Monday, October 12, 2015

Aloha ‘āina

For the past two and a half years, I have been privileged to be part of a very unique graduate degree
program through Miami University, the Global Field Program (GFP). Through the GFP, I have the opportunity to participate in three Earth Expeditions (EE) conservation and learning trips throughout the globe.

For my most recent EE in July, I went to the big island of Hawaii.

Hawaii is a truly magical place. To stand on a lava flow is to stand on the birthplace of an island, to witness a landscape in constant flux. It's incredible, and surreal.

In my travels I've found that  many people of Native ancestry, particularly those who live on Native lands, have a connection to the people and places of their heritage. I know that I personally grew up surrounded by the cultural aspects of the Cherokee and I have always experienced a pull, or gravitation, toward like tribal people and places. It's a recognition on a metaphysical level, and there is a measure of comfort in those moments that I have rarely found comparatively anywhere else.

I found that peace in Hawaii.

Leaving my home and family for 10+ days is never an easy task, and an EE typically requires that you push beyond your comfort levels even further, moving that boundary past the point you thought was the end, again and again, until you look up and you're standing some place you never thought you'd find yourself.

It's both terrifying and addicting.

In Hawaii, I'll admit I was surprised to find the same sense of peace that I encountered on the Hopi and Navajo reservations of New Mexico and Arizona. The Hawaiian people have such a rich and beautiful culture; if I have any regrets about my trip amongst them, it's that I didn't spend nearly enough time in their midst, learning their message and beliefs about their lands. My brief moments spent in their inspiring presence still resonate with me.

With this EE more than any other, I think I have thought more about the people, rather than the place. The place is beautiful! Make no doubt!

But the Hawaiian people are what make the islands such a wonderful experience, and I found myself thinking about them, about their struggle to maintain their own historical and cultural connection to their lands, on my return.

Thousands of people visit the islands every year, and I would wager most take the islands for granted as simply a pleasure spot. What damage has this obliviousness wrought? What a double-edged sword for Hawaii and its people: the profitable tourism industry versus the eventual destruction of their home.

And yet, they welcomed us, and taught us the importance of kuleana, and were grateful and generous of spirit in accepting our offers of help during our brief stay.

My visit, our visit, to the island of Hawaii reinvigorated my decision to dedicate at least this portion of my life to conservation. More importantly, though, it served as a gentle, peaceful reminder, that the people are as beautiful and deserving of my attention and time as any singular place.