Mother Marianne Cope – “Beloved Mother of Outcasts”

St. Marianne

Mother Marianne Cope in her youth
Mother Marianne Cope in her youth. Image from Wikipedia

“Beloved Mother of Outcasts”

By Leilehua Yuen

copyright 2011

Saint Marianne is beloved in Hawai`i for spending the last 30 years of her life ministering at Kalawao and Kalaupapa, on the island of Molokai, to those with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy). She died on the island in 1918 at age 80 and was beatified in St. Peter’s Basilica in 2005.


Saint Marianne, born Barbara Koob on 23 January 1838, was baptized the following day in a Catholic church in what is now SE Hessen, West Germany. She was the daughter of farmers Barbara and Peter  Koob. In 1839, the family, including Barbara’s siblings, emigrated to the Utica, New York, in the United States, where they became members of St. Joseph’s Parish. In 1848, at age 10, Barbara received her First Holy Communion and was confirmed there. In the 1850s, the Koob family became naturalized citizens of the United States.

In her writings, Mother Marianne described experiencing at an early age the call to a religious life. However, her vocation was delayed nine years because of family obligations. When her father became an invalid, she was oldest child at home, so after completing the eighth grade she went to work in a factory to support the family. It was not until her younger siblings were old enough to provide for themselves that she felt free to enter the convent.

A Calling to the Serve the Sick

At age 24, in the summer of 1862 she was able to embark on her calling. Barbara entered the Sisters of Saint Francis in Syracuse, N.Y. and, on November 19, 1862, she was invested at the Church of the Assumption. She soon became prominently known as Sister Marianne. One year later she was professed as a religious.

Sister Marianne served as a teacher and principal in several beginning schools in New York State. Intending to spend her life devoted to schoolwork, she soon received a series of administrative appointments. As a member of the governing boards of her religious community, she participated during the 1860s in the establishment of two of the first hospitals in the central New York area, St. Elizabeth’s in Utica (1866) and St. Joseph’s in Syracuse (1869).

Far in advance of their time, both of the hospitals she helped found had unique charters. They were open to the sick without distinction as to a person’s nationality, religion, color, or moral character. Unlike other hospitals of the time, even alcoholics – then considered “morally debased” – were allowed to receive treatment. These two Franciscan hospitals were among the first sixty registered hospitals in the entire United States.

In 1870, a new career called her, now Mother Marianne, when she became nurse-administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. As the first hospital opened to the public in the city of Syracuse, St. Joseph’s owed much of its creation to her, as well as its survival. She became an innovator in its management in order to provide better service to patients.

Sanitation and Patient’s Rights

Mother Marianne also was instrumental in establishing standards of sanitation long before the importance of cleanliness was recognized by the scientific community. She was insistent on advocating practices such as washing one’s hands before ministering to the patients. This insistence would be critical years later when she developed patient care protocols at the hospital for the patients of Kalaupapa and Kalawao in Hawai`i.

When the College of Medicine in Geneva, N.Y. moved to the fledgling Syracuse University to become the College of Physicians and Surgeons, one significant factor in the choice of location was that Mother Marianne had accepted the medical students for clinical instruction at St. Joseph’s. Far ahead of her time in furthering patients’ rights, in her negotiations with the Medical College she insisted that it was the right of the patient in each and every case to decide whether or not he or she wished to be brought before medical students. Mother Marianne also was frequently criticized for accepting “outcast” patients such as alcoholics. Such patients were frowned upon for hospital admittance by the medical profession at the time. Because of her insistence on such reforms, Syracuse became one of the most progressive medical colleges in the United States.

Such innovative and progressive practices were to stand Mother Marianne in good stead when she was asked by the Kingdom of Hawai`i to develop a system for the care of the leprosy patients at Kalaupapa. Her experience in hospital systems, nursing techniques, and pharmacy work would prove invaluable.

A Call to Hawai`i

By 1883, Mother Marianne was Superior General in her religious community in Syracuse. While opening her mail one day, she received a letter asking for a capable leader to begin a system of hospital nursing. When she found out that the main challenge was to minister to leprosy patients, her response was, “I am not afraid of any disease….” Her devotion to Saint Francis of Assisi who cared for the sick poor confirmed her resolve that the call to Hawai`i was God’s Will.

Six sisters were chosen from among the thirty-five volunteers of her community. Mother Marianne accompanied them to the Islands to help them get settled in their assignments.

Arriving in Honolulu on 8 November 1883 aboard the SS MARIPOSA, the bells of Our Lady of Peace Cathedral rang out in greeting and crowds gathered on the wharf to see the sisters.

Much Work to be Done

In 1884, at the request of the government, she set up Malulani Hospital. It was the first general hospital on the island of Maui.

Soon, however, she was called back to the hospital in Oahu to advocate for the leprosy patients at the Branch Hospital in Kaka`ako who were subjected to abuse by the government-appointed administrator. She demanded he be dismissed, or the sisters would return to Syracuse. He was dismissed and Mother Marianne was given full charge of the overcrowded hospital. Her return to Syracuse was delayed when her leadership was declared by government and church authority to be essential to the success of the mission.

The work continued to increase. In November 1885, after she convinced the government it was a vital need to save the homeless female children of leprosy patients, the Kapiolani Home was opened. The unusual choice of location for healthy children to live in a Home situated on leprosy hospital premises was made because only the sisters were willing to care for the children of leprosy patients.

Meeting Father Damien

In January of 1884, Mother Marianne met Father Damien for the first time. He had come to O`ahu, apparently in good health, to attend a chapel dedication at the hospital she was to head.

While leprosy patients had not been sent to Kalaupapa for some time, with the1887 “Bayonet Constitution,” officials decided to close the O`ahu hospital and  leprosy patients were again exiled to the Molokai peninsula. They would need a hospital there. Once again, the government of Hawai`i called on Mother Marianne.

In 1888 she notified the Hawaiian government that, “We will cheerfully accept the work…” she courageously responded upon her reception of an official appeal from government authority asking for someone to found a new home for women and girls at the Kalaupapa settlement. “Our hearts are bleeding to see them shipped off,” she wrote to Damien at Molokai.

She would finally fulfill the calling she had heard all those years ago in Syracuse. Arriving at Kalaupapa several months before Damien’s death, she consoled the dying priest by assuring him she would provide care for the patients at the Boys’ Home at Kalawao, on the opposite end of the settlement from where she was stationed.

Two weeks after Father Damien’s death on 15 April 1889, she was officially chosen at a Board of Health meeting in Honolulu to be his successor at the Boys’ Home.

After dedicating over 30 years of her life to caring for the people of Hawai`i, Mother Marianne died of natural causes on 9 August 1918.

Her compassionate care earned her the affectionate title of “beloved mother of outcasts.”

Her Legacy Continues

The legacy of Mother Marianne continues. In Syracuse and Utica, the Franciscan Sisters continue to run medical centers.

In Hawaii, the sisters are well known for founding St. Francis Hospital in 1927, which developed into two medical centers. Following the transfer of these centers to Hawaii Medical Center, in 2007, the sisters continue to have a wide ranging Health Care System shifting its focus from acute care to meeting the growing needs of Hawaii’s senior population.

At Kalaupapa, Molokai, the sisters maintain the continuity of their comforting presence to the very few Hansen Disease patients living there today. Franciscan sisters work at several schools and minister to parishioners in the islands.

But perhaps her most important legacy is the most simple – cleanliness. Farmers know that sanitation is essential for healthy animals. Through her sharp observations, Mother Marianne deduced that similar standards of cleanliness applied to hospitals could prevent the spread of disease from patient to patient.

In the days before bacteria had been discovered, Mother Marianne insisted that all nurses and physicians wash their hands between patients. She implemented standards of strict cleanliness for clothing and surfaces throughout her hospitals. As she and her sisters worked closely with the leprosy patients day after day, year after year, neither Mother Marianne, nor a single one of her nurses contracted the disease.

Mother Marianne is not only the “Beloved Mother of Outcasts,” but the mother of modern hospital nursing and patient care.


Regarding “haole”

In response to a question about “haole” being modern slang, or a traditional Hawaiian word:

The word “haole” is actually a fully Hawaiian word pre-dating the arrival of Capt Cook. Its etymology is lost in time. What linguists do agree on is that it is not a compound word. Polynesian linguistic shifts do not support the words “hā” and ” ‘ole” morphing to “haole.”

Also, the word is found in chants which predate Capt. Cook’s 1778 arrival.

Westervelt records in “Hawaiian Historical Legends”:

PAUMAKUA was one of the great voyagers among the ocean-rovers of over eight hundred years ago. Fornander in his “Account of the Polynesian Race” says: “One of the legends relates that Paumakua, on his return from one of his foreign voyages, brought back with him to Oahu two white men said to have been priests A-ua-ka-hinu and A-ua-ka-mea, afterwards named Kae-kae and Ma-liu, from whom several priestly families in after ages claimed descent and authority.” These persons were described as:

“Ka haole nui maka ʻālohilohi
(A large foreigner, bright sparkling eyes)
A āholehole maka ʻaʻā
(White cheeks, roguish staring eyes)
Ka puaʻa keokeo nui maka ʻulaʻula!
(A great white pig with reddish eyes).”

In the later years of Hawaiian history, two of the most prominent high priests in all the islands were among the descendants of these foreigners.

The word also is found in the KumuLIipo:

Line 505 – Hanau ke Po’ohaole, he haole kela
born was the stranger’s head, that was strange.

In the genealogy of Kualiʻi (born around 1710), the chant states:

Hoʻokahi o Tahiti kānaka, he haole
only one people in Tahiti, foreigners.

The word began referring more commonly to North Americans during the overthrow of the Monarchy.

Sometimes translating Hawaiian can be challenging because you first have to determine if the person is actually using the word with its Hawaiian meaning, or if the person is using the word with its Pidgin meaning.

In Hawaiian, I was taught never to say ” ʻōkole” in polite company, because it can mean “anus.” In pidgin, the word generally refers to the buttocks. Hawaiian Language Dictionary

When I was a girl, the following were in common use, with no pejorative meanings:

Hawaiian – Native Hawaiian.

Hapa [HAH-pah]- Part Hawaiian. Distinguished as hapa-haole, hapa-Keponi, hapa-Pākē, etc.

Kanaka [kah-NAH-kah] – Native Hawaiian.
(kuh-NAAK-uh and NAAK-uh were highly perjorative)

Kamaʻaina [kah-mah-ah-EE-nah / kah-mah-AI-nah] – Non-Native Hawaiian person born in Hawaiʻi or very long time resident who was adopted into Hawaiian culture.

Malihini [mah-lee-HEE-nee] – Visitor or new resident.

Sometimes, people will become upset that “haole” is not capitalized the way Kepani or Pākē is capitalized. In Hawaiian, “haole” is not an ethnic group. It is a description. One would not capitalize “continental” in describing someone. If one wishes to say “hapa-Pelekane” (Hawaiian-British), then, certainly “Pelekane” is capitalized.


Challenges of a Writer

So, I thought that I would avail myself of the amazing voice recognition technology which came pre-loaded on my Apple MacBook Pro. In my fantasy, I would sit back with a nice glass of wine and tell stories to my computer, which would provide me with a document file I could later edit into scintillating stories of my island home. It was a little more challenging than that, as evidenced by the selection I have quoted below.

The editing was so challenging, I ended up simply typing in the story. (You can get it now for only 99 cents!) But I have hopes that some day my laptop will be able to understand my storytelling. And, perhaps I will learn who is the Forest CEO!


Long long ago when the world was young the gods and goddesses still walked the earth among us a beautiful young woman named Nicola then in the Shores of Poona. Her name was lehua she had a sweetheart his name was bullshit no not bullshit old heat Live were had a face is round and shining as the moon up back as straight as the poly and Harris it tumbled down like a waterfall she was beautiful indeed okay headed back OPI had a chest brawl is a canoe Armes this is the tree branches Bath Street as Evening would draw near okay I would play his nose food for her enticed by the melody the pool go outside to join him romantic walks in the forest Wednesday another woman to note on here she was goddess of the volcano she made herself as beautiful as she could and approaching invited him to join her the only and neither Saunder Burger having eyes only for link cool and ears only for Lakewood voice I leave withdrew into the forest another day when I’ll be on label off were out walking I Approached him making herself even more beautiful Holy off that mortal creature in my anything you desire I am phone to leave for she is my bride my love could not live without her so if would do nothing for me to have anything else I want but she is all that I desire Nicholas Kelly skin down low anger Rage she stands here began to tremble just don’t forget about who’s the crap you leave behind coming to me what You refuse the love of losing atomic clocks began to flow towards or he’ll leave her behind and come to me and I shall see if you’ve a lot oh he I simply hopefully for most self but he is simply a health leave for all the tight as lava began around on his legs label up and held her of burning cake only help hire small spirits of the Forest CEO is in the mighty days gathered around week and sorrow over what was happening to the stencil couple thing new they could not withstand hello they could not contradict and get this I need to do something to save to gathered together thanks nothing Steven phone is turning arms in his leg stiff and body stiffened he looked up to leave well before was completely turned into a tree’s over there and his witty arm has he had his last of the first summit change is a beautiful blossom that he carried to this day


It’s Just a Cartoon for Kids

Last night I had an epiphany, a sudden moment of clarity brought on by the question of a haole* person I was sitting beside at a dinner. She asked, “What is the big deal about Moana, it’s just a cartoon for kids.”

I paused. (As a Hawaiian Cultural Advisor to a variety of entities, I’ve learned that any offhand remarks I make can (and often will) be taken literally. )

I thought. “”It’s just a cartoon for kids.” Aha. THAT is EXACTLY WHY it is a big deal.”

Now, I am not going to go into whether it is well done or not, who was insulted, who loved it, and all that. There are many blogs, articles, and comments available on-line and in print which are well thought out and make excellent reading for you to make up your own mind. I am only going to say a few words about WHY IT IS A BIG DEAL.

It is a big deal because kids are watching it.

If what kids see was not a big deal, advertisers would not be spending $17 billion (yes, $17,000,000,000!) annually to get keiki eye-tracks on their ads!

You see, kids/children/keiki, are rapidly absorbing everything that goes on around them. Whatever they see, hear, feel, smell, sense in any way is shaping the adults they will become. So it is critical that whatever is made for and marketed to children be true, honest, and healthful for their souls, minds, and bodies.

Movies, cartoons, and other media directed at children are far MORE important to produce to the highest possible standards than media directed to any other audience.

A child has no filters. Moana is targeted to children who are in that time of life in which they are most actively forming their perceptions of themselves and the world in which they live. What the child sees in Moana will largely inform that child’s perceptions of Polynesian people. If the child is Polynesian, this will have a direct effect on the child’s self-perception and view of his or her own history. If the child is not Polynesian, it will have a direct effect on how the child will see people who look like Polynesians.

If you let your child watch this (or any) movie, watch it with your child and use the movie as a starting point for discussion and exploration of your ʻohana‘s culture and values. It does not need to be heavy – simple questions like, “If you had been in _______’s place, what would you have done?” are a good starting point. Go to the library and borrow books about Maui and the Pacific. (And feel free to explain that it’s just a movie, Maui’s mother loved him very much. She didn’t throw him away because she didn’t love him. He looked like he was born dead, so she wrapped him in her hair and gave him to his ocean ancestors. Click here for a beautifully done video of the story!)

At the bottom of this post are links to resources, and to purchase books if you do not have a library available.

So, it is a big deal. Mahalo for asking a question that made me think!

Another question this lovely woman asked was, “Why are people so upset about a made-up character?”

The answer is, “He is not made-up.”

Maui is an ancestor figure, culture hero, and cultural archetype who defines much of how, as Polynesians, we see ourselves. Any perceived disrespect or attack is disrespect and attack which strikes at the self-perception of an entire people.

For an example of this in European culture, take a look at the stories of William Tell. Whether or not one pursues a literal interpretation of William Tell the Man, or is satisfied with the Legendary Figure of William Tell, again, he is an ancestor figure, culture hero, and cultural archetype. To disrespect or attack him is to disrespect and attack Swiss culture and self-perception.

Archetypal figures, found in all cultures, are used to teach children and adults cultural values and truths that go deeper than those found in simple dates and role-calls.

Here in the world’s largest ocean, Maui is revered throughout Polynesia. His wondrous deeds as a culture hero have been told and re-told for over a thousand years. Though there are differences between island groups, that they have remained as consistent as they have is amazing, and demonstrates how important Maui is to Polynesians throughout the Pacific.

According to Bulfinch (1796-1867), the compiler of Bulfinch’s Mythology,

“The Maui legends form one of the strongest links in the mythological chain of evidence which binds the scattered inhabitants of the Pacific into one nation. An incomplete list aids in making clear the fact that groups of islands hundreds and even thousands of miles apart have been peopled centuries past by the same organic race.”

IMDb is now providing community-created parental guides for movies, including Moana.

Must-haves for the grownups

Hawaʻiki Rising is free on Kindle!

Classic collections of mythologies


*I point out that she is haole (in the sense of ʻforeign to Hawaiʻiʻ) so that you know she is has an American/Euro-centric cultural background, as opposed to someone reared in the islands. If she were Japanese or of any other ethnic/cultural background, I would have pointed that out so that readers would have a cultural referent for her.

Cultural Appropriation and Halloween

Hula Girl Costume
No. Just. No.

Ok, Iʻm finally going to write it. I am NOT OK with the “hula-hula girl” costume.

“Halloween as a holiday has a history of being focused on inversion of power,” says professor Susan Scafidi of Fordham University. She is the author of Who Owns Culture: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law. “It’s about turning the daily world on its head.” People dress up as celebrities, cops, politicians, and other powerful figures, and it’s funny! But when you dress up as a culture that you are currently oppressing, or have subjugated in the past, you’re not inverting anything, you’re just kicking them when they are down — or, as Scafidi says, “reinforcing current power structures in an offensive way.”

So, you realllllllly like hula, and you reallllllllly want to be a hula dancer for Halloween. Here is my suggestion. Learn something. This applies not only to hula dancers, but to any “ethnic” costume.

Let’s look at the word “costume.” Generally speaking, a costume is what you put on when you pretend to be someone or something other than who or what you are. When I dance hula, I am not in a costume. I am wearing regalia.

Image by Kaleo Wheeler
“Hula is like a breath of life exquisitely embodied and expressed in patterns of movement and sound.” Image by Kaleo Wheeler.

Regalia” is special attire you wear for a specific purpose. Hula comes from a sacred source. Hula regalia, like the regalia of a minister or priest, is not used for common, everyday things. It is reserved for special, even sacred, occasions.

A generic costume, based on stereotypes of ethnicity, is inappropriate. The “Hulahula Girl,” the “Drunken Irishman,” the “China Doll,” all portray people from the viewpoint of the top of the power structure.

Instead, opportunities for learning and growth can come when a person finds an exemplary individual and chooses to portray that person. Take Back Halloween! is a wonderful website with great suggestions!

In short: Halloween (All Hallows Eve) is the eve (evening before) All Hallows Day (aka All Saints Day). Many old traditional calendars (the Hawaiian and Jewish among them) begin the new day at dusk, not midnight. We still remember this tradition in the celebration of Christmas Eve and Halloween.

Many years ago Halloween, Samhain, and Calan Gaeaf, were conflated. In earlier times, people dressed as Aos Sí (later deemed demons, goblins, etc. by the Christian church), and went about from dusk collecting offerings. The offerings were given in hopes of a safe passage through the dangers of winter. After the conflation, the costumes began to evolve.

Up into the early 20th Century, ghoulish and generally creepy costumes were the norm. Soon, in the US, costumes included Indians, Gypsies, and other marginalized people who were demonized by the dominant culture. By the mid-20th Century, costumes started including cartoon characters from the new-fangled TV shows.

Today, Halloween costumes are pretty much “anything goes.” But we CAN improve public discourse and dialog through our costumes, and still have fun!

Have a happy and safe All Hallows Eve!
Kumu Leilehua


Getting my Hā on

Up at four this morning to practice what I am calling “Hā Walea,” a technique of mindful breathing I am working on.

We have been working so much over the last several years, and not being mindful of our health, that unhealthy habits and practices have grown. Over the past decade I have developed type II diabetes, and stage two hypertension.

I sleep under such tension that my dentist tells me I grind my teeth all night. I’ve actually shattered some of my teeth and had to have them pulled!

Over the past year I have managed to get my diabetes under control through exercise and dietary changes.

The blood pressure (averaging around145/103) has not come down so easily. It has taken adding a third component to get my BP down.

I’ve tried many techniques, but none really worked for my lifestyle. But one early morning I could hear Aunty Nona’s voice, “Dahling! Remember your basics! when you have difficulty, always go back to your basics! Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.”

So, I began working on my hā, breathing the way she taught us for hula. So simple! Why did I ever mislay that?

I still let myself stress, but I am getting better.

This am, I awoke with a BP of 136/88, which is just below stage 1 hypertension. After a 20 minute session of Hā Walea my BP is now 119/78, right at the top of normal. No medications.

If you would like to join me in this journey to hula back to health (Or as one friend calls it “Leilehua’s Ol Fut Remedial Hula”) I would be honored.

Participating in Hā Walea and warmups is free.
Gather 11:00 am Mondays in the lobby of the Naniloa. This class is on hold until after the Christmas holidays. It will resume 9 January, 2017.

Drive by Car, Sail by Boat

One day, Kiko Johnston-Kitazawa (AKA Capt’n Kiko) and I were talking about words and phrases unique to our island speech patterns. “Drive by car,” “fly by plane,” and “sail by boat” came up. At first blush, they seem rather self explanatory. So, why would we express ourselves that way?

Yesterday, while researching something entirely different, I came across this passage in a DLNR report:

The Roads of Kohala and Kona (1902) In 1902, Charles Baldwin penned a series of articles in the magazine, Hawaii’s Young People, describing the “Geography of Hawaii.” In his discussion about the roads on the island of Hawai‘i, he presented readers with a good description of travel between Kohala and Kona. Baldwin wrote:

In traveling around the other islands of the group, we usually follow the seashore, but with Hawaii the case is different, for, to avoid waste regions and to accommodate the inhabitants, the road goes far inland in places. As the government could not always afford to build more than one road around the “big” island, that one was put where it would be of the most use to the greatest number of people.

During my first tour around Hawaii I met a gentleman who said that he had driven around the island. I had always supposed that this was impossible, as there was only a trail between Kohala and Kona, but there was his buggy and horse which he had purchased in Hilo. Later, I discovered what he had done—and others like him, who claim that they have driven around Hawaii. Putting his horse and wagon on the little steamer Upolu, he had sailed around to Kailua; but as the Upolu has since been wrecked, you cannot now “drive” around Hawaii.

So, indeed, we need to be very specific exactly how we travel. It IS possible to “drive by boat!”


I recently had a request from a student I have not seen in twelve years. She would like to ʻuniki with me. Out of the blue, with no communication for twelve years, she wants to ʻuniki.

You do not simply show up to a kumu and ask to ʻuniki. ʻUniki is something which is earned after years of diligent study. And even among those who put in the time and effort, not all will ʻuniki.

Dr. Amy Stillman has some very wise words in her essays on haumāna and kumu:

Teachers cherish what they have learned from their teachers. They hold their knowledge close, because it is special. It is shared when students are ready and receptive. This is why an ´uniki ceremony is an ultimate achievement. The student has earned the teacher’s trust. The teacher trusts that the student will care for what has been taught. The teacher trusts that the student can discern what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. The teacher trusts that the student understands why things are done they way they are. The teacher knows that his or her teacher’s teachings will continue. So the teacher sends the student off on their own. They are free to create. What they must never do is disrespect what they have been taught, or betray the teacher’s trust.

My own opinion – if one asks to ʻuniki, one is not ready.

Indigenous Traditions could be New Resource Management Model

This excellent op-ed piece by ʻOhu Gon  needs to be shared with many.
By Sam ‘Ohu Gon
September 4, 2016

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently unveiled a groundbreaking map of Central America that illustrates the critical role indigenous people play as caretakers of the region’s natural resources.

The map depicts Central America’s forest and marine ecosystems, along with the names, populations and locations of its indigenous peoples, who occupy almost 40 percent of the land and water area. And what the map clearly shows is telling: The best preserved natural resources are found where indigenous people live.

“You cannot talk about conservation without speaking of indigenous peoples and their role as the guardians of our most delicate lands and waters,” said Grethel Aguilar, a regional IUCN official. “They depend on those natural resources to survive, and the rest of society depends on their role in safeguarding those resources for the well-being of us all.”

The IUCN has made previous motions acknowledging indigenous people in conservation. But at this year’s World Conservation Congress, now underway in Honolulu, members will vote on a motion drafted by the cultural committee of the Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance that asks them to take additional steps toward integrating indigenous values, knowledge and approaches into efforts to address the world’s conservation challenges.

Why look to indigenous peoples?

Renowned philosopher Noam Chomsky says indigenous peoples have not commodified their relationship with the natural world. Their relationship is reciprocal: they care for their resources because their survival depends on it. Such a philosophy is desperately needed in Western societies today.

Prior to Western contact, Hawaiians embraced a reciprocal relationship with all elements of the natural world, regarding them as elders and physical manifestations of ancestors and gods.

Living on islands, with finite natural resources, they developed a mountains-to-sea system of resource management.

Within each ahupua‘a, or land division, there was an individual — the konohiki — trained from childhood to know the ahupuaa resources intimately, and who had the authority to set kapu — restrictions — when those resources were threatened, thereby bringing the resources back into balance.

The konohiki knew when each mountain tree was fruiting, when the birds of land or sea were nesting and when runs of fish were moving through the ahupua‘a — events that were extremely important to daily life.

Western approaches supplanted old relationships, disrupted ecological processes, commodified natural resources and essentially destroyed self-sufficiency.

Today, 85 to 90 percent of our food and other goods are imported from elsewhere, and the average citizen in Hawaii has little connection to the resources around them, much less a sense of kuleana — responsibility — for their care.

While we can’t easily return to the ancient ahupua‘a system, we can work to re-establish meaningful connections between people, places and resources that were its foundation. When people know and love their place and its resources, everyone benefits. The movement toward community-based marine management in Hawaii is all about this.

In rural areas like Haena on Kauai, Moomomi on Molokai, Kipahulu on Maui, and Kaupulehu on Hawaii island, indigenous communities, many of them lineal descendants of the land, are combining traditional Hawaiian approaches and modern science to restore their near-shore reefs and fisheries.

The idea is that if you engage the people of a place, who know the resources best, align them with the best of modern science and offer them an active and meaningful role in the conservation of those resources, good things happen.

Throughout the world, there is growing recognition that a new model of resource use and management is needed.

How do we achieve a more sustainable future for the planet?

The answer may lie in the caring, reciprocal relationship that indigenous people have with their resources and the natural world around them.

Sam ‘Ohu Gon, Ph.D., is a senior scientist and cultural adviser with The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii. He also is chairman of the Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance, whose cultural committee drafted IUCN Motion 83, affirming the role of indigenous cultures in conservation globally.