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May 27, 2021

Being an Innovative Educator and Highlighting Human Rights

Kamehameha Schools offers a variety of educational programs and scholarship services for Hawaiian learners of all ages across the state.

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Shining a Light on Hoku Akana, a teacher at Kamehameha Schools in Hawai’i

One of the joys of leading a virtual mentorship program centered on youth advocacy and multimedia is that I come into contact with incredible educators and students from a multitude of locations. This year, the Rock Your World team had the honor of working with about 85 sophomore students who attend Kamehameha Schools in Hawai’i—a program that offers a variety of educational programs and scholarship services for Hawaiian learners of all ages across the state. Their teacher, Hoku Akana, is an absolute phenomenon! Her energy and commitment to empowering her students immediately categorizes her as a Kindred Spirit.

As teachers begin to wrap up a year that I’m out of adjectives to even begin to describe, it feels wonderful to be able to shine a light on someone who I am deeply inspired by and who will now serve as a cultural adviser for the Rock Your World curriculum. I’m so excited to be able to share her cultural and educational perspectives with you. Read on to learn more about Hoku Akana who is one of the most inspiring educators I’ve ever known because of her commitment to her culture, sustainability and human rights in education:

Jess: Can you share with us a bit about yourself and how you came to be a teacher?

Hoku: I grew up in Waimānalo, Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi—one of the island’s top three rural areas with a concentrated population of Native Hawaiians. Looking around me, poverty continues to be an accepted way of life across Hawaiʻi forcing more and more of us into debt, homelessness, and pushing us out of our homeland. It is a daily struggle that has been debilitating for many close personal friends and family who are all Native Hawaiians. Being able to help others, especially students who will be our next generation, find ways to rise up and positively cope with the side effects of colonization, imperialism, inequality and poverty is what inspired me to be a teacher and community advocate.

Jess: Tell us a bit about the role that human rights education plays in your classes.

Hoku: As a Native Hawaiian, an Indigenous person of Aboriginal descent, the First peoples of Papa & Wākea (Mother Earth & Father Sky), our stories have always aligned with sustainability and true self-determination of ourselves and others as human beings. Being forever grateful to our Princess Pauahi who created a school for Native Hawaiians to celebrate their culture and identity while preparing to be competitive in Western society, my classes are built upon a platform of H/ICBE (Hawaiian/Indigenous Culture Based Education), starting with who we are as Hawaiians and Indigenous people and how we learn about and see the rest of the world and its people.

kamehameha schools
A photo of Hoku's school. | Ed Gross/The Image Group

Jess: Please share what you consider to be one or some of the most powerful and effective lessons/approaches that you have used with your students.

Hoku: By allowing space to value the students' cultural identity and strengths that come from their family and communities; and then, relating who they are inside to what we have to learn about, compete with, and explore as members of a global society that is driven by Western perspectives. This approach has definitely helped to empower my students to become impactful contributors to wherever they will go from here.

Jess: How do you navigate the challenges of being an innovative educator, and what are the rewards for taking risks in content, methodology, etc.?

Hoku: I ka wā ma mua, i ka wā ma hope. When we know who we are, and where we are from, it’s easier to navigate where we are going. Our ancestors were innovative people to the core. Our ancestors never gave up, and as they are in our naʻau, we will never give up. We navigated uncharted seas and territory without the use of modern instruments for thousands of years before Christopher Columbus. Our very culture of inclusivity drives us to be innovative. Our pedagogy of Aloha says if it strengthens our people, why not?

Jess: What is your greatest wish for your students in relation to their understanding of sustainability and human rights?

Hoku: My greatest wish for my students is for them to know, understand and own leadership in the arena of “sustainability.” The very essence of the word started with Native mindsets and Indigenous people. Just because it’s the current buzzword of the 21st century in Western academia, it is nothing new. Our people in Hawaiʻi and other oppressed people of color around the world have been living, breathing, resilient examples of sustʻāinability since the dawn of time; and this idea is at the heart of our aboriginal genealogies that stretch back to beyond 800,000 years of Native intelligence. With Aloha we can help lead the world into the next century as a thriving empathetic human race; and through this process, our own Native communities will thrive.

Readers, we send you best wishes for a smooth transition to summer, lots of rest and the spirit of Aloha. Be on the lookout for professional development opportunities that you can do in your pajamas or by the pool!

Hoku Akana grew up in Waimānalo, Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi. and has earned double B.A. degrees in the Hawaiian language, and in Hawaiian studies from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She earned her M.A. in educational leadership, Hawaii Pacific University, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in leadership studies, from Gonzaga University.

He ipu kukui pioʻole, he ʻaʻliʻi kū makani ʻaʻohe makani nāna e kūlaʻi

(a brightly burning vessel of knowledge that cannot be extinguished, like the wind resisting ʻaʻaliʻi, no gale can topple it over)

Ke Akua + Hard Work + Leadership + Kuleana + Lāhui = Sustʻāinable Communities

Exploring the Honua with ʻohana, haumāna & friends

ContactFollow on IG @Kumu_Akana, on FB @KumuAkana; Website: Kumuakanasplace.weebly.com

Jessica Burnquist is the vice president of Education and Youth Empowerment at Creative Visions and is the co-founder of Kindred Spirits, a human rights-focused education blog. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Time, Redbook and various online and print journals. In addition to her MFA in creative writing, Jessica has a certificate in digital marketing and is currently pursuing certification in nonprofit management. She is a Sylvan Apple Award winner for teaching and a graduate of the Freedom Writers Teacher Institute. Her poetry chapbook, You May Feel Your Way Past Me is available from Dancing Girl Press.

Kindred Spirits

Kindred Spirits offers an opportunity for educators and school staff to gather in the exchange of ideas, resources, stories and lessons pertaining to human rights education and students’ social and emotional growth. Please join us and contribute your voice to a chorus of kindred spirits.

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