In the second episode of the Seedcast podcast by Nia Tero, host Jess Ramirez, inspired by the Pacific Islander wisdom sharing practice of Talking Story, guides a conversation between friends Senator J. Kalani English (Native Hawaiian/Kanaka Maoli) and diplomat Taholo Kami, Senior Pacific Islands Policy Advisor for Nia Tero and Special Representative for Oceans for the Government of Fiji (Tongan, raised in Papua New Guinea, resides in Fiji). Topics range from the exploration and definition of Pacific identity, self-determination, the effect of the COVID pandemic on conversations of Indigenous sovereignty and resilience, and the role of younger generations on the future of Indigenous identity.
Hey everyone. My name is Jessica Ramirez. Welcome to Seedcast made by Nia Tero coming to you from the traditional lands of the Coast Salish peoples.
Theme Music (00:11):
[Rooted by Mia Kami].
Nia Tero is a nonprofit organization. We provide support to Indigenous Peoples protecting their homelands from colonization and destruction. We share Indigenous methods of care for the land with non-indigenous communities, and we support storytellers to elevate indigenous knowledge systems and rights. Seedcast is a platform to introduce to you the lives of Indigenous peoples from around the world.
As we have been generating ideas about this podcast and its purpose, we have grown to notice the depth of honesty and wisdom that is brought to light through the storytelling process. In most episodes, I would expand and reflect on what you are about to hear. And as someone who is always learning and listening actually thought it would be best for us to hear from Senator English and Taholo first, they are elders after all and Indigenous protocols while they vary across cultures, all share commonality around the wisdom of elders and the importance of transferring knowledge to the younger generations in the hopes of instilling and preserving cultural practices. For this episode, we talk story.Talk story is one of my favorite Pacific Islander terms it's used when folks get together and hangout, chit-chat, often in a circle, many times over a bowl of Kava, they rekindle stories. Talk about the news or not, but you get the idea. I've noticed talking story is an important resiliency practice for Pacific Islanders. It was special to bring to the show two Islanders who have a connection, a bond, one of which talking story spans oceans. So get cozy, listen closely and enjoy the episode.
Bula Vinaka My name is Taholo Kami, I'm coming in from Suva, Fiji, and acknowledged the people of the Suvavou. The traditional landowners of the place I am in. Thank you.
I had the opportunity to meet Taholo for the first time in early February, right before quarantine. He works for Nia Tero as a senior policy advisor for our work in the Pacific islands. We were sitting at the same round hotel conference room table for our all staff retreat. He reminded me of someone, someone familiar and familial his baritone voice commands attention, but not in a harsh way. It's more like you really want to listen to this person. Taholo Kami is a Tongan born resident of Fiji and was raised in Papua New Guinea. He works on Indigenous issues pertaining to climate change across the Pacific islands. Senator English is one of Taholo's best friends.
Aloha I'm Kalani English. I'm coming to you from the Island of Maui in Hawaii. And, it's a pleasure to be here. Aloha.
Senator Kalani English is a Native Hawaiian and the Senate majority leader for Hawaii's government. And for anyone who doesn't know him, you could describe him as a cool laid back charismatic leader. He feels on-point and buttoned up, but when you talk to him more, you understand that he's a profoundly empathetic and warm person. He's rooted. He's connected to his culture and his land. He calls himself an accidental politician. But what I know for sure is that he is a politician with purpose, both Senator English and Taholo, are policy creators and influencers, their work involves the oceans and beyon.
How does your Pacific Islander identity influenced your work in the political policy realms. And, and as someone who is still coming into their own Indigenous identity, I'm Indigenous Latin. And that's how I identify my family is from South Texas, but many generations from the border that crossed us. And so in these governments, how do you, how do you bring it down a level so that it relates more to your community and into who you're serving?
I don't think we bring it down, I think we're actually bringing it up, right. We're bringing the discussion up to everyone. I think for the Pacific now we're for many countries, you know, 20, 30, 40 years, 50 years into their independence or autonomy, self-rule, or integration. And as in the case of Hawaii, but you know, the idea of the Pacific identity as being Polynesian Melanesian or Micronesian while convenient, it's really a colonial construct. And we are moving more towards the, the notion of Oceania or the greater Pacific and cutting across those cultural divides to understand the commonalities. So how does that translate into government and into working with a different areas? Well, it's very simple. We have to bring it to the table. So I'm very blessed and very honored to have a seat at many tables in the US system and quite a bit in the international system as well.
And, you know, always able to bring the notion that Native Hawaiians, and I'm going to speak from this from this standpoint, Native Hawaiians and the Hawaiian issue is still there. Yes we we're politically integrated into the American system, but it doesn't mean that we gave up our Pacific identity, nor did we give up our language, our culture, our heritage, nor our background, and we're still live thriving well and regenerating and generating. So that try to bring that to the table and make that the centerpiece of the discussion. So I said, here's what I'm bringing. Here's what comes to the, come to the discussion. And we can have a very in-depth discussion on implications of the law of the sea or highly migratory fish stocks or whatever the issue may be. But this is what I'm bringing with me.
You know, the ability to sort of speak as Pacific Island, people, as people with these massive ocean heritage that you know, we're, we're able to speak with, with, with power in many spaces, simply by saying in a big discussion that this doesn't apply to us or that we need to rethink the narrative here because it's it doesn't, it's not inclusive of us. And, and that's been pretty powerful in the climate change space has been pretty powerful in the ocean discussions on, on global policy. We're finding another thing that comes with with the different levels of the role again, is that, you know, living here in Suva, we're having the discussions on, you know, impacts and identity. And sometimes I sit in a room here in Suva and I'm looking around and I'm thinking, do we really speak for those in the village or the community?
And, you know, last week we hold on a couple of days ago, we went into this Talanoa, this open discussion. And after that, we came out and thinking, you know, the strong advocates in this room, even though they look like we all look the same, that we're all pretty privileged. And that when we talk about identity, we're not just talking about village people, but we are those of us in town that can talk aggressively on some of these issues can only do so because of a position of privilege. And one of the things that came out of that was suddenly we said, you know, is there a color to,
Is it just white privilege or do we have to recognize and challenge all the time? You know, what does identity mean? And it carries across from the village to those in the urban and the diaspora, but identity also, we always have to ensure that no interpretations of issues on behalf of even our own people, are inclusive .
Yeah. So let's talk about Self-determination. What does that look like for you?
In Hawaii, It's a very, very charged and complex issue. You know, our history is one of it's a very sad history, military US military invasion in 1893, you know, deposed our constitutional monarchy. And a lot of people think that it was March to use the Western terms of march forward. But really for Hawaii was a step backwards itself. Women had, were fully enfranchised. We are a multi-ethical ethics society, many races were citizens of the kingdom of with full equality under the law, women own their own property, very, very advanced society. And with the imposition of the American constitution, for example, the Asian citizens became stateless. So my great-grandfather, I am part Chinese, my great-grandfather was born in Honolulu in the 1880s was a citizen of the kingdom of Hawaii. But then when they became American in 1898, he was stateless.
So I have his immigration papers saying that he immigrated from Honolulu to Honolulu and was Chinese and had no citizenship. So, you know, you see what happened in the past. So that informs us today. And today we have people, many Native Hawaiians that are saying, wait, we lost too much. We'd like to return to something that we had, others are trying to say, let's create something new, I think, to sort of speed it up and bring it into where we are right now. I think we're, rediscussing the whole issue of what is it, you know, is it economic sovereignty? Is it the idea that people can survive here and, and live a content life in Hawaii? Again, how do we, how do we do that? And how do we balance what's called the rights of the native tenants. So these are reserved rights in our constitution and or the native Hawaiians. It's, you know, how do we reestablish some sort of nationhood either within or outside of the US system? So it's quite complex here, quite varied. And you know, you could have days and days of debate on how it should be, but I think the one commonality is that people across the board for against Hawaiian sovereignty all agree that it has an impact on the political, cultural, social, and economic life.
Absolutely, absolutely. Taholo, could you please talk about self determination and as a Tongan, living in Fiji, being a part of the diaspora, I would love to hear a little bit more about what it means for people to be living away from home and staying connected, but how do you see that happening for folks in Fiji?
Yeah. Look on, on, on self-determination it's it's interesting talking, I got asked, got a couple of days ago and you know, what the sovereignty mean? And if you asked the politicians, they probably say, it's just securing our borders and making sure that we're running our interests. Then someone speaks from Papua New Guinea and the new prime minister, but his whole ethos is we're taking back PNG and, you know, PNG has been independent for 45 years this year. And they're thinking, what do you say? You're clawing it back. And the they're just saying that, you know, we have these incredible resources, but they're not ours. They belong to the big companies overseas that we've become dependent, not as independent as we that are forefathers imagined. And so, you know, when you say self-determination, it has a, a a, I think there's a lot of questions starting to come up and say, you know, with the question of sovereignty, always sovereign, just because these big seas, these big or these big borders of ocean our ours? And then the question is, is it really ours?
Are we benefiting? And from the, from these resources, do we have the ability to sustain them? Are they being stripped by someone else and other forces and, you know, COVID has brought that all again into discussions. And when suddenly your borders are locked, my wife is still in Tonga for six months now, for example, and she's waiting for the next informal next formal flight that might come from Fiji for the come to Fiji. And we're not sure when that is,. But in Tonga, they're really happy. They're just saying like, Hey, there's no COVID, they're eating well. The gardens are thriving. There's 3000 Tongans stuck in New Zealand, and they're still saying, leave them there. New Zealand's got COVID until they sort that out. And and that's become the reality in many of the Pacific countries, the Marshall Islands. I hear some of these, they're
Just basically the same thing. As people are happy, secure, they just feel insecure if you let your own people, and then they bring COVID, then we don't have the capacity to manage it.
Because of the pandemic, there's this 14 day quarantine happening in Hawaii. And, you know, for many places in the Pacific islands, people are not even allowed to go back. I remember hearing about the point of which planes couldn't even land from other places. Has this made it more apparent than ever that this kind of sovereignty or the ways that we can just take care of ourselves and our people can exist even more in like a more healthy way without dependence on another place or economy?
Sure. Well, in Hawaii, in a, we in part about 98, 99% of just about everything, and that's built into our political union with the United States. So food, you know, everything you think of as important, it's forced us to have to deal with our own food security. Is there enough food? Can we grow enough again here in Hawaii, too? How do we start looking after each other in different ways? And so I think that if you use the term sovereignty, meaning self-determination for an area regardless of race, then I think Hawaii is really rethinking where we're going and how we're going into the future, because we're realizing that we have to do this for ourselves by ourselves, basically it's by ourselves. So for example, lot of people have started farming again, small scale and big scale. I know of one Hawaiian man that has gone back and started raising pigs again.
And in Hawaiian culture, pigs are very important for many years. There are very few people raising pigs and doing local distribution. That means people can buy it from him creating smaller local economies. So I think in many ways, the pandemic has made us as a society as a whole, right, look at how we move together forward together. As one Island.
People are starting to realize that there is something special about even in those small states that covered on the lines that is worth securing and keeping, and, you know, people are going into the gardens for the first time in my backyard. First time in 12 years, I've been turning the lawn over and planting and realizing that I should have done this 12 years ago when I bought the place. And then the romanticism is, you know, people, you know, have this thing about going home and living off the land like the ancestors did. And then usually they'll go
Through a lifetime without not being able to do it. And of course, we've got a younger generation where, and the big question is as a Tongan you know, I see it happening all the time with my daughter's generation, where there's this huge pride in the revived again, and wearing our Ta'ovalas, the mats that we wear around our waist. And I remember at their age, I was pretty self-conscious about walking with a Ta'ovola and a Sulu around Sydney town center and things like that, but not this lot. They're just really proud to be wearing the traditional costume anywhere. And with them, there's this perception that, yeah, you know, one day we'll go home and we will plant these crops and we'll live off the land and we'll do the sea and the ocean thing. And, and, you know, the where the romanticism has, has come up probably been this identity crisis in a sense as being underlined has been with the voyaging and where everyone realizes that we're part of a heritage of the, you know, it's often referred to as the astronauts of that time that were able to navigate these massive waters of the ocean, Pacific Ocean from across the continents and through these little dots and suddenly there's this sense that we'd lost everything.
And so it's led to this revival. And again, some of the ties, the revival is also strengthened this romanticism of you know, planting taro is so much part of our roots, eating taro, drinking kava, and all of these things. And we're seeing like a kava revival amongst young Pacific Islanders all over the diaspora rather than alcohol. And all of this is tied to this sense of reconnection. And of course, romanticism, because you know, how realistic does the reconnection become?
How are the younger generations being brought into the fold? If you see that at all, or, or what do you wish for younger generations?
I mean, I, it's probably the challenge of today and, you know, we've talked a lot on what are they learning at schools, whether they're learning in the homes today and finding our younger people, there's a, there is this, with the diaspora there's this big thing about identity coming back again. You see the pride in wearing traditional costume, the tattoos on that reflect heritage, et cetera, but the, the deeper connection to knowing how to live at home. I think the curiosity is there, it's not the same depth as their parents. If you ask, you know, maybe a large, large proportion of the elderly living in the diaspora they just want to go home. They want to die at home. If it wasn't for the children, holding them back or medical systems overseas, they'd all be going home and just living in a hut in the village ff they could. There's this deep desire to go back home. And we, I'm not sure how instilled that is in many of our young people. And there's a lot of questions being asked. I see it in my own children, you know, I, I need to go back home and figure some of this out. And what home looks like I think is where that, that gap has created that home, what they, what they see as home and then how that ties to identity.
Yeah. you know, just thinking about that question, I'm really excited about the next generation in a lot of ways, there's a romanticism about, you know, the big quotes around this, going back to the village in Hawaii, you know, it's, it's almost impossible to do because we don't have any real villages left like that. But I mean, it's hard work, you know, it's really hard work. I mean, racing taro is a romantic notion, but to actually do it means you are doing this every day, all day. And, you know, I can see some of our younger guys doing it, like wanting to do it as a romantic notion. They do it for a little while and then say, okay, I've done it. And now i am going to go on back to my, to go back online and get on, get on zoom and talk to my friends around the world.
Right. So I think that's where the elders, the older people are sort of looking at this and even for my generation, you know, they looked at it and said, you guys, you know, you need to be dedicated to doing this. So yes, you know, I'm excited because I can, I see the young, younger guys, at least here taking on the roles and trying to do things. And I'm excited because I can see that they're wanting to do things that they want it to do it their way. During this whole pandemic. I had to do huge food distributions. We had people with, you know, in Hawaii without food and have to gather lots of amount of food and figure out how to distribute it out into the region. Also, I started putting together food growing programs, and I went to the twenties and 30 year olds and said, all right, I'll provide you with everything you need. You guys help me do this. And they did, you know.
I, I like it. I mean, like, like Kalani says is that it's, I'm hopeful for the future. When I see the passion and I see the passion that in a really distracted time, in a time when you've got so much pointing at everything else that we have, we've got young people passionate about defining who they are or in, in situations that are not even local. And I think there's hope that it's appearing in their art. It's appearing in their music, it's appearing in their forums that they're in. And I think it's the, the future in spite of some of the pessimists pessimism that comes from the traditionalist. I think the future looks a little brighter. And with some of the leadership that's emerging,
Senator English, thank you so much. Taholo, It's always a pleasure. And I know this is just the tip of the iceberg of Indigenous Pacific Islander story. And I hope one day we can speak again soon. I know that there is a whole breath of communities and stories to share. And I just appreciate you to kicking us off and sharing a little bit of your story with us. Thank you for listening to learn more about our work at Nia Tero visit our website, Nia tero.org, and a big thank you to the seed cast team. Executive producer, Tracy Rector, senior producer, Jenny Asarnow host, and co-producer that's me, Jessica Ramirez co-producer Felipe Contreras. Edited by Felipe Contreras. Social media manager, Hannah Panteleo. Marketing Manager, Julie Keck, and theme music by Mia Kami. Subscribe today to catch our next episode of Seedcast. You can find us on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, and Spotify. See you soon.
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[Rooted by Mia Kami].