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The Spirit of Ho’oilina: Rekindling Indigenous Traditions of Alaska and Hawai’i

The conference explored ancient navigation and wayfinding traditions, the advancement of Indigenous languages, solutions to protect the Pacific Ocean, and ways to heal Indigenous communities in body, mind, and spirit.

Juneau, Alaska

Date of Press Release: August 8, 2019

Ho'oilina Conference Welcome on May 28, photo courtesy of Jacob Chinn
Ho'oilina Conference Welcome on May 28, photo courtesy of Jacob Chinn

In late May 2019, a select group of University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) students, faculty, and staff joined members of the Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities for a conference in Honolulu entitled Ho‘oilina: Empowering Our Traditions of Exploration. In the Hawaiian language, “Ho’oilina” means ‘legacy.’ The conference explored ancient navigation and wayfinding traditions, the advancement of Indigenous languages, solutions to protect the Pacific Ocean, and ways to heal Indigenous communities in body, mind, and spirit.

The conference was a result of partnerships established in June 2018, when UAS’ Juneau Campus hosted the Tléix' Yaakw (One Canoe) conference, sharing Alaska Native languages, cultures, and histories with attendees from the Native Hawaiian and other Indigenous communities. After the success of One Canoe, the members of the Hõkūle'a Polynesian Voyaging Society offered to host a similar conference in 2019, inviting UAS administration, staff, students, and faculty.

The two conferences and related events are the culmination of a decades-long kinship between the two Native communities. The Polynesian Voyaging Society has been working since the 1960s to revitalize ancient voyaging traditions and knowledge. This included building new voyaging canoes out of natural materials. But in the 1990s, trees large enough for canoe hulls could no longer be found in Hawaiian forests. Tlingit elder Judson Brown, and then-CEO of Sealaska Corporation Byron Mallott, gifted two Sitka spruce logs from Haida homelands to Hawaiian navigator Nainoa Thompson to build a traditional voyaging canoe. In 1995, that canoe, the Hawai’iloa, was launched and sailed throughout the South Pacific. It then made a voyage to Alaska to honor the land from which its hull was created. The 2018 and 2019 conferences reignited this cultural bond.

At the May 2019 Ho’oilina conference, the UAS contingent was part of a larger group of Alaskans, which included representatives from the Sealaska Corporation, First Alaskans Institute, Tlingit and Haida Central Council, Yakutat Tlingit Tribe, Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, and the Woosh.Ji.Een Dance Group. Yakutat participants brought with them a traditional Tlingit canoe that was used in ceremonial gatherings. Members of the UAS Wooch.een student club attended and performed with the Woosh.Ji.Een dancers at various venues in O’ahu throughout the duration of the conference.

Recent UAS graduate Anna Christina Tafoya reflected on the Ho’oilina conference. “My experience at the Alaska-Hawai‘i Alliance Ho‘oilina conference was eye-opening. I was able to see the beautiful connection between the Hawaiian and Alaskan culture and how similar they are. This collaboration and agreement amongst the two states and cultural groups plays a role in healing, identity, and cultural values for the communities of both parties.”

Declarations of unity and kinship were the highlight of the conference, with the two groups agreeing to work in solidarity to support Indigenous education. "The Ho'oilina Conference was an exceptional model of the purpose and the possibilities of engaging Indigenous wisdom in higher education, “ said UAS Associate Vice Chancellor for Alaska Native Programs, Ronalda Cadiente Brown. “We joined in an important conversation with our Hawaiian neighbors of continued growth and development for learning experiences that reflect the diversity and exemplify high standards and meaningful engagement for our learning communities.”

As an extension of the collaboration expressed in the Ho’oilina Conference, the Polynesian Voyaging Society is planning a new journey — the 2021 Moananuiakea Voyage in which the voyaging canoe Hokule’a will circumnavigate the Pacific Ocean. The plan is for the voyage to begin in Alaska and to sail under the spirit of Mālama honua: in the Hawaiian language, to “care for our Earth.”

Learn more about UAS degree programs in Alaska Native and Northwest Coast Studies or speak to an advisor at 907.796.6100.

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Press Release Contact

Keni Campbell
University of Alaska Southeast
(907) 796-6509
klcampbell4@alaska.edu