Helping Indigenous Leaders Find Solidarity at Global Gathering

By Molly Noelani Mamaril

UH-Mānoa Natural Resources and Environmental Management (NREM) Alumnus & Assistant Project Manager, Pono Pacific

September 2016 (Honolulu, HI, USA) – University of Hawaiʻi students can and are influencing global decision-making on issues of conservation. The recently concluded IUCN World Conservation Congress, held from September 1-10 in Honolulu, closed with International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) members adopting all seven Hawai’i motions crafted with help from students of William S. Richardson School of Law. As a partner in the Aloha+ Challenge, Govenor Ige’s 2030 sustainability goals and the 2017 World Youth Congress, UH students, researchers and faculty will likely play an important role in helping the State of Hawaiʻi meet the key conservation challenges identified during the IUCN Congress.

“Worldwide, communities who have long depended upon their land and waters for sustenance are critical partners in ensuring the health of natural resources for future generations,” says Assistant Professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management (NREM), Mehana Blaich Vaughan. Vaughan and a cohort of graduate students participated in a pre-Congress gathering of indigenous leaders that convened from at Queen Liliʻuokalani Children’s Center (QLCC) in Haleʻaha, Oʻahu.

“Move Forward Together”

The E Alu Pū Global Gathering brought together 150 participants from across Hawaiʻi and over thirty countries, as far away as Madagascar, Canada, Vanuatu, and Peru, prior to the official opening of the IUCN Congress.

The theme of the gathering, E Alu Pū, which means “move forward together,” reflected the spirit of collaboration fostered by event organizers, students and community partners who volunteered hours and logistical support toward creating a space for international dialogue between indigenous participants.

“We were encouraged by the active engagement and leadership of young people and the strong sense that they are feeling the call to take up the responsibility to learn as much as they can from the example of their elders and apply their education to ensuring a better future for all. The gathering gave us all hope and strength for what lies ahead,” said Kevin Chang, Executive Director of Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA), the local nonprofit that convened the four-day cultural exchange.

© Canelle TeaoIn addition to working together on a restoration project at Huilua fishpond in Kahana, participants took part in a traditional Hawaiian ʻ pa ceremony and found solidarity amongst peers through a series of meaningful discussions about preserving indigenous culture and community stewardship of their local lands and waters.

“We felt uplifted by the experience of meeting and finding common ground in each other’s struggles,” said Chang whose organization partnered with Nature Conservancy staff and students from Hui ʻĀina Momona, NREM and UH Sea Grant to facilitate some of the group discussions.

Individuals shared stories about the loss of native lands, over-regulated harvesting rights and pressure to westernize the management of local resources that illustrated the importance of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM). Amidst shared challenges, participants also discovered shared success stories of reclaiming access to resources, creating local trade economies, leveraging strong multi-sector partnerships, empowering youth and transmitting oral histories about traditional places and practices.

“We are still here.”

These powerful discussions led to the adoption of a mantra representing the unity that emerged from this gathering of indigenous peoples: “We are still here.”

“We have been told to leave our customary ways to develop a new kind of life in the modern economy. We live well and don’t want that to happen. We are resilient and self-sufficient and we will look after our own land and water,” said Porer Nombo, one of the indigenous elders from Papua New Guinea.

One resounding takeaway from the gathering, later echoed by IUCN Members in the adoption of key measures supporting indigenous peoples’ rights, was the need for policy to be founded in the collective wisdom and experience of communities who understand how to sustainably manage local resources. “The capacity for this wisdom to offer current-day solutions that enhance long term well-being and interconnection between people, land and water is exciting” says Vaughan. “Through their research, our students support and learn from Hawaiian community efforts to care for their homes across the paeʻāina (archipelago), It was amazing for them to see these efforts connect across the globe!”

Photo credit: Sean Marrs

To learn more about the NREM at UH-Mānoa, please visit:

Molly Noelani Mamaril graduated from UH-Mānoa in 2014 with her M.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Management (NREM). She currently works as a freelance writer and Assistant Project Manager at Pono Pacific.

Additional support for the E Alu Pū Gathering Gathering was provided by fellow NREM alum Puaʻala Pascua, and current NREM students Emily Cadiz, Cheryl Geslani-Scarton, Amy Markel, Monica Montgomery, Kanoe Morishige, Jordan Muratsachi, Aissa Yazzie, Kawela Farrant and Sea Grant agent Pelika Andrade

A version of this article was also published in the University of Hawai‘i – College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Newsletter under the title, “Partners in Conservation.”

Photo credit: Kai Markell


Leave a Reply