activism

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Puanani Burgess

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Puanani Burgess

 

Puanani Burgess is a Zen Buddhist priest, poet and community mediator from Wai‘anae, O‘ahu.

 

Burgess was once a committed protestor and resister. She developed her skills as a law student to become what she calls a “dragon feeder” – someone able to navigate the complex rules of a large system like government or the DOE the way one might negotiate with a stubborn dragon.

 

 

She discovered that the people who were on the other side of the issue were not monsters. So Burgess embraced a role as a mediator, creating a safe space for people to come together and speak earnestly. She asks them to “dig the lo‘i deep” with her to understand each other, as she says in her poem “He Alo Ā He Alo” (Face to Face).

 

Today, she likes to describe her work as the community’s aunty. “Aunty is such an important job,” she says.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Aug. 19, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Puanani Burgess Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I remember you in the 1970s, ‘cause I was a news reporter, and you were, I would say … a protestor, a resistor, an activist, and an advocate.  And some would say, radical.

 

Yes.

 

Are all those things true?

 

Yeah.

 

She started as an activist, but now helps to bring opposing sides together to build what she calls Beloved Communities. Puanani Burgess, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Puanani Burgess is a Zen Buddhist priest, a poet, mediator, and community builder.  In the 1980s, she was part of a group that helped bring about community-based economic development in Wai‘anae, and later other communities.  This started during the controversial development of West Beach, known today as Ko Olina Resort, which Burgess and her allies started out opposing.  She’s been married for more than fifty years to activist, attorney, and retired executive director of the Wai‘anae Community Mental Health Center, Hayden Burgess, also known as Poka Laenui.  Puanani Burgess spent the first twenty-five years of her life with a Western first name, but later embraced her Hawaiian identity and the name Puanani.

 

I was born in 1947.  And I think a little bit of time went by after World War II.  But during that time, parents were very cautious about what they named children.  And coming from both a Japanese and a Hawaiian background, they were doubly cautious. So, in those days, they were giving children English names; that’s what we called them.  And so, it was beautiful American kind of names so that when we went to school, we wouldn’t be … looked down upon if we had a Japanese or a Hawaiian name.  So, my parents named me Christabelle, and I was named after my father, who was Christopher, and it’s Yoshie after Yoshiyuki.  And Sonoda is my family name, and Burgess is my married name.

 

Where does Puanani come in?

 

My mother told me that she stuck in Puanani just in case when I grew up, if I wanted to be attached to where I come from, I would have something.

 

But those were the days when people wanted to be known as Westerners.

 

Yeah.

 

Americans.

 

And hid all of their children’s identities behind that American Western name.

 

Well, so you were called Christabelle or Christy?

 

I was called Chris.

 

Chris?

 

Yeah. Throughout all of my high school, up until college, I was known as Chris Sonoda.

 

Now, Hawaiian, Japanese is your ancestry.

 

Yeah.

 

With some …

 

Chinese, French, German.

 

Most of the blood is Hawaiian, Japanese.

 

And Japanese.

 

So, your dad Japanese, your mom was on the Hawaiian side.

 

Yeah.

 

Did that create any cultural crosscurrents?

 

Oh … those two races were always in conflict with each other, and I could not understand why.  I just knew that it was.  I wrote a poem called Choosing My Name.  And in it, I put a line in there that my father’s family would call my mother kuroi mame, which meant black bean.

To her face?

 

In back of her, but in front of me.  And so, I really didn’t know what that meant until I got older, and then I understood what they were saying about her, and that notion of color.  And it reminded me of how my mother would introduce me when we’d be going to somewhere, to a store, and she’s see her friend.  She’d introduce me: This is my daughter; look at her, she’s so fair, isn’t she beautiful. It was the color of my skin that really was important to her, that I was light.

 

So, that’s the Japanese side.  What did the Hawaiian side say?

 

Well, they didn’t much care for her being married to a Japanese man.  And I never understood the racial tensions; I just knew that they were there, and they were played out in different ways. It made it very uncomfortable to go to family gathering, ‘cause you never knew where you stood.  And so, you just sort of made your way.

 

What did your parents do, and what were your parents like?

 

You know, I remember my mother as being a civic leader.  So, she was someone who could organize people.  She also was pretty well educated for her day.  She went to Mid Pacific Institute when it was sort of the Punahou for the middleclass.  And she turned out to be a really good teacher for me.  She was the one who really pushed me toward education and reading.  So, she taught me how to read when I was very young.  And that that saved my life.

 

Where were you living then?

 

At that point, we lived in Kalihi, on Colburn Street.

 

Now, you moved around quite a bit in your youth; right?

 

Quite a bit.

 

Wai‘anae, Liliha?

 

Liliha, we lived at Damon Tract before going back to Wai‘anae.  I think, you know, it’s really hard to talk about poverty and being poor.

 

What was the reason for the poverty?  Was it employment?

 

I think it was employment, but it was also … I think, you know, my mother suffered a lot.  She had various degrees of mental illness.  And so, her life had never been happy, and she’d always been trying to figure things out.  And I think the marriage between my parents was not always the best and most comfortable. But I think they both tried the hardest that they could to make a good life.

 

And stayed together?

 

They divorced when I was eighteen.  And I continued to live with my dad, and my mother lived on her own.  So, it was a very chaotic childhood, and yet, I’m here. So, I went to the University, and my major was English, and I thought I wanted to be a writer.  And poetry was something that I didn’t know I could do, but I did.  And so, I started to develop that part of me.  And so, my poetry has been the way for me to really start to deal with some of the hard truths of growing up.

 

While Puanani Burgess—still going by the name of Chris Sonoda, was discovering her talent for poetry at the University of Hawai‘i, she met and fell in love with Hayden Burgess, the future attorney and community activist from Wai‘anae.

 

I think, you know, Leslie, the thing that changed most in my life was meeting the man I was going to marry.

 

Is that right?

 

Yeah.

 

In Waianae?

 

I met him at the University.  But he and I knew each other when we were children.  So, he lived around the corner from where I lived.  My family lived in a row of Quonset huts on Halona Road in Lualualei Valley, and his family lived on Puu O Hulu, which is right around the corner from us.  And then, we met when we were at the University.  I was a freshman, he was sophomore.  And it was very clear that we were made for each other from the very outset, I think within the first couple of months.

 

What made it clear?

 

I think his confidence.  He was sure that this was the relationship for him.

 

And you were young when you got married; right?

 

Yeah; I was twenty.

 

Twenty.

 

That’s fifty years; that’s a lot of time.

And?

 

And I still like him.And we still get along.

 

And you have children together.

 

We do; we have three incredibly interesting children.  And so, when we married in 1968 … I like to tell this story; I like to remember it.  He told me in the first month of our marriage: Your job is not my wife; I’m gonna do the work I’m put on this earth to do, so that means you have to do the work you were meant to do, and it’s not my wife, so you gotta figure that out.

 

Did you know what the answer to that was?

 

I had no idea.  And I was mad.  Because I had been brought up to be a good local girl, I’m gonna be a good wife and a good mother.  And here’s this guy that I just married telling me: That’s not your job; you gotta go find your job, ‘cause this is not it.  And I thought: Oh, what did I step into?

 

At the age of twenty-six, Chris Sonoda Burgess embraced the Hawaiian name given to her by her mother, and began calling herself Puanani Burgess.  But she was still figuring out what job she was meant to do.  While in her second year at the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawai‘i, she began to find her way.

 

The childhood that I had created where I wanted to go, but I didn’t know what that was called.  So, I tried law school.  And a really interesting moment was in my second year of law school, I clerked for Cynthia Thielen.

 

The Republican lawmaker.

 

Yes. She was Legal Aid attorney, and she was the attorney for the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana.  And Cynthia was a great mentor.  So, she assigned me to the PKO.  So, I did research, and I helped negotiate things.  So, one of the things I helped negotiate with them was the building of the first hālau on Kaho‘olawe.  And the ‘Ohana thought: We cannot be there always, but this hālau will stand for us, and it will remind the Navy that we have returned, and we’re here to stay.

 

A lot of people disagreed, you know, with what they were doing and the style that they did it.  But if you ask those same people today—and there have been articles written by people who had been critical about that movement then, you ask them today, and they will tell you that the ‘Ohana and Kaho‘olawe has done more to spiritualize Hawai‘i and Hawaiians than anything that has come out in a long, long time.

 

You know, once I got bitten by the activism bug when I went to law school …

 

The Hawaiian Renaissance was in full swing at that time.

 

Yeah. Everything was happening.  And we were engaged in working with some of the people at Makua and Sand Island, who were pushing back against evictions.

 

All social justice projects.

 

Yeah; all of them.  And so, we entered the stream just at that time.  And we entered with education.  And we entered with being able to organize a cogent strategy.

 

What was life like at that time?

 

Wild.

 

Wild and heady?

 

It was wonderful.  I mean, because I was organizing with a group of people who were my age: Eric Enos, Gigi Cocquio, Hooipo DeCambra, Sister Anna McAnany; a whole group of leaders. We were all in our twenties and thirties together.

 

And that was the 1970s, wasn’t it?

 

Yeah.

 

And yet, you were in law school, and decided not to continue in, I think, your third year.

 

Yeah.

 

Why not?  That seems like a good thing to arm yourself with, if you’re an activist.

 

It was. And … I don’t know.  I didn’t want to be a lawyer.  Because I worked in my husband’s law firm in Waianae, I understood what the ordinary practice of law was like.  I didn’t want to do that.  I wanted to be more active.  So, the law school helped me develop infrastructure in my community.  So, we built organizations in which we were doing the work.

 

You were doing the incorporations.

 

Yup. And the 501c3’s and helping people establish themselves, and finding the funding, and talking.  I became a great dragon feeder.

 

What is a dragon feeder?

 

Dragons are systems, big systems, like government, like KSBE, DOE.  And dragons have lots of rules.  And they usually give you those rules in writing.  And your capacity to read and follow those instructions allow you to get into the dragon’s lair.  And so, law school prepared me so well to be a dragon feeder and a cultural translator.  So, I was working with community activists, and I was translating it into language that the dragon could understand.

 

I’m sure you helped get grants with byzantine rules too; right?

 

Yes. And I was giving them back the information that they wanted from us.  And so, the rule was, if you don’t want to obey or follow what the dragon wants you to give him or her, don’t apply.

 

During the 1970s, Puanani Burgess continued to involve herself in community struggles in Hawai‘i as an activist and advocate. In 1984, she and others from the Wai‘anae Coast community opposed the Ko Olina Resort development and what it meant for the land, other natural resources, and the way of life.  The mediation between residents and developers became a turning point in Puanani’s approach to community building.

 

So, it was at that time that we were doing the mediation with West Beach, was a really big deal.

 

West Beach is Ko Olina.

 

Yeah.

 

The future Ko Olina, now thriving Ko Olina.

 

Yup. And at that time, those of us in the community were pushing back against that.  And we were saying: You know, you folks going make money, but the only way we going make money is if we drive from here, and go over there and work. And then, maybe you going build houses, but the people who going occupy those houses will not be people from here. We need to have economic development that really is built from our value system.  And so, that conversation began to take place between us and the people who were the powerbrokers in the downtown business and political sector.

 

So, you mastered the cultural translation skills. Were you still a resistor, a protestor, an activist?

 

Yup.

 

So, you’re on the other side of the table, saying: This is what we want.

 

Yes; this is what we want, this is what we need, this is what we’re fighting for. And yet, I was beginning to listen to some of the things that they had to say.

 

Because it turns out, they weren’t monsters?

 

No; they weren’t.  And I think that’s the point about building Beloved Community, that you figure out a way that you can hear the other side of the story, and not necessarily fight against it, but create a space where I can show you who I am, and you can show me who you are, and collectively, we can figure out what parts of this work and we share.

 

And yet, at that time, I’m sure that was a brave stance, because in the parlance of the time, that was selling out.  Right?

 

Exactly.  And that was hard.  And that’s where that poem, He Alo ĀHe Alo, came from.  For me, it was a pushback against people who were criticizing us for doing the mediation with West Beach.  And I said: Come here; come stand in the lo‘i with me before you start yelling at us about what we should and should not be doing.  One of my best teachers was Tanouye Roshi, who was a Zen Buddhist priest at Daihonzan Chozen-ji in Kalihi Valley.  So, he was the mediator for the West Beach agreement. And it was interesting, because he could bring the Japanese side of the mediation.  Because they were Japanese developers that were doing the work at West Beach.  And so, culturally, he brought the owners of the development to the table, not just the highest administrative officer of the development company.  We were now dealing with the owners of the development. And Roshi Tanouye, the first thing that he said to me is: You have to always negotiate at the right level.  You folks are the owners of your community; you have to talk to the owners of that.

 

What was the result of that?  You know, were there compromises that had to be made, that you wish had not had to be made?

 

Well, the developer wanted to continue to build, and our effective stoppage of that really kept people from work.  And so, the compromise was, we resolved that they could continue, and that the funds that they contributed to the community were going to be used to build economic development from our point of view.  So, that was both the compromise and the promise.  My understanding is that they were soundly criticized for doing this. They didn’t have to; they could have held out.  But now, all the other developers are now having to think about and work with communities who are pushing against them.  So, there’s precedence.

 

Puanani Burgess continues to bring people and organizations together who at first see each other as opponents, or even enemies. She creates a space in which each can share with dignity what he or she believes is important.  She calls it Principles of Building a Beloved Community.

 

Well, I think, you know, I always long for calm, for a space free of tension. And … I’m always trying to figure out how I help other people enter that space.  I think a lot of my work is being a trickster.  And so, I use a lot of technique that looks like one thing, but it’s something else.  So, one of my tools is a ball, and I do a process called The Weather Ball.  And in it, I ask you to tell what the weather is like inside of you right at this moment.  And so, when people tell what their weather is like, they often tell you why it’s that way.

 

And do you think they’re really honest with you on that first go-around?

 

First go-around; yeah.

 

What do they tell you, for example?

 

They say: Oh, the weather is stormy, that you know, before I came here, I had a fight with my husband.  We do the story of your weather before I ask anybody even to tell their name, where they come from, or why they’re here.  ‘Cause in communities, certain names carry meaning.  So, in Waianae, if you say Burgess, have some people who like talk to you.  But if you say Burgess, have some people who never want to talk to you. So, no information in the first round. And so, when people do the Weather Ball, this is the first round, and you hear truth from somebody, as much as they can give it to you at that moment.  And because it’s a ball, the way people hold it is like this.  And if they’re scared, they squeeze it.  You know.  And that gives them comfort, so that they can release what it is.  And so, that as a first round really helps people to understand.  And for me, it’s a way of managing power in the circle.  So, most of my circles do not require anybody to raise their hand. Once you get to the point of asking people who’s ready, and somebody raise their hand, then you know the power going shift to that person, because they’re the ones who ready to talk.  And then, everybody else going follow, and then every other circle, they going wait ‘til that person raise their hand.  So, I don’t do anything like that.  It’s just, I start, and I’m not in the power grid; I’m facilitator.  And then, we just go around.  And so, it’s not anybody choosing to start.  A lot of, you know, what I’ve done in the past, I do things around vision mapping.  Helping people talk about what their vision is, and then having people show each other their vision maps.  And then, recognizing: Oh, we agree, I never knew that.  And because people don’t have a way of talking to each other deeply, they never get to see the depth of what they really mean, until someone like me facilitates a process in which they can both come in equally, and they can both show up as they are.  So, one isn’t mediating, and the other one is not the one who’s being victimized.

 

At what point could you tell your husband: You know, you told me go find out what my job is.  At what point could you come back and say: Hey, this is my job.

 

I still don’t know what my—I know what my work is.  My work is auntie.  That’s what I’ve become.  I’ve become auntie to so many people.

 

You know, there are a lot of women who don’t like to be called auntie, because they think it connotes age.

 

Yes.

 

Others say it’s respect, it’s a family spirit. You’re on that side of it.

 

Yeah; it’s all of that.  It is age, it is experience, hopefully wisdom.  But my job is auntie.  And I take it very seriously.  So, I get to work with all kinds of people and all kinds of different organizations, and I’m auntie to them.  And because I am auntie, the ways I’m able to teach them is not just modern ways; it’s also older ways.  I can teach them through poems, through stories, through experiences.  So, you know, auntie is such an important job.

 

Auntie Puanani also is an ordained Zen Buddhist priest.  She says the lessons learned from her mentor, Zen Priest Roshi Tanouye, have taught her how to breathe and remain calm during conflict, to help her see the multiple sides of situations and stories.  And she continues to share her thoughts through poetry.  Mahalo to one time fierce protestor and resistor, now calm community builder Puanani Burgess of Wai‘anae, O‘ahu.  And thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawai‘i.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

So, when I wrote that poem, Choosing My Name, and I spoke about that very difficult part in our lives, and the place it was printed was the Star Bulletin, so everybody saw it, including my Japanese family.  And so, they started to call my father and asking: Why is she revealing these things? My father, to his credit, said: That is her life; it’s what she experienced, she has a right to it, leave her alone.

 

 


PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall

 

In August 1969, 15-year-old Terry Kanalu Young became quadriplegic after a diving accident. Initially bitter about his circumstances, he eventually realized that his rage could destroy him – or he could learn a great lesson from it. This film explores Young’s life journey, from a Hawaiian history student to an activist and community leader, and how he used his insights about identity and trauma to offer hope to dispossessed Native Hawaiians.

 

To learn more about Terry Kanalu Young, be sure to see this interview.

 

 

INDEPENDENT LENS
ACORN and the Firestorm

 

Explore the politically charged battle to take down ACORN, a controversial national community organizing group. Working with lower income communities, the group was investigated by undercover journalists, cutting to the heart of the political divide.

 

 

AMERICAN MASTERS
Norman Lear

 

Discover how the prolific creator of “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times” effected social change through his groundbreaking sitcoms and activism. Featuring interviews with George Clooney, Amy Poehler, Jon Stewart, Russell Simmons and Lear himself.

 

Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall

PBS Hawai‘i Presents

Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall

The story of Hawaiian community leader Kanalu Young Premieres
Thursday, June 15, 8:00 pm

 

By Liberty Peralta

 

In August 1969, 15-year-old Terry Young took a dive into the ocean from a rock wall at Cromwell’s Beach near Diamond Head. The water was shallow; Terry hit his head. In a split second, he became quadriplegic – paralyzed from the neck down, with limited use of his hands and arms.

 

Kanalu Young at an Elder-hostel (now called Road Scholar) summer program, circa 1997. Photo courtesy of the Family of Kanalu Young.In rehab, bitter from the accident, young Terry took his anger out on hospital staff. Eventually, he realized that his rage could destroy him – or he could learn a great lesson from it.

 

It was 1970s Hawai‘i, and the Hawaiian Renaissance was taking root. Terry, who would adopt the Hawaiian name, Kanalu, turned his passion toward Hawaiian language, history and culture. In the 90s, he earned a PhD in Pacific Island history and began his career as a professor of Hawaiian history at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

 

Filmmaker and professor Marlene Booth first met Kanalu when they both served on a panel to review film proposals. They ended up working together on Pidgin: The Voice of Hawai‘i, a documentary that made its broadcast premiere on PBS Hawai‘i in 2009. Shortly before the completion of Pidgin in 2008, Kanalu passed away at age 54.

 

Marlene spoke with us about the making of Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall, and about Kanalu’s life and legacy. The following is a transcript of that conversation.

 

 

PBS Hawai‘i: Tell us about when you first met Kanalu.

 

Marlene Booth: I first met Kanalu in the year 2000. We were both serving on a panel put together by PIC [Pacific Islanders in Communications] to judge proposals for films. He was there representing the academic side and I was there representing the filmmaker side. I saw that as we discussed the proposals we’d read, he and I seemed to be saying similar things, and I liked that, so I approached him and asked him if he ever thought of making a film. He was a professor, a tenured professor at the University of Hawai‘i, but he said yes! He said yes as though he had been waiting for somebody to come and ask him that question.

 

So we began talking about, if we made a film together, what that would be. We emailed back and forth because I wasn’t really living here at that point, and came up with the idea to do a film about the resurgence of the Hawaiian language, which ended up morphing into a film about pidgin, because of Kanalu. This local boy, who taught Hawaiian studies, who loved Hawaiian history, and really felt like Hawaiian history and Hawaiian language had given him a sense of who he was in the most important way, said, “Let’s do a film about pidgin.” And when I asked him why, he said, “Because without pidgin, I would cease to be whole.”

 

So we ended up then making a film about pidgin, which was on PBS Hawai‘i, called Pidgin: The Voice of Hawai‘i. That took many years because funding a film always takes a long time, and producing a film takes a long time. Towards the end of the editing of that film, Kanalu passed away. He was quadriplegic from the age of 15, and almost a lifelong sufferer with asthma. With the combination, he got very sick. He ended up in the hospital and never came out of the hospital. We lost him in late August 2008. Pidgin would be finished just a few months after that, toward the end of 2008. Kanalu, unfortunately, only got to see the first 20 minutes of it, which he liked. But he would have loved to see the finished product. He would have loved interacting with audiences and talking to them about who they are. Identity was very important to him.

 

When did you realize that Kanalu’s story would make a good film?

 

A few years had passed [since his death]. I started thinking about Hawaiian language and history, and what it meant to live in a place like Hawai‘i, a place where history is alive and being talked about every day. There’s such vitality to that and such importance in terms of what it means to be a person whose history is being rediscovered and affirmed. The renewed interest in Hawaiian language and history are really embodied in Kanalu’s life. He became active in the disability community as a leader, but he was well aware that all around him was the awakening of Hawaiian culture. It was as though what had been a Hawaiian Renaissance on a statewide scale became Kanalu’s renaissance. It completely opened him up to all of these things. Everything spoke to him and he wanted to grab it in every way he could. He became a graduate student in Pacific Islands history, which is what [UH] had at that point, and he got a PhD in it and became a professor.

 

Kanalu Young, center, was in the front line of the 1993 ‘Onipa‘a march, which observed the 100th anniversary of the Hawaiian Kingdom overthrow. Photo courtesy of Ed Greevy.Kanalu Young, center, was in the front line of the 1993 ‘Onipa‘a march, which observed the 100th anniversary of the Hawaiian Kingdom overthrow. Photo courtesy of Ed Greedy.

 

Meanwhile, he didn’t limit what he was learning to the classroom; he went to demonstrations. In one, which was a year before the famous 1993 ‘Onipa‘a march, in 1992, he was arrested at a vigil that was celebrating King Kamehameha on King Kamehameha Day. It was meant to serve as preparation for what would become the ‘Onipa‘a march the next year. People stormed the stairs of ‘Iolani Palace, which he could not do. He was forcibly pulled from his wheelchair and thrown in a paddy wagon, which I think brought him into the notice of people who might not have known him outside of the university. When the 1993 march came along, it struck a chord with people who, as [UH Hawaiian studies professor] Jon Osorio told me, had not heard the real history of Hawaiian history, and this was the first time they had heard it. At that march, Kanalu is in the front line. He suddenly goes from being a learner and a student who’s moving toward becoming a teacher, to becoming a leader, not having really thought it, but his actions that came out of his sense of who he was and what he had to do propelled him there.

 

The film presents parallels between Kanalu’s life story and the story of the Hawaiian community. Was this something Kanalu himself observed?

 

In one of the final interviews he gave, Kanalu was in bed, and he’s talking about how he thinks he has an unusual perspective on the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. He says that when he came into it, the Hawaiian community was broken and in recovery. He said, “I understood that.”

 

When I spoke to Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, who had been his student, and Jon Osorio, who was his very good friend and colleague, both of them said something similar – that Kanalu brought to the Hawaiian movement a sense of understanding and moving forward from trauma because he had had his individual encounter with trauma years before. I think Kanalu knew that the recovery side doesn’t stop, it’s ongoing. I think he felt that the Hawaiian movement gained strength by acknowledging trauma, acknowledging loss, and moving forward to recovery. I think he felt that understanding history, re-asserting language, and publicly celebrating culture, was really very important to cultural and national renewal.

 

How did the film’s title come to be?

 

One of Kanalu’s friends who teaches at an immersion school, Pua Mendonca – I was talking to her early in my research for the film – I said, “What would you title it?” And she said, without missing a beat, “I would call it Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall.” She said Kanalu always stood tall. He was always head and shoulders above the rest of us.

 

I later learned that there was a book with that same title about the resurgence of Hawaiian music, at the beginning of the Hawaiian Renaissance. That came out many years ago, and yes, they both have the same title, but there was no connection.

 

Why is the film only about 30 minutes long?

 

There are several reasons. The funding mandated half an hour. There’s also only a finite amount of footage we could find of Kanalu that was in usable form. There was a lot of material on VHS that had deteriorated to the point of no recovery. I think we searched long and hard for any material of him.

 

We didn’t want him to get lost in the story. It’s tricky when you’re doing a film about someone who’s passed away. It’s easy for the film to be one person or another giving testimony about who he is. It was very important to have Kanalu’s voice and image in the film, and there just wasn’t all that much out there. What was out there, we found, as far as I know.

 

Half an hour is also a very usable length for classrooms and that’s important. Also, I realized that an hour-long film would have also been another year or two of fundraising and production. I really wanted to get the film done and out and used.

 

You worked a lot with ‘Ulu‘ulu [the moving image archive at UH West O‘ahu] on this project.

 

‘Ulu‘ulu was so important. The film would not have happened without ‘Ulu‘ulu. They were the ones really getting their hands dirty. They have a ton of footage from the ‘Onipa‘a march and Kanalu was in a lot of that.

 

‘Ulu‘ulu found an interview that Mahealani Richardson had done as a young reporter at KGMB asking him about ‘aumakua. The cameraman, bless him, let the camera roll before and after the interview. What Kanalu said to Mahealani before and after the interview became key pieces in the film. They talked as an older Hawaiian man who knew Hawaiian history, and a younger Hawaiian woman who was curious. I would have never found this footage without ‘Ulu‘ulu.

 

What are some things about Kanalu that you wish could have been included in this film?

 

I’m happy with the film; it gives a strong idea of Kanalu and his importance to the Hawaiian movement. He loved to sing, and he had a wonderful sense of humor, and I don’t think we were able to get enough of that into the film. I wish there had been the time to develop more the fullness of Kanalu the person, but in finding a story, the strong focus seemed to be his individual understanding of who he was as a Native Hawaiian, and the way he was able to propel that into helping others connect to the Hawaiian movement.

 

And some things need contextualizing. There’s some home movie footage that Kanalu’s brother shot on VHS, where he’s being silly, but I think it would have taken a little bit of contextualizing to explain where his silliness came from and how it operated.

 

There was a whole incident that we never talked about [on camera]. Leading up to the 25th anniversary of his accident, of taking that dive at Cromwell’s, he said, “I want to go back to Cromwell’s. I want to get in the water and I want to make my peace with the ocean, and I want to reassert my love for the ocean and tell the ocean it wasn’t your fault.” He does this whole thing of finding friends who are lifeguards and firemen and weather people who can tell him what the surf condition is going to be, and then he mobilizes everybody he knows, and he works out a whole choreography. “How am I going to get in the water? What are we going to use?” And he does it! They get him in the water. The waves were coming over him because the waves were stronger than predicted. He does it for himself; he wants that experience. But he also does it for everybody else, to show them that anything is possible. It’s got to be tactile for him, even though he can’t feel most of it, except for his neck up.

 

Friends and family helped with Kanalu’s return to Cromwell’s Beach, 25 years after his fateful dive there paralyzed him from the neck down. Photo courtesy of the Family of Kanalu Young.Friends and family helped with Kanalu’s return to Cromwell’s Beach, 25 years after his fateful dive there paralyzed him from the neck down. Photo courtesy of the Family of Kanalu Young.

 

If Kanalu was a different person, he could have said, “I never want to go back there.”

 

Exactly, but he wanted to, and it was fantastic. His friend and younger colleague, Kekai Perry, told that story, but I didn’t have Kanalu telling it. I had one great photo, but it just wasn’t enough to make a whole scene work in the film.

 

Each thing I might have added about him [in the film] would have uncovered another layer of this man. We can’t any of us be reduced to just one thing about ourselves. But in a film, of course, you need to have a goal and find a story. The more compelling story seemed to be who he was as a voice at this time, at that moment in history. Next film, next round. [laughs]

 

If there’s one message you’d like people to take away from this film, what would that be?

 

Boy, there are a million messages. Kanalu was both a gentle man and a warrior, and I think he understood that history is complex, the times we live in are complex, and we need to garner our strength to recognize injustice when we see it, to be resilient to fight against it, and to continue that engagement, while continuing to be ourselves.

 

In these times, I think he would say that there is strength in knowing who you are and knowing the various parts of yourself, especially for Native Hawaiians, in terms of knowing the history, language and culture, and understanding that those tools embolden you and make you a better person, and never to forget that, and to use that in service of fighting injustice.

 

I think about him all the time and what he would be making of our times now. And I think he would say, “No give up.”

 

Right after his accident, Kanalu was in the hospital, angry at everyone there. It would have been so easy to go in that direction instead.

 

He saw that other direction. But Kanalu makes a decision that you’re in rehab to not give up, and that makes all the difference. Once he’s made that decision, that he’s in the game and he’s in it for the long haul, the world opens up to him, and he goes after everything.

 

He was always open to new things. He could take a really strong stand publicly about something in Hawaiian history, and then he’d uncover new evidence. He was always saying, “It’s got to be evidence-based. Make sure that what you’re saying is evidence-based.” Every time I say that to my classes at UH, it’s Kanalu speaking through me. If he had evidence for something, he’d change his mind and not feel like less of a person.

 

He often said that if the accident had not happened, he would never had been who he became. Not that he would have ever looked for the accident, but it gave him a focus, and a seriousness of purpose, and a seriousness about himself. From that, he knew how to adapt to change. That was not something new for him; he had adapted to probably one of the biggest changes to adapt to, when he was just an adolescent, becoming who he was going to become.

 

Kanalu Young at an Elder-hostel (now called Road Scholar) summer program, circa 1997. Photo courtesy of the Family of Kanalu Young.Kanalu Young at an Elder-hostel (now called Road Scholar) summer program, circa 1997. Photo courtesy of the Family of Kanalu Young.

 

He was comfortable with himself as a man in a wheelchair in public. That was never an identity he shied away from; he was who he was. His disability was a part of who he was. It gave him a perspective on himself, on life, on Hawaiian history, that he appreciated. It allowed him to see things and hear things and to understand things that might not be available to everybody.

 

A big life, this man had.

 

PBS Hawai‘i to air documentary on late Hawaiian history professor, activist

PBS Hawaii

For questions regarding this press release, contact:
Liberty Peralta
lperalta@pbshawaii.org
808.462.5030

 

Download this Press Release

 

PBS Hawai‘i to air documentary on
late Hawaiian history professor, activist

 

Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall premieres June 15 at 8 pm on PBS Hawai‘i

 

Kū Kanaka/Stand TallKanalu Young, center, was in the front line of the 1993 ‘Onipa‘a March in Honolulu, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Hawaiian Kingdom overthrow. Photo: Ed Greevy

 

HONOLULU, HI – A half-hour documentary about the late University of Hawai‘i Hawaiian history professor, Kanalu Young, is set to make its statewide broadcast premiere on PBS Hawai‘i. Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall premieres Thursday, June 15 at 8 pm on PBS Hawai‘i’s local film showcase, PBS Hawai‘i Presents.

 

A live discussion about the film will take place on Insights on PBS Hawai‘i at 8:30 pm, following the broadcast premiere of Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall.

 

The documentary traces Young’s story, starting with his fateful dive at age 15 near Diamond Head. The accident paralyzed him from the neck down, with limited use of his hands and arms.

 

In rehab, he went through a period of rage. According to Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall filmmaker Marlene Booth, Young eventually chose a new path. “Kanalu makes a decision that you’re in rehab to not give up,” Booth said. “That makes all the difference.”

 

In 1970s Hawai‘i, when the Hawaiian Renaissance was taking root, Young would turn his passion toward learning Hawaiian language, history and culture. In the mid-90s, Young earned a PhD in Pacific Island history and began his career as a Hawaiian history professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. During his studies, Young participated in demonstrations, including the 1993 ‘Onipa‘a march in Honolulu that commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Hawaiian kingdom overthrow.

 

Booth says that Young’s personal experience with trauma gave him insight into the trauma experienced by the Hawaiian community. “I think he felt that the Hawaiian movement gained strength by acknowledging trauma, acknowledging loss, and moving forward to recovery,” Booth said. “I think he felt that understanding history, re-asserting language, and publicly celebrating culture, was really very important to cultural and national renewal.”

 

Booth, who co-produced the documentary Pidgin: The Voice of Hawai‘i with Young shortly before his passing in 2008, said that Young was “both a gentle man and a warrior.”

 

“In these times, I think he would say that there is strength in knowing who you are and knowing the various parts of yourself, especially for Native Hawaiians,” Booth said.

 

“I think about him all the time and what he would be making of our times now. And I think he would say, “No give up.”

 

To view the full interview, click here.

 


PBS Hawai‘i is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization and Hawai‘i’s sole member of the trusted Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). We advance learning and discovery through storytelling that profoundly touches people’s lives. We bring the world to Hawai‘i and Hawai‘i to the world. pbshawaii.org | facebook.com/pbshawaii | @pbshawaii

 

Snapshot: A Love Story Interrupted by Invasion

SNAPSHOT: A Love Story Interrupted by Invasion

 

Mitzi Sinnott stars in a solo dramatic presentation of a true story of a daughter’s journey, initiated by the question “What do I know about war?” The answers are lying in an album of faded photos of her absent father, who left for Vietnam before she was born. She creates a world in which her father has a leading role, with snapshots from the album projected larger than life on a black wall, bringing the characters to life.

 

50 Years with Peter, Paul and Mary

Peter Yarrow, Noel "Paul" Stookey and Mary Travers

 

Air date: Sat., Oct. 31, 8:00 pm

 

Celebrate the impact of the trio that provided America’s soundtrack for generations and combined artistry with activism for five decades. This program features rare and previously unseen television footage including a BBC program from the early 1960s that embodies many of the trio’s best performances and most popular songs. This is Peter, Paul and Mary at the peak of their artistry, a time when this popular and influential trio dominated the Billboard music charts.

 

From the group’s emergence in Greenwich Village, to the Civil Rights and anti-war era of the 1960s, through the decades of their later advocacy and music, to Mary Travers’ moving memorial, and finally to the present, where their legacy continues to inform and inspire successive generations, this far deeper and more intimate exploration of the trio reveals the impact of their artistry and activism on their generation and the world. Songs include: “Five Hundred Miles,” “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” “If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song),” “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”

 

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