‘We Are Not Americans, We Will Die as Hawaiians’: Ka Wai Ola a Kāne Launched in Nānākuli, Oahu

On this day, February 14th, 1779 Hawaiʻi island warrior chiefs killed Captain Cook at Kealakekua Bay, putting an end to his reign of disease spreading. Kānaka Maoli have defended their ʻāina (land), waters, and cultural lifeways against Western imperialism for centuries. We are grateful to have the opportunity to uplift, invest in, and support the resistance work that the Kānaka Maoli have continued for over 245 years.  

From its inception, NDN has included Hawaiʻi as a partner in the movement for the liberation of Indigenous Peoples’ by dedicating a Hawaiʻi regional seat on the NDN Collectiveʻs Board of Directors. Hawaiʻi, namely HULI, and NDN have a deep relationship cultivated through struggle and solidarity, beginning at Standing Rock and continuing through Maunakea. While Hawaiʻi and the greater Pacific region have unique characteristics and challenges, our collective fight for sovereignty and self-determination toward the ultimate goal of protecting all peoples’ and the planet are deeply intertwined.

NDN Collective board member, and co-founder of HULI, Camille Kalama, discussed the importance of bringing resources to the region and addressed some of the existing barriers.

“What we found in our struggles was that we don’t have access to training and education around how to protest, how to protect our lands and our waters in an organized and effective way,” she said. “For example, there’s training offered across the United States, but our people don’t have the means and the resources to always fly out and get there because it’s so expensive for us to travel to the continent. So the intent really was to bring that here and bring it home.”

KA WAI OLA A KANE Camp. Photos by Richard Blue Cloud for NDN Collective.

Here at NDN, one of our funding programs, the Regional Ecosystem Deep Dive Program (REDD) approaches funding through place-based power building and provides hands-on strategy building for Indigenous communities who are challenging regional power structures. One of the four regions that we focus on in the REDD program is the Hawaiian Islands where 5 community partners have dedicated funding and long-term capacity support. 

Davis Price, Hawaiian Regional Deep Dive Director has spent nearly 15 years fighting for the ʻāina and Native Hawaiian rights. Davis explains, “As a kanaka ʻōiwi, my resistance is grounded in developing alternative structures that build community around economic development and political liberation.”

In addition to our REDD programming, some of the various ways NDN Collective supports our four deep dive regions (e.g., Nation of Hawaiʻi, Southwest, North Central, and Alaska) include community building, networking for capacity building, collaborating on projects, strategic planning, and skills training.

KA WAI OLA A KANE Camp. Photos by Richard Blue Cloud for NDN Collective.

In October 2022 members of NDN Collective journeyed to the region for Hawai’i’s first Non-Violent Direct Action Camp, Ka Wai Ola a Kāne, organized by HULI and Kaʻohewai. HULI is an organization dedicated to building capacity for Hawai‘i-based activists and social movements and Kaʻohewai is a coalition of Hawaiian organizations rising in defense of Kapūkaki (Red Hill, Oʻahu) and dedicated to the removal of the Navy fuel tanks. 

Andre Perez, co-founder of HULI, and NDN’s Changemaker Fellow alumni shared, “My vision for culturally grounded organizing is that we know how to bring people together in a way that is transformative and builds power, but is grounded in our cultural values and understanding of the pathway set forth by our kupuna [ancestors] and their values.”

KA WAI OLA A KANE Camp. Photo by Richard Blue Cloud for NDN Collective.

The week-long action camp consisted of training tracks in three focus areas:  Tactical Media, Creative Resistance, and Blockades. Each track trained organizers in key skills and tactics that would later contribute to a series of mock actions so local organizers could put their new skills into practice. 

The Ka Wai Ola a Kāne Camp took place in Nānākuli in the moku (district) of Wai’anae, the densest population of Kānaka Maoli in the world. Trainers and local organizers gathered at Ka Waihona o Ka Na’auao Public Charter School, a K-8 school led by Principal Kalehua Krug.  The school’s mission is to provide a culturally immersive educational experience to revitalize the Hawaiian language and culture.

In the evening, music reverberated throughout the camp. One song in particular, “I Am Not American,” whose title comes from the famous speech by beloved poet, educator, and activist Dr. Haunani Kay-Trask, was written about the Kānaka Maoli resistance and performed by musicians Kāwika Aspili and ʻIkaʻaka Nāhuewai. 

“These sounds are the soundtrack to our resistance and provide the fuel for our people on the frontlines in the movement,” Kāwika, the lead vocalist shared as part of introducing the music.

In January of this year, HULI hosted NDN Collective’s Creative Resistance team at the HULI Arts Training for Trainers (T4T) in O’ahu alongside organizers from Ka’ohewai, Ko’ihonua, and Kanaeokana. During the T4T the Creative Resistance team offered skill training in various tactics such as lino blocks, screen printing, light projections, and sewing banners. Organizers practiced their light projection tactics on a U.S. Navy ship at Pu’uloa (Pearl Harbor) with the HULI and NDN Creative Resistance team.

We are only at the beginning of our deep-dive work within the Hawaiian Kingdom. We will continue to train, share our ancestral wisdom, organize, and grow our movement to prepare our people for some of the greatest challenges we collectively face.

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Listen to “I Am Not American” performed by Kāwika Aspili and ʻIkaʻaka Nāhuewai:

Photos by Richard Blue Cloud for NDN Collective

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