does not answer.  His answer is:  Now.  Like a good Native he lives in this breath alone; he accepts change when change comes; and he passes his experience onto the next generation.

In sum, the red dirt – the Islands’ ‘aina – is feeding ‘Iokepa.  And like the generous people of these Islands, its blessings are shared as well with this guest of the Native Hawaiian people.

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Save Hawai’i From Ourselves

As a matter of fact, as a matter of principle, as a matter of Native Hawaiian cultural authenticity – ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani does not point fingers. Better to assume responsibility than to blame

As a matter of fact, as a matter of taste – he does not plaster our cars with bumper stickers.  He believes that actions, not advertised opinions, speak louder than words.  And yet, he is about to make an exception.

Affixed to our 1998, Subaru station wagon’s  bumper (and we hope to the bumpers of our supporters on Island and around the world) is the pictured message.

‘Iokepa explains its meaning: “Living on Earth is the gift.  Responsibility is the practice.”

Ourselves is the key word here.  We accuse no one.  We exclude no one.   We are each responsible; we’re all deserving.

So many years ago when a local Kaua’i woman was brutally molested and murdered (a rare act of violence on our tiny Island), and the next day’s newspaper labelled our friend a “homeless alcoholic” and our acquaintance “the Westside Slayer, ‘Iokepa loudly objected to the dehumanizing labels.

He reminded each of us on this Island in the middle of the Pacific:  “I am at fault; Inette is at fault; you are…”  He reminded us that “our community had failed both” – the murdered and the murderer. That is the Native Hawaiian culture speaking.

Four years ago, now, when an extremely inebriated young man (four hours out of prison), rounded a corner on a country road in California at 80 miles per ours in a 40 mile speed zone – demolished our car; ended our book tour; and trashed my body and mind for the next year – ‘Iokepa told the local newspaper reporter: “Without a culture or a sense of belonging to the community, people act out. The foundation of a community is a healthy people. For thousands of years, tribes have taken responsibility for each person in the tribe, and helped heal those who were struggling.”

We visited the young man in jail, befriended him in later years, and watched with satisfaction as he turned his life around.  We are all responsible.

“My Islands are dying,” ‘Iokepa has said with neither exaggeration nor embellishment. “My people are dying. The ocean that feeds us is dying.”

Fingers point; accusations are hurled; even good people sometimes look for blame. But ‘Iokepa sees it differently. He exempts no one from our caring community (which extends to the continental United States and well-beyond). The responsibility, he knows, is his own – is our own.

So when a bright, charming, and successful bookstore owner in (of all places) Atlanta, Georgia – a woman whose heart extends well-beyond the limits of her own personal interests – suggested a bumper sticker that said, “Save Hawai’i From Ourselves,” we both lit up, filed it away for some future date, and then realized these many years later, that the date is today. So thank you Candace Apple.

We offer the gift to you. On Island or not, we’d be delighted to mail you a bumper sticker. If you’re able, help us with the cost of postage and padded envelope, but we’ll send it regardless. Just let us know.

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The Native Hawaiian Nation Reborn?

Preamble to the Constitution of the Native Hawaiian Nation

“We, the indigenous peoples of Hawai’i, descendants of our ancestral lands from time immemorial, share a common national identity, culture, language, traditions, history, and ancestry.  We are a people who aloha Akua, aloha aina, and aloha each other.  We malama all generations, from keiki to kupuna, including those who have passed on and those yet to come.  We malama our ‘aina and affirm our ancestral rights and kuleana to all lands, waters, and resources of our islands and surrounding seas.  We are united in our desire to cultivate the full expression of our traditions, customs, innovations, and beliefs of our living culture, while fostering the revitalization of ‘Olelo Hawai’i, for we are a nation that seeks pono.

Honoring all those who have steadfastly upheld the self-determination of our people against adversity and injustice, we join together to affirm a government of, by, and for Native Hawaiian people to perpetuate a pono government and promote the well-being of our people and the ‘aina that sustains us.  We affirm the National Sovereignty of the nation.  We reserve all rights to sovereignty and self-determination, including the pursuit of independence.  Our highest aspirations are set upon the promise of our unity and this Constitution.”

Glossary:  aloha (in the presence of the Creator in every breath); ‘aina (sacred land); malama (to take care of); keiki (children); kupuna (elders); kuleana (sacred responsibility); ‘Olelo Hawai’i (the Native Hawaiian language); pono (uprightness, goodness).

The Historical Context

Make no mistake. The Hawaiian nation is illegally occupied. A sovereign nation – recognized across the globe by other sovereign nations – was claimed in 1893 by colonizing sugar cane barons (missionary sons) on behalf of the United States.  With guns held to the Queen’s head, America’s business interests took  possession of a remarkable people and their stewarded land.

In subsequent years, the Native Hawaiian people have watched their sacred land desecrated, their names, language, prayers, healing modes, outlawed by representatives of the United States of America.  These are a people, who, for a couple hundred years under missionary law (until 1972),  were unable to name their child an Hawaiian first name, to speak their native language in public, to practice ho’oponopono – their powerful matriarchal mediation ritual (by which they prevented war for thousands of years).

Every small and large effort by the Native people to rebirth their sorely abused homeland  has been smashed by the well-financed fist of non-native opposition.  The still-entrenched, missionary offspring, and their deep-pocketed business interests continue to overwhelm  each and every Native effort with costly and prolonged American lawsuits. The irony here: occupying racists continue to argue that Native claims to their most rudimentary rights  are “race-based” and therefore “unconstitutional.”

The opposition’s efforts have largely succeeded – if success is measured in the defeat of a Native people.  Faith-filled Native Hawaiians and their remarkably humane culture struggle.  How many times can you raise your voice, lift your hand, and hold out hope – while seeking some redress from an occupying force that claims to love your Islands and your selfless people?

How?  The Constitution’s Birth

It has been a long and complicated labor – no squatting in the fields to produce a perfect infant. The document is flawed; the participation in its creation is not as widely representative as one might hope.   I take here the task of sifting and winnowing –  deciding which twists in the long story to select, and which turns to axe.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is a state agency – the only state agency that purportedly serves the interests of the Native people.  Last year it funded an effort to collect Native Hawaiians onto a potential voter registration roll for the re-claimed Hawaiian Nation.  It also funded the potential election of delegates to an ‘Aha or Constitutional Convention.

Of the almost  half-million Native Hawaiians spread across the Islands and the continental United States, approximately 120,000 made their way onto the roll.  In the self-nominating process to be a delegate to the ‘Aha, 196 Natives threw their hats into the ring.  The election would select forty delegates among those.  The Constitutional Convention was to be held over several months this past winter.

With votes submitted, and the tabulation just days away, the Washington D.C. based, conservative group, Judicial Watch sued on the basis that a “raced-based election is unconstitutional.”  They lost their case at both the federal court level and again at the  9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.   When they threatened to delay the vote count indefinitely with an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the election organizers threw in the towel.  They would never count those votes.

Instead, they did this. They invited every one of those 196 self-nominated Native Hawaiians to assemble in Honolulu – to thrash out their differences and see what results.  Only 119 delegates accepted the invitation – and only 88 of those voted for the resulting Constitution; 30 voted against, and one abstained.

What Does This Constitution Mean?

Apparently “Self-Determination” and “Sovereignty” do not mean the same thing.  I am a writer with a pretty keenly attuned ear for language, and an acute interest in the well-being of the Native Hawaiians  – and yet, I might have missed the difference.

“Self-determination” is the term most often used to define the Native American tribal relationship with the United States of America.  It is better-described as “Nation within a Nation.”  Clearly, American Indian tribes are not independent.  Every Native rule of law must be approved by the U.S Department of Interior.

A significant segment of the Native Hawaiian population supports a similar plan for Hawaiians.  They most often speak of “self determination.”

“Sovereignty” is the word more frequently used by people who call themselves, Hawaiian Nationals. It speaks clearly and affirmatively to independence from the United States – to the return of the sovereign Hawaiian nation.

This Constitution represents a victory for those Native Hawaiians who favor Nation Within a Nation status.  And in truth, many of the delegates who chose not to attend the ‘Aha, dropped out because they believed the decks were stacked toward that conclusion from the get-go.  But among those Hawaiian Nationals who did attend, there were clearly compromises wrought in the document: the Preamble is acceptable to both – and some words reflect attempts at assuaging their potential differences.

“The Native Hawaiian people have never relinquished their claims to the National lands.  To the maximum extent possible, the Government shall pursue the repatriation and return of the national lands, together with all rights, resources and appurtenances associated with or appertaining to those lands…”

The division between the two groups is stark and true.  But it no more defined what’s happening here in Hawai’i  at this moment, than the West Virginia State Fair defines what’s happening in America.

Do We Support This Constitution?

As  many well-know, ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani is an Hawaiian National.  He very much doubts that the solution to colonization is subtly-limited colonization.  But ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani believes much more than just that.

He believes that the Native Hawaiian culture and people – who lived without war for thousands of years before occupation – have a great deal to teach the warring world.  And he’s pretty darn sure that the lessons from that matriarchal-fostered, peace-keeping nation will not come while being governed by the United States.

But he also fervently believes that the Native Hawaiian people are in the unstoppable process of coalescing right now, and he supports all efforts for Hawaiian cultural freedom.

Embedded on our Return Voyage.com website for the past nine years are these words:

“We agree on so much more than we do not. We agree that we – who are descended from the original ancestors – are brothers and sisters. We agree that our personal freedom relies on knowing who we are and who our ancestors were. We agree that the Creator entrusted the Islands to our care – that we are its stewards. We agree that we come from a people who took responsibility for one another, and for every part of the living creation. We agree:  The time to share our message with the world is now.”

And agreeing on who they are, where they are from, what and who they honor, and how they serve and are nourished by the land, absolutely trumps any superficial difference in opinion about how that is to be accomplished.

What Now?

The Constitution is written.  The Ratification process begins.  It is a huge undertaking:  enrolling as many of those half million Native Hawaiians as are willing to enter the fray.  It requires an enormous grass-roots outreach, education, and engagement – both on the Islands and across the United States.  It is a process that will by necessity require the solicitation of divergent opinions, the art of diplomatic compromise.

I am reminded of the American effort to reign in gun violence.  Because, at first, we may not be able to remove assault weapons or close every loop-hole, is not the case-made for bailing on the effort.  We agree to get what we can get passed now – and then rigorously work to engage, educate, and pass laws.

There exists now this drafted Constitution.  It is neither the beginning nor the end of the vigorous conversation and effort on behalf of Native Hawaiian independence.  But it is an actual document that moves the conversation onto very solid ground.

There exists now an organization called Aloha Lahui (Lahui being the original name of the Hawaiian Islands).  It exists without any entangling connections to the State of Hawai’i.  It is wholly grass-roots, and it is lighting the path for the coalescing Natives.  It operates independently, and with integrity. I put a link here to their website, and recommend that you take a look. www.alohalahui.com

The Return Voyage  neither endorses this Constitution, nor refuses to engage it.  ‘Iokepa believes that the freedom movement needs more than simple rejection, refusal and intransigence.  He wholeheartedly endorses the motion toward a coalescing Native electorate who will unhesitatingly re-birth their stolen nation.  The time is now.

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Inette’s Revealing Podcast.

It had been a few years since I last submitted to an in-depth interview.  But just a few days ago, Art Gutch,  publisher of The Infinity Group, asked me to take part in his exciting new Authors’ Podcast.  Because, I know and respect Art, I agreed.

What follows here is a link to a 38-minute interview that is a no-holds-barred exchange revealing my early personal  history, my strongly-held opinions about writing – and of course, the Native Hawaiian cultural work that ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani and I have shared for the past eighteen years.

Art drove me deep inside myself, my beliefs, my ideals, and my self-examination.  I invite you (who may have heard ‘Iokepa and I speak in person, as well as those who have not) to take that ride with us.  Sit back, relax, and enjoy.  And, oh, as a bonus: It is introduced by ‘Iokepa chanting.

Interview: Inette Miller, Author The Return Voyage

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Bernie…Hillary….and More.

Okay, so my husband is very carefully non-political.  He argues that his people were “never politicians” and when they were drawn, against their nature, into that arena, they were sorely used and abused.  That continues still.

Instead, ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani’s every spoken word is directed at the cultural resurrection of his Native Hawaiian people.  His voice is strong; his passion is unquenchable; his work is unending. He does not identify himself in word, deed, or government issued ID, as American.  He is a sovereign Native Hawaiian working toward the resurrection of his occupied nation.  So obviously he does not vote in American elections.

And, by proximity, I am (in public) careful, as well.  I realize that my opinions may tarnish  the purity of my husband’s message.  We have friends and supporters from every single corner of the American political spectrum.  Because our work is cultural and wholly inclusive, there are no known litmus tests for our audiences.

So I write this with no real expectation of making it public.    I woke up this morning with a head and heart full of unspoken words, and I fear that if I don’t at least try to commit them to a page, I will suffer my own hypocrisy (I have called myself ‘outspoken’) – and disloyalty (I am fierce in the defense of my friends).  So I write, and I will see where this takes me.

Confession.  I am a political junkie.  Really, no secret there.  As a print journalist for so many years, I reported on Capitol Hill, the U.S. State Department (under the newly-relevant Secretary Henry Kissinger), a presidential campaign (Jimmy Carter’s), and  a war in Southeast Asia.  When I moved away from the city to a distant rural outpost to write independently – I spent an exorbitant chunk of my income subscribing to the daily Washington Post. (Way before the internet existed as a a much cheaper, easier alternative.)

Further confession (if it is not already quite obvious).  I am a contemporary of Hillary Clinton.  I am a feminist.  (Though under ‘Iokepa’s people’s tutelage, that word has taken on a much-broader meaning.) I am a self-identified progressive.

For these last three months, ‘Iokepa and I have been speaking the Hawaiian cultural experience up and down the east coast of the U.S.  We go home to Kaua’i next month.  Nowhere have we escaped the presidential primary elections.

Strangers buttonhole us with some regularity.  They are uniformly Bernie Sanders enthusiasts who are certain that ‘Iokepa and I are kindred spirits – that we would agree with their choice of candidate if we were inclined to express a political opinion.  It’s an easy mistake to make.

What’s not to like about Bernie?  He’s made the word “socialist” (which after all is the core of all tribal life – no less so Native Hawaiian), newly acceptable.  He is a man of impeccable integrity.  He, too, is a contemporary of mine, who was on the same side of the picket lines, opinion polls, and 1960s youthful drama that I was.  He’s not a stranger to me.  He is just a couple years ahead of the generation that has held tenaciously onto its youthful ideals. (And yes, I know that Millennials have heard more than enough about the Baby Boomers.)

But I am more than just a part of that generation, parent to Millennials, and wife of an aboriginal Hawaiian.  I am an educated and opinionated woman. (See the post before this one – and listen to the musical anthem to smart  and opinionated women everywhere.)

And though there may be no over-riding reason for subsequent generations to know the true and  relatively recent history of the subjugation of half the American population by reason of gender – I feel compelled here (by reason of loyalty) to explain.

Bernie Sanders is a good man.  Feel the Bern!  But do not – do not – make that passion an indictment of a truly fine woman.  Do not regurgitate (with no sense of the who invented those words) the language of the Hillary haters.  Those haters are not your friends or allies.  I have heard their words for almost thirty years.  I have heard them directed at me, and at every other smart and ambitious woman who threatened their primacy.

Hillary Clinton has been, for almost thirty years, my safety net.  She took it for me.  She absorbed (and continues to absorb) the slings and arrows directed at “uppity women” everywhere.  It is no accident that women of my generation support her.  We know this woman.  We know the volleys of hate directed at her every time she opened her, ‘don’t talk back to me’ mouth.  We know her courage in the face of it.  Hillary Clinton made my way easier.  And by God,  she deserves this acknowledgment – without Hillary Clinton, fewer of our daughters would be lawyers and doctors, mechanics and Special Forces.

I have heard her called “arrogant.”  Listen closely, young women and men.  “Arrogant” speaks to someone else’s presumption of hierarchy.  And listen closely, young men and women – there is a very good reason that in this country no woman has ever seriously been  considered “ready” for the American Presidency.  Give me a break.  There are hired forces preventing that from happening.

So please feel the Bern and support this very good man who touches your heart.  But do not – within my hearing – blaspheme this fine, intelligent, accomplished, strong-beyond-my-imagining-in-the-face-of forces-greater-than-many-of-you-have-been-conscious, but all of us have experienced.

Do not drink the spewed Kool-Aid of salaried haters.  For thirty years, they’ve painted the bulls eye on Hillary Clinton’s back.  But make no mistake – you are their real target.  Do not repeat their lies.

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A Musical Tribute to Dynamic Women Everywhere.

A version of this post has sat dormant in this computer (actually in its Toshiba predecessor) for seven years.  That may be a single record for this writer’s patience.

And so this story began eight years ago.  For all of those years, readers of this website and of our books, and audiences at our speaking engagements across the American continent have discovered that my husband, ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani has some  surprising gifts. We know him to be an inspiring spokesperson for his culture, a crystal-shattering chanter of the ancient Native Hawaiian words, and a serious wielder of a 20-inch chain saw.  There is very little that he cannot figure out a way to fix.   I assumed that I pretty-much knew the parameters of my husband’s talents.

His gifts are not mine.  On our best days, we don’t compete for the prize, we complement each others abilities – lend support for the other.

But all of this is just a prelude to what’s been sitting dormant in this computer for almost eight years.

The Background Story

Very early in our courtship, almost eighteen years ago now,  ‘Iokepa was given to telling  me a few very silly, rather adolescent, old jokes. One featured a  swaggering cowboy by the name of, “Two Guns Rodriguez.”  From that humble origin, this story begins.

Over these many years, ‘Iokepa took to occasionally calling me, “Two Guns.”  He meant it as a testimony, he said, to my strength, my courage, my “chutzpah.

Seven years ago now, at home on Kaua’i, in that generic big-box store that is K-Mart,  ‘Iokepa encountered our good friend, Arthur Walton.  Arthur, by way of introduction, is a remarkably talented guitarist, composer, musician. He sometimes collaborates with blues vocalist, Bobby Thursby.  Their CDs include the powerful, “Grease In My Gravy.”

Arthur asked ‘Iokepa where I was.  ‘Iokepa saw me at a K Mart distance; he called out, “Two Guns!”

Arthur reacted.  “What did you just call her?!”

When, my husband answered, “Two Guns,”  our talented friend blurted, “That is a song!”  And he was moved, he said, to write it.

Well, as these things happen, a full year passed.  We traveled away from the Islands for nine months and 26,000 car miles on the first Return Voyage tour, and then we returned.

When we returned, we asked Arthur,  “Have you  written, “Two Guns?”  He had not.  We pulled out the picture that we’d snapped on our first Return Voyage tour:  Me striking a pose under a huge green freeway sign pointing to the town of–you guessed it!–“Two Guns,” Arizona

Arthur asked for a copy of the photo–for inspiration.

Months passed.  We were at the local post office, about to leave for the second Return Voyage, U.S. tour.   Arthur saw us, bolted from his car, and headed with clear intention right at us.

“I’ve done it!  I’ve written ‘Two Guns’–and it’s good!”

We drove to his studio.  We listened.  The music was incredible.  It spoke perfectly to that cowboy moment–in R&B rhythm, no less.

We left the studio,  and Arthur shouted out to ‘Iokepa:  “You’ll have to help me with the lyrics.  I don’t know what you mean when you call Inette, ‘Two Guns’.”

‘Iokepa is no lyricist.  He doesn’t even think of himself as a writer.  But from behind the wheel, on the road to Borders,  ‘Iokepa demanded of me:  “Get a pad and a pen; write this down.”  He dictated perhaps six or seven lines–lines that in that moment captured the essence of the woman–the women–who are “Two Guns.”

I wrote his words on a  small scrap of paper.  We turned around and headed back to Arthur’s.  I slipped that scrap into the keyhole of our friend’s studio.  We left Kaua’i.  I gave the matter no more thought.

A month later, in the shadow of ‘Iokepa’s mother’s funeral, we received this email:

“So sorry to hear about your Mom.  There are no words for moments like these that truly explain the feeling of loss. All I can offer is my friendship and a shoulder to cry on. Thanks for letting me know.

Arthur

P.S  Sending along the latest version of  ‘Two Guns’.  The CD is coming along great!  Bobby called as I was writing you and sends his condolences.”

Arthur is a very busy musician – and a perfectionist.  “Two Guns” grabbed his attention at intervals over these many years, and periodically he’d sent us a new version “that still need some tweaking.”

Now, finally, Arthur is releasing  the song as a single from on his very eclectic jazz/R&B CD, “Street Signs,” – and it features every intact syllable of  ‘Iokepa’s scribbled lyric–and a few added lines of Bobby’s.  But the artistry, the music, the instrumentation and the use of those lyrics are pure Arthur and Bobby.

In sum, ‘Iokepa and I  are both completely blown away.

Yeah… yeah… it is unbelievably exciting (and flattering) to have this incredible piece of music inspired by me.  A husband’s tribute for sure. And yeah…yeah… it is totally astounding to hear ‘Iokepa’s words, in Bobby’s voice, to Arthur’s music.  But it is more.   “Two Guns” is an empowering, stand-up-and-dance, R&B musical tribute to strong women everywhere.

It is a resilient man’s tribute to the non-threatening possibilities within women who claim their own.  I am proud of  ‘Iokepa.  I am excited by Arthur’s talent.  I am delighted to spread the word.

Buy this CD.  Sing and dance to this song.  And celebrate the “Two Guns” in every one of us!  I feel sure that you will find it well worth the wait.

Two Guns from the album  Street Signs is available from Amazon or CD Baby

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