Category Archives: Hawaiian Role Models

PBS Hawaii Takes A Stand, And We Agree

We are watching with interest something that is unfolding over at PBS Hawai‘i.

Leslie Wilcox, President and CEO of PBS, first wrote about it in her blog post titled Plowing Thru Hawaiian Words Without a Clue:

Our management team at PBS Hawaii made an easy call today. We decided to tell the producers of a national series that we won’t air a particular episode unless they re-do their narration, to pronounce key Hawaiian words correctly.

… For example, Hualalai is pronounced (twice) as Hula Lolly.

This is a show that came to Hawaii and didn’t do its cultural homework. As a result, the show suffers a loss of credibility.

…We’re not perfect, either. But we believe it’s important to make one’s best effort—to learn phonetic basics rather than plow through Hawaiian words without a clue.

Local stations are the heart of the PBS system, and so is education. Let’s hope this show decides to go back to the audio booth, to backtrack and re-track, and give all of the TV markets in which it airs the authenticity and quality that viewers deserve.

She writes that she thinks it’s otherwise a fine program, and hopes to be able to air it.

Even before I realized that this was a program Richard was interviewed by and appears on – we wrote about it here at the blog – I was really interested in this situation. I agree that it’s a sign of respect for a culture when you try to pronounce its language correctly; and a sign of disrespect when you don’t make any effort at all.

The following day, Leslie Wilcox acknowledged all the hundreds of hits and positive comments her initial blog post received in a post she titled Sticking Up for the Hawaiian Language:

Wow, do we feel the love! The love and respect for the HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE that so many of you have…

Thank you for voicing your support of PBS Hawaii’s decision to insist on authenticity – in the narration of an episode in national TV series. In the show, shot on location on Hawaii Island and prepared for U.S. broadcast next month, the narrator badly mispronounces well-known Hawaiian words, like Mauna Kea (“Mona Kay”).  Keaukaha, the name of the pono-embracing public school on Hawaiian Homestead land in Hilo, is unrecognizable.

My blog entry on this subject last evening received hundreds and hundreds of hits overnight, and kept racking up hits all day. It was Facebooked and Twittered.

Then I read on and realized I knew what program she was talking about.

I’m struck by the reverence for the Hawaiian language and culture—especially as I notice a post on my blog by Hamakua Springs Country Farm owner Richard Ha. He has every reason to push for this TV program to run, no matter what, because he’s a featured interviewee on the show and the exposure would undoubtedly help his business in tough times.

Instead Richard writes after watching an advance copy of the show: “I cringed when I saw it.” He thanks us for “doing the right thing.” Inspiring, huh?

And then I was stunned when I read her next post, titled What if the Narrator Got THEIR Home’s Name Wrong?, which talked about the initial response she got from the program’s production company.

…A representative of the TV production company is in effect dismissing PBS Hawaii’s concerns as a matter of nuance. Here’s a direct quote from an email: “Subtleties and variations in pronunciation are bound to happen with such an old and regionalized language. We understand there are varying opinions and outlooks such as yours…”
This is nonsense.

…Keola Donaghy of UH Hilo says he will provide audio of the correct pronunciation of the place-names or make an expert available to talk with the show’s narrator at no cost.
Too late, too expensive, the production company is saying.
Question: If the narrator identified the producers’ own home base, Annandale, Virginia, by a name unrecognizable to the region’s residents, would it feel compelled to correct the mistake?

Such an interesting position for a production company, which airs its programs on PBS stations across the nation, to take. Defensive. Dismissive. I’m surprised, frankly, at the cavalier attitude.

If I make an error in my work, I am chagrined and count the minutes until I can get back to the computer to correct it. What is the difference here?

Do the producers of this program really view the local regions they go into, and in this case that region’s culture and language, with such contempt?

Richard told me, “Imagine if President Obama, who grew up in Hawai‘i, saw that program. I’m sure he’d cringe.”

In a comment to her most recent post, Leslie Wilcox writes that the wind may be a changin’.

There’s an indication that the production company’s attitude may be changing. I’ll put in a call Monday morning and find out more.

We’ll keep you posted.


Akamai Observatory Internship Program

Richard recently spoke to 16 students in the Hawai‘i Island Akamai Observatory Internship program.


It’s an eight-week, paid summer internship funded mostly by the Center for Adaptive Optics (out of the University of California at Santa Cruz), though this year the Thirty Meter Telescope also contributed financially to the program by covering a budget shortfall.

Sarah Anderson is the program’s on-island coordinator and she explains the program’s three goals.

“One is to open pathways into astronomy, engineering and technology careers for local students. The second goal is the development of a work force for astronomy and technology, and the third is to continue to develop collaboration among the observatories themselves.”

The program starts with a weeklong preparatory course, and then there’s a seven-week internship at one of the Mauna Kea observatories. “They work on a single project under a mentor or mentor team for the seven weeks,” says Anderson. “And at the end of the seven weeks, they do an oral presentation at our symposium.”

Sarah says that during the first week’s “short course,” the goal is to prepare the students for their internship. “We do a bunch of science activities,” she says. “Hands-on, inquiry-based activities that are designed to help the students think on their own and develop their critical thinking, and their ability to start and get through projects.

“In addition, we try to get them thinking about their place in society as scientists, engineers and technicians,” she says.

“We asked Richard to come in to talk about business, sustainability and astronomy. They were very interested.”

Richard akamaiphoto by Sarah Anderson

Most of the interns either attend college at the University of Hawai‘i or one of Hawai‘i’s community colleges; four are local kids attending college on the mainland. Three are Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students.

Richard says it made him think of Paul Coleman, the first native Hawaiian astrophysicist, who now worked for the Institute for Astronomy. “He was really lucky,” says Richard. “When he was following his dream to study astronomy, there were no opportunities here and no programs available like this Akamai program. He had to leave Hawai‘i and he didn’t know if he’d ever be able to get back home. It was only because of a really unusual set of circumstances that he was able to find his way back to work in Hawai‘i in astronomy.

“I remembered Paul telling his story to the OHA board, and here were these students going through a program that did not exist for Paul when he was starting out. I looked at those kids teaming up with mentors and it just kind of took my breath away.”


Lehua Veincent: 2009 Distinguished Alumni

On February 27th, Lehua Mark Veincent was awarded a 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo’s Distinguished Alumni and Service Awards banquet.

Known affectionately by many as “Kumu Lehua,” Lehua Mark Veincent is on the vanguard of Hawaiian language immersion education. The Hawaii Island native, with genealogical ties to Ka’u, Puna and Keaukaha, earned dual degrees at UH-Hilo – a BA in Hawaiian studies and a BBA in business in 1988, plus teacher certification in 1990.
He has also earned two master’s degrees from UH Manoa, in curriculum and instruction in 1999, and in educational administration in 2002.

He has served as a teacher at Keaukaha School in Hilo, Pa‘ia Elementary School on Maui and Ke Kula o Nawahiokalaniopu‘u when it was established in 1994. He has taught kindergarten through 12th grades, and has also served as a lecturer and supervisor in the teacher education program at UH-Hilo.

For more than two decades, he has taught and coordinated the Hawaiian language, literature, and cultural classes for the DOE Community School for Adults. He served as producer, host, curriculum developer, and instructor of ITV Hawaiian Language Conversation through a partnership between Hilo Community School for Adults and Pacific Resources for Education and Learning.

In 2001, Veincent co-founded the Ke Ana La‘ahana Public Charter School, a grades 7-12 Hawaiian cultural-based school within Keaukaha School. He has served as a state resource teacher in Hawaiian studies and language, vice principal at Hilo Intermediate and Hilo High Schools, and principal of Ke Ana La‘ahana.

Veincent is currently principal of Keaukaha Elementary School, a K-6 school on Hawaiian Home Lands, which has gained recognition as one of the schools meeting annual yearly progress goals under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Despite the long hours required of an administrator, Veincent continues to serve as coordinator of the Keaukaha night tutorial program for grades K-12 and summer school programs for high school students of Keaukaha with Aunty Luana Kawelu of the Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center, as he has for 12 years. He also continues to teach Hawaiian language in the evenings in Keaukaha and recently at the Kulani Correctional Facility.

I first met Kumu Lehua three years ago after volunteering to serve on the Thirty-Meter Telescope committee of the Hawai‘i Island Economic Development Board. When talking about Mauna Kea one automatically thinks Hawaiian culture and specifically about Keaukaha, since it is the longest-lived Hawaiian Homes project on the Big Island – more than 75 years in existence. At Keaukaha, the elementary school is the center of the community. And Kumu Lehua is the principal of Keaukaha Elementary School.

I introduced myself and explained that I wanted to know what benefits he thought might be appropriate for a project such as the TMT. I went on to suggest that we might ask for full scholarships for a few students to attend the best schools in the nation.

He asked me in a very sincere way: “What about the rest?” I could feel my ears getting warm. Indeed. What about the rest? I felt pretty stupid. I learned a lot from Kumu Lehua.

I returned to chat with Kumu Lehua many times. I started to see how personally involved he was with the students. He included the community and the culture into the fabric of school life. The school’s motto is “Got Pono?” “Do the right thing” is a basic tenet at Keaukaha School, and Kumu Lehua makes sure that everyone lives it.

About a year and a half ago, I was sitting with Kumu Lehua and his staff at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center when a ripple went through the group. They had just heard that Keaukaha Elementary School had improved in its No Child Left Behind annual ratings. Some of the teachers were in tears. And then a year later, when the school was improved two years in a row, it made the front page of the Hilo paper as one of a mere handful of schools that had achieved special status.

Under Kumu Lehua, Keaukaha Elementary School had become a role model. UNBELIEVABLE!

Kumu Lehua is not a talker, he is a doer. I have enormous respect for him. Now that he has the kids at the elementary schools operating at such a high level, we must figure out how to keep them engaged so they can achieve their highest potential. If Keaukaha Elementary can get such good results in the public school system, maybe we can learn something from them?

I am very proud to say that I know Kumu Lehua.


Brudda Skibs

It’s not often you run across someone who is, as Richard describes Brudda Skibs, “completely selfless.”

Richard told me that when they conceived of the idea of the E Malama ‘Aina sustainability festival, Brudda Skibs was the first person he thought of. He’s glad Skibs was a part of the festival.

Richard described Brudda Skibs to me by saying he is known for organizing people in the community – mostly young people – to malama the ‘aina. To take care of the land.

“His reputation is spreading,” Richard said, “and other islands are trying to copy his template.”

That’s Skibs kneeling in the center, wearing the black long-sleeved t-shirt.


It’s hard for some people to wrap their heads around what Skibs (real name: Keith Nehls) does. Every Monday he and his volunteer crew clean up the park at Hakalau. Every Wednesday, they work at Honoli‘i Park. Every Friday, they’re at Honomu.

“We do it free,” he says. “With our heart.”

Watch this video, and you’ll understand about his heart. It’s an important speech and I wish every kid in Hawai‘i would watch it.

And read this article about their reclamation of Honoli‘i Park. Here’s an excerpt:

Honoli’i is one of the best surf spots on the Hilo side, hands down, and for years the surrounding park area was overgrown, full of rubbish, and unattended.

No More.

In November 2003 Keith “Skibs” Nehls and 150 other people started a movement that dwindled down to maybe 5 people within five months. His undying spirit carried him through.

Never Give Up echoed in his ears, words that his Grandfather taught him.

Uncle Skibs gives plenty credit to the teachings of his Grandfather, which instilled in him a strong faith in Akua(God) and a dedication to taking care of the aina(land)….

Dramatic Changes have taken place at Honoli’i, the aina glows from the loving touch of its caretakers.

In the beginning, everybody thought that the land was county land, and no one asked; they just started cleaning it.

Turns out it was Kamehameha School lands, and they were thinking of selling it because they saw no way they were going to be able to take care of it.

When they saw what was going on, they approached Uncle Skibs and offered him a lease on the land, 1 acre, for a dollar a year!

See what a little faith does!

Just look at what they’ve accomplished at Honoli‘i. This video shows the same areas in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, and my jaw fell open to see the land go from abandoned to absolutely beautiful. I had to replay it a couple times to see it again.

At Honomu, they are working on cleaning up the old sugar mill. “It’s privately owned by a doctor,” says Skibs. “He got in touch with us and said he was looking for someone to come take care of this place. He said he wants to give back. He wants to hand it over to an entity” where part of the building can be a community center and part of the land down near the ocean can be a park. They’re clearing the top part of the property right now. “We’re showing him we’re real,” he says.

They’re real. Skibs and his crew have been doing this for five years now, and he’s formed a non-profit organization, Basic Image, which last year brought in $46,000 in cash – $40,000 of that from the Hawaii Tourism Authority – and almost $300,000 in in-kind donations.

Kids come help on the weekends, he says, from Hilo High, Kamehameha Schools, Ha‘aheo School, Punana Leo and others. “We give them a tour, talk to them,” he says. “We tell them we built this park and put on events, and you gotta bring your parents, teach others, because when we die, you’ve gotta take over. This is for everybody. It’s not yours. You’re not going to get one special park; you’re doing it to teach our culture. You’re giving back.”

Every year he puts on surf contests at Honoli‘i and Pohoiki. “It’s for the kids, but parents or guardians have to be there,” he says. “Schools help us. They tell the kids: If you come and help us, we’ll put on this free contest because you’ve giving back. The parents come so they know what’s going on.”

Want to help? He says he’s always there around 9 or 9:30 in the morning. Or email him at

“Everyone has one talent that’s their gift,” he says. “You don’t have to come down to clean up. You give whatever. What you like do? What are you good at? I like you come and do what you like do.”

“We’re all here to do one job. We’re not looking at money or fame; we’re looking at changing this place to the way it used to be.”

Richard says that what Brudda Skibs is doing is “a manifestation of ‘aloha spirit.'”

“This is what is going to keep us together as a society when push comes to shove,” he says. “We need to feel a part of our community, make more friends and stay close to our family.”

“What we’re doing is real,” says Skibs. “We could change this island. We’re doing it already. That’s our job right now – the future of our children.”


Astrophysicist at Work

Richard and June recently took their grandson Kapono and granddaughter Kimberly to ‘Imiloa. That’s Hilo’s state-of-the-art, primarily NASA-funded, $28-million, 40,000-square-foot exhibition and planetarium complex, which strives to present both science—the world-class astronomy being done atop Mauna Kea—and the mountain’s highly significant cultural importance to Hawaiians. Most in the community seem to agree it does a good job at both.

The Has and their grandchildren watched the planetarium show, and afterward went up to see who was controlling the computers. “It turned out to be this very nice, confident UHH student working part-time,” says Richard. “Her name was ‘Ahia Dye.”

Twenty-six year old ‘Ahia, who grew up in Kailua, O‘ahu, is graduating this semester from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo with a bachelor’s degree in Astronomy and a minor in Physics. She is also studying Hawaiian Studies, and will continue on at UHH after graduation to complete her undergraduate degree in that field as well.

“The more I get into the professional field,” she says, “the more I realize the importance of knowing both your culture and the science together. It’s an important background to have. I’m finding it very very helpful, and fun too.”

I asked ‘Ahia how she became interested in the sciences, and she told me about her elder brother, a physicist, who always talked to her about their natural environment. “We would walk down to the beach and he would explain to me that the moon rises about an hour later every night,” she says, “and how the sun changes its position along the horizon as it rises throughout the year.”

‘Ahia’s job at ‘Imiloa is an internship she got through participating in UH Hilo’s Keaholoa STEM program, an NSF-funded program that supports Hawaiians in the sciences. Coincidentally, Richard is a new advisory board member of the program.

“There are about 20 interns now,” says ‘Ahia. “Besides going to school full time, they all participate in internships in their fields. That’s what kept me in astronomy, this internship, and given me an edge. Getting into the field is so different from studying the books. And being surrounded by so many Hawaiian kids; seeing all of us striving and moving forward in fields where we’re not so well-represented.”

Now that she’s graduating, she has been offered a position at ‘Imiloa.

Richard says, “I’m sure she doesn’t realize how important it is, what a role model she is, as a female native Hawaiian astrophysicist. It blows me away.”

‘Ahia is a role model in another way, too. She overcame a learning disability to get to where she is today. “I’m very dyslexic and I was failing out of 9th grade,” she says. “I was a good student, but I just wasn’t doing well.” Her parents enrolled her at Honolulu’s Assets School.

“They focus on what you can do there,” she says, “and push you in that way. They pushed technology and math and sciences. It was really fun. It’s different for every person, but what Assets did for me is they taught me how to interpret information and how to more quickly absorb it using different mediums.”

Richard was not the only one impressed with ‘Ahia; she also had a major impact on his grandson Kapono, who is 17. “He’s the kind of kid that has had no trouble with advanced math,” says Richard, “but he had not found his calling. Seeing ‘Ahia in action just blew him away. It gives me chicken skin to talk about it. Now he wants to volunteer to work at ‘Imiloa, and she said she would try to help him get in there.”

‘Ahia has only positive things to say about Kapono. “I think he’s going to be just outstanding,” she says. “He already has that mentality. He knows enough about computers, he’s going to learn a lot about astronomy, he already has the people skills, and he’s very nice and also motivated.

“My boss Shawn Laatsch, the planetarium manager, has been working in planetariums since high school,” she added. “I can see the same look in Kapono; the same ‘ano [nature] as Shawn. I think he’s going to be really great.” — posted by Leslie Lang