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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Suzanne Case

 

An idyllic childhood spent outdoors in Hilo set the stage for Suzanne Case’s lifelong commitment to the preservation of Hawai‘i’s natural resources, first as a conservation lawyer, and then as the executive director of The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i for 14 years. Her deep love of nature has helped guide her current leadership role, as chairperson at the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Oct. 28 at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Suzanne Case Audio

 

Suzanne Case Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is my favorite national park.  We used to hide in the lava tube and scare the tourists. And at age four saw the Kīlauea Iki eruption, which was two thousand feet in the air.  And you know, I had that experience of hot lava and cold air on my back, and we were all lined up on a wall at the edge of the crater.  So, I mean, that kind of thing is just a powerful experience.

 

She grew up experiencing some of the natural wonders of Hawai‘i.  And now, her job is protecting them for future generations.  Suzanne Case, 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.  There’s a tremendous amount of legal and other office work that goes into protecting and preserving the lands and waters of Hawai‘i. But Hilo born Suzanne Case, who heads the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, is not only handy with paper trails, she’s handy on mountain trails too.  In fact, she needs nature in her life.  Case is a familiar name in Hawai‘i.  Suzanne’s brother is former U.S. Congress member Ed Case, and her cousin is entrepreneur Steve Case, who cofounded America Online or AOL.  Suzanne Case has spent most of her career looking out for natural resources, first as legal counsel, and later as Hawai‘i executive director of the Nature Conservancy.  In 2015, Governor David Ige appointed her to lead the department charged with managing the State of Hawai‘i’s natural resources.  Her deep connection to nature took root while she was growing up in rural Hilo, on Hawai‘i Island.  Her father, James Case, took a job at the Hilo office of the Carlsmith and Ball law firm in 1951.

 

So, I was born in Hilo, and grew up in Keaukaha until I was about ten.

 

Okay; I have to stop you there, because everyone I’ve met in Keaukaha is a Native Hawaiian homesteader.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Your family lived there.

 

So, there is the Native Hawaiian homestead, and a longer neighborhood going down to the end of the road.  We were in that neighborhood; we were down towards the end of the road.  We went to third and fourth grade at Keaukaha Elementary. So, it was a whole mixture there. But it is a very diverse community, and very outdoorsy.  The road goes right along the water.  We lived right across the street from the water.  And so, you know, every day, we were in the water.

 

It’s two steps into the water, practically.

 

 

Totally; yeah, yeah, yeah.  You cross the yard, go down the wall, cross the road, and you know, walk down, and you’re there.  And so, we were there every day, either in the water, or scrambling along the shoreline. You know, it’s all lava rock there, a lot of underground caverns and stuff.  We had ponds on our property, there were ponds in the neighbor’s property. We were right across the street from the Richardson’s, we’d call it, Fishpond, which was and is a beautiful fishpond.  You could scramble along the wall, there’s a mākāhāthere.  And it’s now a community center, which is perfect for it.

 

And why did your family pick that area? Because you have a choice of where to live in Hilo.

 

Yeah. I think my parents just wanted a place. We had a lot of kids in my family.

 

How many kids?

 

Six kids growing up.  And so, were just outdoors all the time.  And I think they just wanted us to be outdoors.  When we were little, my dad would come home from work for lunchtime and have a bite, and take us for a swim.  And then, come home after work, and we’d go for a swim.  And you know, so you learned to swim.  We swam underwater on his shoulders, you know, just right out in front of the house.  And so, that part was really neat.

 

Well, your father sounds like he was such an engaged father.  And your mom.

 

Very much.  They both were very engaged.  Yeah. So, my mom actually finished her college when we were in Hilo, when she had, you know, young kids.  And then later, her master’s when she had more young kids.  But you know, she was at home all the time, and cooking and sewing.  She made our clothes.

 

She had a set of twins among all the kids.

 

Yeah; yes.  They came a little bit later, so I grew up really with three brothers, and then later on, a brother and a sister.  So, lots of outdoor energy from that group.

 

Did your parents or your brothers make allowances because you were you a girl?

 

Not at all.  No; no. And I was pretty much of a tomboy growing up.

 

You weren’t gonna let them take the lead.

 

Right. I mean, there were a couple of things that, you know, I thought it was unfair that they got to do, that I didn’t.

 

For example?

 

I don’t know.  I mean, part of it was just I had older brothers.  But on the flip side, my dad used to take me out to lunch, starting in preschool, on the last day of school, because you know, there were so many boys, he wanted to do something special.  And so, that was a tradition that continued all through high school, and he does it with his grandchildren now.  And my brothers were very jealous of that.

 

Which of your siblings were you closest to?

 

Probably Ed.  Over our whole life, you know, he was really my oldest brother growing up, so I always looked up to him.  And you know, we’re still quite close.

 

Your elementary school was destroyed by a tsunami.

 

Yes; yeah.

 

The old Waiākea Kai.

 

Waiākea Kai Elementary School; right.  It wiped out a whole community.  And I was there from kindergarten through second grade, and then we went to Keaukaha Elementary School.

 

How much of an impression did that make on you?

 

Very bit impression.  Waiākea Kai was predominantly Japanese, mixed community, and Keaukaha was predominantly Hawaiian community.  So, it was a big part of kinda my grounding in Hawaiian language and music, and culture, and in fourth grade, played in the Merrie Monarch Festival.  So, I learned ukulele then, and you know, kala‘au sticks that my friend’s grandfather made.  And you know, so all my friends were Hawaiian, and they got to go to Kamehameha Schools, and I didn’t really understand why I couldn’t go there.  But it gave me a real love of Hawaiian language and music, and culture that I think, you know, lasted with me.

 

You’ve had a couple of aha moments.  I remember you speaking of one when you were a kid, spearfishing, which changed your behavior.

 

Yeah.

 

Tell us about that time.  That was probably in Keaukaha.

 

It was actually in Honomalino Bay in South Kona.  We used to go there for vacations.  A very remote place, very off the grid.  And we spent a week or two at a time, every single year, when I was growing up.  And a very, very special place.  I knew it underwater better than above water.

 

Where is it?

 

Honomalino; it’s south of Miloli‘i, South Kona.

 

Oh, that’s very south.

 

It’s very south.  You know, no roads to it, kind of thing.  So, my dad made our Hawaiian sling spear guns out of, you know, bamboo and surgical tubing, and electrician’s tape.  And so, you know, we always had the right size spear for our height.  And so, you know, we learned how to fish, but we had to, of course, clean and eat our fish.  And so, I finally, at age eleven or so, caught my first weke is what I caught. And then after that, after you got good enough, you had to go for the real eating fish.  And so, for me, that was uhu.  But they were much faster, and I never could spear one.  And so, one day, I just got so tired and so frustrated that I just turned, and I speared a butterfly fish, just because I wanted some success.  And the spear ripped through the fish, and the fish swam away with this gash it in. And I went: Oh, that was not pono. And so, I quit spearfishing.  I knew that I couldn’t do it if I was gonna not do it the right way.  So, I quit spearfishing.  I actually saved up my money, and I bought an underwater camera housing for an Instamatic.

 

Oh, you shot them in another way.

 

I turned into an underwater photographer at age twelve.  And so, it was just a powerful moment for me of realizing you have to do the right thing.

 

Suzanne Case faced a culture shock at age nine. Her family packed up and left the country life in Hawai‘i Island that they loved, and moved to the City of Honolulu, Oahu.

 

When I was almost ten, my dad’s firm asked him to move to Honolulu, to build up the Honolulu office.  And so, we were just between—just finished fourth grade, and so, none of us wanted to move.  First, we thought we were just gonna go for a little while, and so we thought that was fine. But when we found out that we were moving for permanent, we just said: N-O, we are not gonna go.  All of us kids, we just: We are not going.

 

And then, of course, we had to.  But it was rough; it was very rough.  I always felt like country bumpkin goes to the big city.  And you know, it was a rough transition.  I went from public school to private school; that was part of the transition.

 

So, from Keaukaha Elementary to Punahou.

 

To Punahou; yes, exactly.  They were just two worlds.  And you know, Punahou is a great school, but it took me a good maybe four years to really kind of find my place there.

 

You repeated sixth grade.

 

I did. That was probably the thing that was most influential in my getting settled at Punahou and turning out more successful.

 

It was for social reasons?

 

It was for social reasons.  And I was struggling a little bit academically.  I think I was borderline when we moved from Honolulu, and normally maybe they keep you back.  And so, they said: Well, you know, let’s go with it.  But after two years, my teachers and my parents recommended I do that. And you know, that was a hard social adjustment, but really, really good one.

 

I would think it’s hard, because you know your classmates go on without you.

 

Yeah. Yeah; yeah.  Yeah, and you know, and it’s awkward.  Right?  But it was good for me.  I had my first success in school.  We were up at Camp Timberline, and had to do a study project, and a study plot.  I happened to have a spider in my plot, and so, I ended up really studying that spider for a week and, you know, got an A-plus on my science paper.  And I’m like: Oh, that feels good.  You know. Feels good to understand what it takes to, like, really apply yourself, to be really good at something.  And that was neat.  So, you know, that kinda thing helps your transition.

 

You got so comfortable at Punahou, where you had once felt uncomfortable, that you became the first female student body president.

 

I did; I did.  And it was kind of one of those step-up things; right?  So, you know, I remember thinking about it for a while.  I had been on a student council, small advisory council, and I remember just feeling like, again, I should do this, I should step up and, you know, do this kind of service.  So, I did, and I ran, and I was elected.  And so, I was the first female student body president at Punahou.

 

Did you remain an outdoorsy person in Honolulu?

 

Yeah; totally.  So, we moved to Tantalus, and so that’s an outdoorsy place.

 

So, that’s the country in town.

 

That’s the country in town.  It’s a very, you know, special place to live in terms of, you know, it’s very close to town, but it’s in the forest.  So, again, we were just like—the neighbors were much more spread out, so a little more lonely place to have that period of your life.  But you know, we had kids about a mile up the road, and so, we would, you know, find paths through the forest.  And we had this system of neighbors picking up kids after school at the steps at the bottom of the hill.  And nobody does that anymore. but we were essentially hitchhiking, except with people that we knew.  And so, very, very independent.  You know, you could come home whenever you want.  And we had a great mudslide right near our house, so you know, we’d go out especially when it was pouring rain.  That would be the best, and just get covered in mud.  And you know, that was some dangerous stuff there, but you know, you were lucky that you don’t get in too much trouble.

 

In addition to enjoying forests on Mount Tantalus above Honolulu, Suzanne Case continued to be fascinated by the reefs and ocean, with the help of two popular television shows of the time.

 

I just dreamed about being a scuba diver, and used to watch the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and Sea Hunt, Lloyd Bridges’ Sea Hunt in black and white. We didn’t have television until we moved to Honolulu, and then it was very, very restricted.  So, I always wanted to learn to scuba dive, and you could get certified when you’re fourteen.  So, soon as I was fourteen, my dad and I signed up for a course, and we both took it.  And I was actually much more comfortable underwater than he was.  But we got certified, and then I started diving, and then I found people to go diving with as well.  And then, I saved up my babysitting money to buy a set of scuba gear—so tank, regulator, pack, vest.  And I used to go diving a lot, mostly on Oahu off of Waikiki, off of Hawai‘i Kai, off of Hanauma Bay, Cockroach Gulch, and also Sharks Cove, Makua. So, you know, I loved kinda the meditation of being underwater, and just blowing bubbles, and being still and—

 

Bringing your camera.

 

I did.

 

With the underwater housing.

 

I did; I did.

 

After graduating from Punahou School, Suzanne Case followed in the footsteps of her father and others in the Case ‘ohana, including her older brother, former Congressman Ed Case, by entering the world of law.

 

In our family, half of us went into law.  I would say on my cousins’ side, they were more on the business side.  But I think all of us had, you know, a sense of like, kind of social responsibility.  You know, a sense that we needed to contribute somehow to Hawai‘i, to society and stuff, and so, it just expressed itself in different ways. You know, Ed’s very much of a public servant in politics, and you know, Steve obviously is a really fine businessman. And you know, all just trying to do something good for the world.

 

Was that said to you explicitly by your parents? This is what you’ve got to do, this is what we believe in.

 

They had a strong sense that we had to contribute to society, I guess is the way we were kind of brought up.  I mean, I can’t point to a specific thing they said, but that was kind of a theme going on.  You know, you need to do something good for society with your life.

 

You chose to go to law school.  Was it a real choice?  Did you feel, you know, expected to?

 

By the time I went to law school, it was a real choice, because I didn’t think I was gonna go for a long time.  And honestly, I didn’t really understand what my dad did.  He did business legal transactions.  So, I was around it all the time; I just didn’t really understand what a lawyer did.  And I didn’t really understand it until I went to law school.  But I think by the time I went to law school, I realized that I needed to do something that was intellectually engaging.  And so, it turned out to be a really good path for me. And I ended up practicing law for eighteen years, mostly real estate transactions, mostly in conservation.  I worked at the Nature Conservancy for twenty-eight years.

 

A nonprofit; and in charge of conservation of lands.

 

It’s a conservation organization globally.  And so, I worked there as a lawyer from 1987 to 2001.  I worked all over the western United States.  I worked in Hawai‘i, I worked in the Asia Pacific region, places like Indonesian and Papua New Guinea, and China, and Pohnpei.

 

Were you negotiating tracts of land?

 

So, in the US, we were, very much.  We were basically doing conservation transactions.  So, real estate transactions to put important pieces of land into permanent protection.  And so, that was just another switch.  I practiced real estate law in a law firm in San Francisco for four years after I graduated from law school.  And that was just straight real estate transactions; one pension fund buys an office building from another pension fund, so I saw it as kind of morally neutral work.  Whereas when I made the switch to the Nature Conservancy, you know, I felt good about everything I was doing.  But it was still real estate transactions, it was still problem-solving in terms of like, what are all the things you need to do to get to this point on closing day. You know, always referred to it as closing instinct.  You need to get here by this date, so what are all the things you need to do.  But that was for conservation.  And then, in the middle of that in 2001, I was in Hawai‘i, still as lawyer, and was asked to be the acting director, ‘cause the previous state director was leaving.  And I said: Uh-uh.  I said: There’s plenty of people that could do a much better job than me, I’m perfectly happy being a lawyer.  And so, the regional director who had asked me just, you know, continued to talk to me about it, and then something just switched in my head, and I said: Yeah, I’d like to do that.  And it was a real switch.  It was a switch from implementing to like, figuring out where we need to go, what’s the path to get there.

 

Also, you began working with donors, too.

 

Very much; yeah.

 

Fundraising big deals.

 

Yeah; yeah.  And that’s obviously a big challenge for people to do and very much of a change from, you know, just doing the legal work.  But you know, my only kind of path in it was just to realize that, you know, what you’re doing is, you’re telling people this great work that needs to be done. And there are people who want to do this great work, so you’re, you know, offering them a path to implementing their own dreams as well.  So, you know, once you realize that you’re talking that language with a person about what they care about too, then it works.

 

Suzanne Case led the Hawai‘i program of the Nature Conservancy for fourteen years before being nominated by Governor Ige in 2015 to head the State Department of Land and Natural Resources.  Case said she had not envisioned herself in that position, but after legislative approval, she stepped up to a new set of challenges.

 

You were chosen after lawmakers didn’t like a previous selection by the governor, who was Carlton Ching.  But when you came onto the scene, many people were saying: She’s perfect for this job.  You live the job.

 

Yeah.

 

And in a sense, I can see exactly what they mean, because you are somebody who loves the outdoors.

 

Yes.

 

You live it.

 

Yeah.

 

And you want to protect it.  So, that’s who you’ve always been.

 

Yeah. I’ve always been very outdoorsy, very deep love of Hawai‘i, deep love of places, and this problem-solving; you know, the how you do it, and the why you do it.

 

Right.

 

In combination.

 

And you had legal skills, to boot.

 

Yeah. And so, that’s been really helpful to me.  So, all of that, you know, DLNR has a broader mandate.  In the Nature Conservancy, we were very focused on protecting our forests and reefs.  And that is true also in DLNR, but there’s also state parks and historic preservation, and enforcement, and conservation regulation, and small boating, and you know, a whole slew of things.  You have to come up with a decision a lot of times, and the decision is gonna affect somebody positively and somebody negatively.  So, how do you make sure that at least they all feel like they’ve been heard.  And then, you know, that you’re doing something that really has a good public policy base in it.

 

But you know that it’ll never be win-win for everyone.  Somebody will always be unhappy with your decision.

 

That’s a very hard thing about it; it’s a very hard thing.  Yeah; yeah.  But overall, our mission is to protect Hawai‘i’s public trust, natural and cultural resources. So, that’s just the underlying driver. And that helps a lot, because a lot of times, there is a greater good and, you know, it may hurt somebody who would like a bigger piece of that greater good, but you’re trying to come up with something that’s fair.

 

Do you sleep at night saying: Oh, no, you know, I’m working really hard in this area, but over here there’s coral bleaching going on.

 

All the time.

 

And what’s gonna go on.

 

All the time; yeah, yeah.  And it’s even much more specific.  It’s like: Oh, gosh, I need to get back to this person, or there’s an issue here. Something is bothering me here, so we haven’t worked this one out yet.  And so, yeah, there’s a lot of processing, you know.

 

Always feeling like you’re not doing enough, and in fact, you’re doing a lot.

 

Yeah; yeah.  But again, you know, you have to find that balance, too; right?  So, you know, I’m fortunate I live on Tantalus again, and around my family all the time, and I’m in the forest all the time.  So, I have that kind of, you know, ability to kinda step back and, you know, take a deep breath, and go: Okay, what’s important to do next.  And that’s been very special for me.

 

Does it ever take away from your feeling of enjoyment in these places that you have the obligation to protect them, and there’s a lot to do?  I mean, does that tarnish some of it for you?

 

Not at all.  It drives it. And a lot of the projects, you know, are also very much driven by the communities that we work in.  And so, they have that intimacy too, sometimes for many, many generations.  And so, it’s a motivator.  You understand how important it is, and so it’s very inspiring.

 

What’s next after this?  I mean, this could go on for a while or not, but what’s after this?

 

You know, I think the point is, you just have to be open to, you know, whatever life brings.  And once you make that leap to leave a whole career behind, and do this public service, you just have to hang with whatever the future brings.  So, I’m definitely in this general field for the long haul, and will just continue to try to do my best for Hawai‘i and the planet.

 

Suzanne Case says that outdoor activities are still her favorite pastime, and they help her to understand her conservation work from inside, out.  All of her career, she’s jumped into her work on site visits, such as on numerous trips to Palmyra Atoll, a thousand miles south of Hawai‘i, for the Nature Conservancy. She likes to get a firsthand look at what needs to be protected.  Mahalo nui to Suzanne Case of Honolulu.  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.

 

Palmyra is a place to me, you know, it’s both good and bad that more people can’t get there. But it’s the kind of place where, if you can see a place like that, it totally resets your baseline.  You understand what our world is supposed to look like underwater, and you know, what we’ve lost in Hawai‘i just from overuse.  But to me, it’s a great inspiration for what we can make it look like again, if we take care of it.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Original Thinkers

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Original Thinkers

 

Look back on three guests who trusted their instincts and possessed unwavering confidence in the choices they made. We revisit our conversations with the late Hawai‘i State Supreme Court Chief Justice William S. Richardson, Wai‘anae High School (O‘ahu) educator Candy Suiso and video game creator-turned-philanthropist Henk Rogers.

 

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Oct. 14, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Original Thinkers Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

It’s a monumental decision that affects us every day.

 

William S.  Richardson:

It does, and I go swimming too.  And I know I can walk to a certain spot, and this is public property.  And my friends and I can use it.

 

Candy Suiso:

And for our kids, we want them to be the best at whatever they choose to be.  And be honest, contributing citizens to our community.  To come back, to give back, and just to do what’s right in life.  Do what’s right, even when no one’s watching.

 

Henk Rogers:

The game business is bigger than the movie business.  Sometimes, I see young people, and they go: I want to be a game designer, I want to get into the game business.  To get into the game business today, you can’t just be good; you have to be brilliant.

 

How can you spot a truly creative mind, an innovator and problem-solver?  Do they share similar personality traits?  Are they smarter than the rest of us?  More confident, more daring.  Coming up on Long Story Short, three very different, all practitioners of original thinking.

 

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.  Original thinkers reveal themselves as they assume a variety of roles within our community. What is that special motivation or skill that inspired a chief justice, a public schoolteacher, and a videogame creator turned philanthropist?  All three trusted their instincts, their sense of priority and free-thinking.

 

First, we’ll turn to a 2009 conversation with a man known as CJ, a nickname given to the late Hawai‘i State Supreme Court Chief Justice William S. Richardson.  He was a public school graduate who grew up in a working class Kaimukīfamily during the 1920s.  He championed Hawai‘i’s Democratic Party during its rise to power in the 50s, and served as lieutenant governor during the John Burns administration.  He was the State’s chief justice during some of the most formative years in Hawai‘i’s history, when a young island state searched for its sense of identity and fundamental values.

 

You were one of the people that was excited about statehood, that helped to make it happen, that recrafted government in the wake of statehood.  And now, we’re coming up on the fiftieth anniversary of statehood, 2009.  Many Hawaiians don’t see that as cause for celebration.

 

Well … to me, it’s great cause for celebration. We’re part of a great country. Like every other state in the union, they had to come up and live, and have their new laws jive with the old. Even if you go back to England, where the common law came over, and if you looked at the way the law went across the country right through the Louisiana Purchase where the French came in, and the country had to adjust to that.  And now, we must still look at how it affects the Far East and all the other countries and states and islands throughout the Pacific Ocean.

 

Part of what is now, is based on the Great Māhele, King Kamehameha III.  And it was a distribution of land.  Do you think that was pono?

 

I think it’s pono.  I think our leaders of the past were as good as any that ever existed, that our Hawaiian ways were just ways of living.  And Hawai‘i should revive what we could of the good parts. And I would say almost all of it were good parts.

 

You could have used the English law as a precedent, but often, you would look back to see what ali‘i from the Monarchy days did.

 

Well, whenever I could, whatever the history books would come up with on old Hawai‘i and what few things that I had picked up over the years, I felt that I should try to apply those to the extent that we could.

 

For example, when the question came, who owns the new land being created by lava from the volcano, what was the answer of your court?

 

Well, that seemed easy enough for me, but I know the beaches were needed in Hawai‘i.  Without our beaches, there was no Hawai‘i to speak of, the Hawai‘i that we loved.

 

Now, in many parts of the continent, the beaches are private property; right?

 

Yes.  It seemed perfectly logical to me that people should be able to use the beaches, and that the property lines could not follow all of the methods of old England, say, and that I should try to bring those cases up in line to the way the Hawaiians did it.

 

And that wasn’t the only big one you did.  There were the rights of citizens to challenge Land Court decisions, Native Hawaiian rights, and use of private property water.

 

Again, I wasn’t that much of an expert on Hawaiian law.  But I had a good court.  They were willing and able go and look at all of the problems, and see what was going on. And I traveled around the islands a lot. And you’re speaking now perhaps of water right, which was so important, because we were a plantation community. And you get to a case like when two plantations began to argue over how much water they could have.  They both needed water.  But when a third one began to take too much water, to the detriment of some of the others, then you had to decide whose water should it be.  The Robinson case in the end was clear to me, but it seemed revolutionary, I suppose.  But the people who really needed the water were those on the bottom of the streams, the taro patch and the rice patch owners.  They’re the ones that needed the water.  And so, it seemed simple to me to just say: Well, neither of you is entitled to all of that water; it’s the people down below, the taro patch owners and the rice patch owners.

 

It’s elegantly simple.  I actually talked with the dean of the law school, which is named after you.  Avi Soifer said imagine, you know, very complicated filings, going on for years, big battle, and you said: Well, let’s take a look at what’s happening at the end of the line.

 

Well, and we were a new state, not used to following and just being a follower.  We needed to decide to decide for ourselves what was best for our people.

 

You took some heat over that.

 

I did.

 

But it became a symbol of enlightenment.  People said, you know, here’s a far-thinking guy using the past to build on the future.

 

Well, of course, I’m glad to hear you say that. And I thought it was right.  There was never any question in my own mind.

 

Chief Justice William Richardson, for whom the law school at the University of Hawai‘i is named, was an original thinker, in the right place at the right time, and his legacy is embedded in the constitutional laws of our state.

 

Sometimes, the journey that brings the right original thinker to the right place and time is really not much of a journey at all, but no less impactful. In our 2009 conversation with Candy Suiso, she said that when she graduated from Wai‘anae High School, she thought she wanted to get away from the Leeward Coast community, and never come back.  Thankfully, this second-generation teacher and Milken Award winning educator had a change of heart.  Although she would insist on sharing the credit, today, Suiso’s legacy is the national Emmy Award winning Searider Productions at Wai‘anae High School.  It is not only the largest, most successful digital media center any school in the state, it’s the driving force behind a movement to improve a challenged community from within.

 

I wanted to make a difference.  I wanted to give back to a community that was very good to me.  I really felt that that’s where I was the most needed.  It felt right.  I wanted to be home.  I wanted to be in a community that raised me.  And it was the right thing to do; I just felt that that was the right thing to do. And it was the right decision, when I look back.

 

Much of what you’ve done at Wai‘anae High School wasn’t done, really, within the system.  You had to find ways to equip yourself and your students with grants.  You had to become a grant writer to get the proper equipment, the space.

 

M-hm.  Within the DOE, there’s so many limitations, and there’s only so much money to go around. And part of our success is, I believe we’ve learned to work around the system, and been very successful in, like you said, going after a lot of grants.  A lot of support, pulling together partners, pulling together people that believe in you; that’s been our success.  We had to prove our self.  You know, like you said, the right people at the right time started to notice these students, and started to give.  Because they were doing things with nothing.  When we first started, we started in a classroom with no air conditioning, with very little equipment.

 

And by the way, heat isn’t just bad for people.

 

It’s so bad.

 

It’s bad for equipment.

 

We would pack fifty kids, forty kids in a classroom, and it was hot, and no air conditioning.  But you know, those kids never grumbled.  They never grumbled because they didn’t have an air-conditioned room or top of the line equipment, like a lot of other schools did.  Instead, they just started to create projects, and they did some pretty good projects, and people started to notice.  That’s what happens; people started to notice.

 

How did they know they could do that?  What got them started?

 

You give them the tools.  As educators, you know, the team of educators, there was enough people out there that said: You can do it; of course, you can do it. Make a video; here, here’s the tool, here’s the camera.  Here’s your tool; here’s how you do it.

 

The essence of video production, as I look at it, is storytelling.  What kind of experience do you think your students had in storytelling?

 

They are born with the gift to tell a story. I really believe their success is because they are born with the gift to create.  The kids out in Wai‘anae, I really believe, are the most creative, loving storytellers.  Because they grow up; they don’t grow up with a lot.  I really believe that they don’t grow up with a lot, so they entertain themselves by playing the ‘ukulele, sitting around talking story, they draw, they doodle, they sing.  And it carries over.  When they come to us, they’re so strong, their heartfelt creativity carries over with this tool.  All of a sudden, we have these expensive toys now that we give them, and we say: Go create. And they’re great.

 

And they just take to it.

 

And it’s amazing; it’s incredible.

 

You didn’t have the star pupils of Wai‘anae High School.  Some of your kids were doing really poorly in other classes, they were reporting to school from their homes on the beach in tents.

 

M-hm.  We have the homeless, we have kids whose parents have been in jail, they are abused, they come to us.  You know, a lot of dysfunction; so much.  And you know, that’s my world; I grew up there, and I know that world.  And they come to us, and we give them hope.  For a lot of these kids, it’s their security. We’re their family.  We teach them a tool, and they become successful at it. And they see something that they create, and for their self-esteem, it’s: Wow, I did that.  You know, it gives them hope.  And they realize: I have just learned something that I can do for life.  And a lot of these kids’ lives have been turned around.  They would have dropped out, I really believe.  And they’ll tell us that too: If it wasn’t for this class, I would have dropped out, or I didn’t know I was gonna go to college, or I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  And now, so many of our kids are college graduates.

 

They’re being recruited by television stations.

 

They’re being recruited.

 

And advertising agencies.

 

Yes, yes, yes, yes.

 

I remember when your Seariders first started doing public service announcements for various clients, you invited the business community to hire the kids and said, “We’ll see what we can come up with for you.” And I just remember as a professional television person at that time, how the students’ work had so much more depth than what you would normally see in a PSA, a public service announcement, because the kids knew that world, as you mentioned.  When it was about crystal meth, they brought a reality to it that nobody had brought before.

 

These kids know what it’s like to living in houses and homes where there’s crystal meth, where they have to be in a car where someone’s been drinking.

 

They know how it hurts.

 

They know how it hurt.  And it was their stories.  If you look at any of those PSAs, those are their stories.  That was either them, or that was someone they knew, and they were able to come up with the ideas from the heart, from real life.  And I think that’s what makes their work so powerful.  It’s real stories.  They tell their stories.  Whether it’s a news story, a public service announcement, a commercial, they’re just telling their story.

 

Tell me about if can, can.

 

If can, can; if no can, no can.  Because you know, there’s nothing worse, we feel, than saying you’re gonna do something, and not do it, and not follow through. And we tell these kids: If you’re gonna do something, if you’re gonna say you’re gonna do something, hold yourself to it and do it, follow through and do it.  Because really, there’s nothing worse than not completing something that you’ve committed to.  And if we could teach them now in school, it will carry over in life, in a job, in a marriage, in a relationship.

 

And when you work in teams, you know other people are counting on you.

 

Yes; ‘cause it’s teamwork.  And the good thing about our program is, every project that these kids do is a team effort.  And we always think, when you leave our program, if you have learned nothing about video production, about creating a web page, about page layout, a newspaper, we hope you’ve really learned the importance of teamwork, cooperation—

 

And getting things done on time.

 

Meeting deadlines, respect, respect for self, respect for other people, respect for property.  So, if you’re gonna say you’re gonna do something, you better do it, because if you don’t, you’re dropping the ball for your teammates.  But just don’t say you’re gonna do something if you can’t do it, ‘cause you let everybody down.  So, if can, can; if no can, no can.  And it’s been our mantra.  And the kids, they get it; the kids get it.

 

Where do you think this movement will take the Wai‘anae Coast?

 

I hope eventually it will take them out of poverty. It might take decades, but this is certainly a start.  You have a group of young adults that are really making a difference, because they have come back to the Wai‘anae Coast, and they are giving back, and they believe in themselves, and they’re believing in the students that are under them.  And they are trying very hard to prove to the rest of the world that we’re just as good as everybody else, if you just give us a chance.

 

Perhaps educator Candy Suiso would have provided inspiration for our next original thinker, who nearly dropped out of high school.  In 2016, visionary entrepreneur Henk Rogers told us that he took the one and only elective course offered at Stuyvesant High School in New York City.  When he learned everything there was to know about that elective in computer science, he saw no reason to remain in school.  But he did graduate from high school, and Henk Rogers has made a fortune in the video gaming industry, most notably for bringing Tetris, one of the world’s top-selling videogames, from Russia to the rest of the world.  More recently, this Hawai‘i resident and visionary entrepreneur has turned his talents to no less than saving the planet. He made that leap when suddenly confronted with just how fragile his own life could be.

 

I found myself in the back of an ambulance with a hundred percent blockage of the widow-maker.  That is the artery, the biggest artery in your heart, and it will kill you if it’s blocked.  And so, I was lucky, ‘cause I kind of felt it coming, and they called an ambulance for me, and so, I was already on the way to Straub.  And then, I realized, because they were gonna take me in for observation; they said: There’s nothing really wrong with you, we’ll just take you in for observation, we won’t even turn on the siren.  The siren went on, the guy who was taking care of me was in the cockpit talking to the hospital and saying—I didn’t hear, but I knew he was saying: This guy is not even gonna make it, get an operation room ready, an operating room ready, blah-blah-blah.  And I’m back there saying: You gotta be kidding me; I haven’t spent any of the money yet.  You know.   I was going: Oh, is this some kind of a joke?  I worked so hard all my life, and finally sell my company, get a bunch of money, and I’m on the say out?  And then, the second thing I said: No, I’m not going, I still have stuff to do.  And it’s kind of like, I thought, you know, what are the things that I’ve always talked to myself that I was gonna get done in life, and that I hadn’t even started?  And that just made me say: No, I’m gonna do this.  And so, I was in the hospital recovering, and the next couple weeks I didn’t go back to work.  I had my chance to think about my bucket list.  And I said: These are missions in life.  And the first mission came to me in the back of the newspaper.  It was like, in the back of the newspaper, it had a story about coral.  Oh, by the way, we’re gonna kill all the coral in the world by the end of the century. And you know, I moved to Hawai‘i, and I fell in love with the ocean.  I used to dive, surf on the North Shore, and I couldn’t believe that we would do something so callous as to kill all the coral in the world.  Islands are made out of coral.  And you know, you look a little bit further, and it’s like a third of the life in the ocean is dependent on the coral existing.  So, I said: No, no, we’re not allowed to do that. What’s causing that?  It’s ocean acidification.  What’s causing that?  Carbon dioxide going into the ocean is causing that.  So then, my first mission is to end the use of carbon-based fuel. And so, I started the foundation, and recently, we had a big success in Hawai‘i, that Hawai‘i has made the mandate that they were gonna be a hundred percent renewable by 2045, for electricity. And that is a huge step in the right direction.

 

And your Blue Planet Foundation had a role in that.

 

Oh, I would say we’re the ones who created that legislation and fought for it.  And, you know, ‘cause when you create a piece of legislation, then you have to work with all the politicians, and you gotta get enough politicians to get behind it, to get it passed.  So, it’s not good enough to just come up with the words, ‘cause it’s—it’s all the pushing that goes on.  I guess it’s called lobbying.

 

Yes, it is.

 

And you’re already off the grid at your home in Honolulu, and on the ranch.

 

Yes.  So, we were studying storage, and we finally decided that we were gonna just get off the grid on the Big Island.  And so, we tested the different storage technologies, and now we ended up with a battery technology that basically runs by itself.

 

What are some of the things that prepared you to have the career you did, which was something you made up yourself?  You didn’t follow a template for it.  What were some of the formative things along the way?

 

I think one of the things is that I always had a deep-rooted feeling that whatever it is that I wanted to do, I could do it.

 

Where did that come from?

 

I think it came from New York.  It’s kind of an attitude that we had in high school.  We stopped the war in Vietnam.  Okay; we didn’t specifically, but we were part of it. And that kind of energy, the feeling that youth can change the world, and that is a very important feeling. And I need the young people in Hawai‘i to have that feeling.  They need to take ownership of their future, and make Hawai‘i the example of sustainability.

 

This videogame creator, environmentalist, the public schoolteacher, and the chief justice; three original thinkers.  What they seem to share is an unwavering persistence to push, to get it right, and have confidence in the choices they make. We’re honored to revisit our conversation with the late Chief Justice William Richardson, and we thank Candy Suiso and Henk Rogers for their inspiring stories.  I’m Leslie Wilcox for Long Story Short.  Mahalo to you for joining us.  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.

 

Were you ambitious?

 

Not that I know of.

 

But you went ahead, and went through four years at UH.

 

I went four years at UH, and enjoyed it all the way through.

 

Met a lot of people who would later be your allies in politics.

 

Yes, yes.

 

And good friends.

 

Good friends; they helped me in everything I’ve done.

 

You went to UH, and you had more than most people of your time had, a college degree, but that wasn’t gonna be the end of your higher education.

 

Well, I thought it was, but I had a job with the oil company, and I thought: Well, this would be great, I like this kind of work; I think I’ll do this the rest of my life.  And then, one of the professors up at school went to see my father, and he said: Now, this boy better go on to law school.  And well, how can you do that Dad; you can’t afford it.  Well, he said: You know, if you’re really gonna go, I’ll rent your room out, and you go on to college.  Which he did.  In those days, it was five days by steamship, and another four days by train to get to the East Coast.

 

Your mom was a legendary teacher on the Wai‘anae Coast; right?

 

Oh, thirty-one years of her life, she dedicated her life to teaching out there.  And really, that was her life.  She impacted a community, and thirty years, just taught at Mākaha Elementary School.  She went there, and she never left.  I know the principal would always throw all of these hardcore kids and say: Okay, Mrs. Smith, you’re the one that’s gonna take these kids. And she would turn them around. She was mean, but she was very strict, and she was very fair, and she loved them all.  And she did; she turned a lot lives around.

 

When I started my company, I used my Hawai‘i experience of ARRG, which is playing Dungeons & Dragons.  And personal computers happened, and I thought: This is my chance.  So, I made the first roleplaying game in Japan.  But I didn’t speak, read, or write Japanese, and I hacked that computer and got my wife to try to read something in the manual, but she knows nothing about computers.  And so, that was also like hocus-pocus that was coming out of them.  Anyway, I hacked my way through the game, made it.  So, there were no roleplaying games before The Black Onyx, and it became the number-one game in 1984, and it was the number-two game in 1985.  So, it had a two-year reign.  And now, something like thirty percent of all games in Japan are roleplaying games. So, you know, people that are in the industry that meet me and find out that I wrote Black Onyx, they say: Oh, my god, you’re the reason I’m in this industry, you know.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kamuela Enos

 

Kamuela Enos’ vision for his community of Waiʻanae on West O‘ahu considers his deep regard for ancestral values, as well as an appreciation for contemporary innovation. He serves as director of social enterprise at MAʻO Organic Farms, a non-profit that aims to connect Waiʻanae youth to the land, while fostering in them workforce and life skills.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Oct. 7, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Kamuela Enos Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

The poverty we see in our community—and I say this a lot, was recent and learned behavior.  Our ancestors weren’t poor, we were taught to be poor.  Like anything that you’re taught, you can unlearn too. So, it became like, well, how do I unlearn this, how do I find a way to restore, you know, that sense of purpose, that sense of connection.

 

He comes from an ohana of cultural practitioners who turned to the wisdom of the past to create a better future for their struggling communities. Kamuela Enos, 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 kakou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Kamuela Enos is the director of social enterprise at Mao Organic Farms in Waianae, Oahu, a low-income area where he offers internships to teenagers and young adults.  They work on the farms in exchange for a stipend and college tuition assistance. After a few stumbles of his own, Enos found his path to his calling in life: serving others, while perpetuating Hawaiian ancestral responsibilities.  Kamuela was born into the Enos ohana of Waianae.  His father, Eric Enos, is a cultural practitioner and activist who co-founded Kaala Farms years before Mao with a similar mission to heal at-risk youth by having them connect with their roots.

 

I knew it was special.  I think part of what I think the reality was, is to be raised in a family that was doing something that was in front of a curve.

 

Meaning?

 

My father was Eric Enos, one of the founders of Kaala Farms, was doing aina work, restoring traditional practices, what is now an actual industry.  It’s a thing; aina-based education, right?  It was borne out of this idea reclaiming land and identity as a response to the Hawaiian renaissance, of having had that part of our identity kind of been told explicitly to step away from.  You know, it’s important for you to assimilate into contemporary American society, and to, you know, be a good American, and to take all the vestiges of your ancestry, your language, your practices, and put that behind you.

 

When did your father start reclaiming the land?

 

You know, I remember that, ‘cause I was really young. And he, you know, was from Waianae, he went to Kamehameha Schools, and then actually, he went to college.  And going to college at UH in the late 60s, early 70s, you can only imagine, like, colleges across the campus, you know, that was the heart of the civil rights movement, and the birthplace of the Hawaiian renaissance too, when you started actually learning your history and realizing that we weren’t allowed to understand our ancestry from a place of strength.  He was coming of age, and he was heavily radicalized, and he got a job teaching at Waianae High School, where he got a chance to really see it, from how I understand it, his stories.  He’s one of a few men who was of Hawaiian ancestry from the community actually teaching, and he was able to hear how teachers were talking about kids from Waianae. So, he often tells me like, he had to quit, or he would have been arrested.  [CHUCKLE]

 

He was so angry at the messaging.

 

And just like, the disregard and the blatant racism that he saw behind the scenes.  And then, he took up work with an organization that worked directly with at-risk youth.  And it was from that point that … it was called The Rap Center, where he began to take students—young adults, actually, not students, that were kind of out of the system, hanging out at the beach parks, walking in the mountains, to kinda get them away from where they would just hang out and associate, and do all the things that were leading to their delinquency, back up into the mountains to kinda understand, take them out of their environment and put them in a new environment.  And there, he started seeing all the remnants of the taro patches.

 

How did he come to acquire the land?

 

That’s a really interesting question.  I think back in the 70s, it was just like: You know what?  We’re just gonna clear this place out, bring water down, and reclaim it.  And if people don’t like it, then they can come and talk to us.

Was it abandoned land?  Who owned it?

 

It was in the back of the valley, and …

 

Probably State-owned?

 

State-owned land.  And they just decided to have these youth repurpose their time at this—[CHUCKLE] I don’t know what they were supposed to be doing, but what they ended up doing was cutting, clearing out haole koa, and putting in PVC pipes and bringing water back down.  And then, learning from people on the east side of Oahu who were still doing traditional taro farming, like, how do we grow this.  And I think that was a really important thing for me to understand.  Like, he wasn’t just trying to reclaim ability to grow food, but he was trying to reclaim the ability to grow people, and therefore, the ability to regrow community.  You know, I was raised in the context of growing up with an activist parent, where I think the things he was doing, none of my peers that I grew up with, their parents did.  My mother was always very much a fan of reading, and a big fan of education.  So, she would just make us read, so we had our noses buried in Tolkien when we were like, fourth grade, and then we were just reading Albert Camus in seventh grade.  And she just said: Read, read, read.  So, kind of like embracing like, intellectualism, if you will.

 

So, body and mind.

 

But then, also growing up as a Waianae boy. [CHUCKLE]  And just going to all the public schools, Makaha Elementary, Waianae Intermediate, Waianae High School, where I eventually dropped out. And like, I call it the blessed schizophrenia of trying to reconcile these three separate, completely different worlds; right?

 

Okay; the three worlds were?

 

Like, I mean, being part of restoring our ancestral practices and being immersed in not just taro farming, but community organizing.

 

Okay; that’s one.

 

The other was like, just having a love of reading, and especially like, not just reading to escape, but authors that like, more philosophical bent; right?

 

People who really provoked your thought.

 

Provocative thinking.

 

And the third?

 

The third was having the people I grew up with, and like, who were my best friends, who I love to this day, really living in the realities of poverty.  As good, as wonderful people they are, like, their daily lives was really bounded by struggling to make ends meet and all of the things that happen when you live in that context, with the violence, the drug use, the alcohol.  You know, and like, those three realities kind of didn’t sit well with each other, especially as I got older and my peers became more and more who I identified with, and I started to reject the other two a little bit more.  That kind of took a while to weave those three strands back together into something. [CHUCKLE]

 

Is that why you dropped out of high school?

 

Basically.  I think part of it was the school wasn’t challenging enough for me, and second, I had a pretty poor attitude about things, so I won’t put it all on the system. I don’t know, I just felt disconnected. And non-air-conditioned Waianae room and learn about something, and have them fit into the system.  Versus, how do we flex the system to meet them where they’re strong, and take those strengths and have them from a strengths perspective then move into like, okay, now I gotta sit in a classroom because I’m passionate about this.  Versus, you’re stupid, you don’t know how to sit in a classroom.

 

She also brought air conditioning to her media classes.

 

Ho, man.  [CHUCKLE]

 

At what age did you drop out?

 

I dropped out when I was sixteen.  I started drinking when I was like, a freshman.  But we really started in earnest when I was sixteen, and dropping out, and just hanging out with all my friends.  And it’s all people that I love to this day, and I just realized … you know, we were all doing that together as a way to lift each other up.  It was a fun that was really volatile, and it became un-fun really quickly.

 

Did it get bad, sometimes result in people getting hurt?

 

It’s always the case in Waianae.  But to me, it became something to reflect on, ‘cause it’s not just the thing that happens in our communities, it happens in communities all over; right?

 

Right.

 

How people respond to historical traumas, and what vehicles or mediums are there for them to medicate.

 

So, do you think you and your friends didn’t know it, but you were feeling the effects of historical trauma?

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Of feeling dislocated.

 

Absolutely.

 

And unseen.

 

Right.  Yeah; and you know, if you’re not given a platform, you make one.

 

And you can make a bad platform, as well as a good one.

 

Oh, a heck of a bad platform.

 

Kamuela Enos’ parents did not insist that he return to high school after dropping out during his senior year.  However, they required two things: he had to earn a general education diploma or GED, and he needed to get a job.  Kamuela did so, working minimum wage jobs after picking up his GED from Waipahu High School.

 

There was this older Japanese guy who was handing out the GED diplomas kinda just looked at me and he’s like: What are you doing? I was like: What?  He was like: What are you doing; you shouldn’t be in this line.  He was just like, staring at me.  And I was like …

 

Did he know you?

 

He didn’t know me from Adam.  But he could see the test scores, and he was like: Everyone here is struggling; you shouldn’t be in this line.  I was like, okay.  Then I went from like, I’m going to celebrate getting my GED, to it was a long and reflective drive home to Waianae.  I was like: What am I doing?  I’m in this line; right?  And then, that was further reinforced [CHUCKLE] when the only jobs that I could get was like, working you know, at the fast food restaurants and different places where, you know, people hardly bother to remember your name as staff.  And you’re not there as a calling, you’re there because you have to be.  And what that really lifted up for me was the time I spent in Kaala with my dad.  And that’s when everything made sense.  Like, we’re working in a place where we’re caring for land.  We weren’t making a lot of money, but we had a sense of purpose, I had a sense of love for what I did.  And it was at that point that I realized the value.  Then things came back around.  I was like, you know, not only was I unhappy in the jobs that I was doing, but more important, I felt a lot of people I was working with was unhappy, and I felt like I want to do something about this dynamic.

 

And then, what do you do about it?

 

You go to college, and you drop out of college, [CHUCKLE] ‘cause you realize that you’re unprepared to go to college.  And then, you know, I was lucky enough to have a partner at the time where she basically gave me an ultimatum: You’re gonna go to college, or we’re not gonna be a couple.  And I was like, okay.  [CHUCKLE] So, she had a degree, so I went to college and I was supported.  And when I went to college, I took a Hawaiian studies class.  It was from Glen Kila; he was teaching Hawaiian studies at Leeward Community College Waianae.  Then my brain just broke open.  I was actually learning things I was really interested in, I was learning from a person who respected me as a learner, and I was learning in a space where I could see myself doing this for the rest of my life.

 

Doing what; learning or what?

 

Being part of … making a living, getting a living wage, being engaged with understanding how our heritage, how our ancestry is being deployed in a contemporary way that helps others.

 

Did that mean you wanted to be a teacher, or did you see another way to do that?

 

I still didn’t know, but I knew like, I loved learning about my culture, but I also loved trying to apply it.  And not just learning about it as a museum piece, but then watching my father and the work that he was doing with Auntie Puanani Burgess of trying to create jobs out of ancestral thinking.

 

So, you’re going step-by-step, not really having a direction, but kind of following the clues as you go along.

 

Yeah.

 

And responding.

 

The ancestors leave you clues that you have to pick up.

 

Nuggets along the way?

 

Sometimes it’s a hug, sometimes it’s a swift kick in the butt.  But I think that when … you follow the work, you’ll know when you’re in the right.  I believe your ancestors live in your intuition. And like, there’s something that is telling you, this is what you’re supposed to be doing.  You know, in those moments, you have to listen to that.

 

Like his father before him, Kamuela Enos went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian studies from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.  After contemplating several career paths, he decided to focus on a master’s degree in urban and regional planning.  It led him to his true calling, and eventually, back to Waianae.

 

Well, you know, I was really lucky when I was getting my master’s program, that like as I mentioned, I took a class from Bob Agres, who was then the executive director of HACBED, the Hawai‘i Alliance for Community-Based Economic Development.  And that nonprofit was a network organization that was basically created out of this idea that Auntie Puanani Burgess and others like my dad had pushed on.  Like, how do communities develop their own economic engines.  Like, how are we not dependent on outside jobs that quite often don’t pay as well, and aren’t maybe the best fit for our environment.  How instead of fighting those types of development, how do we be developers of our own jobs.  And HACBED had asked Bob Agres; they had asked him to help create this organization that helped practitioners across the State wrestle with that question.  And I was lucky enough to be in classes where I really found my love and I was interned at HACBED for a while.  And I began to see that I really want to be at the intersect of how we create jobs in using our ancestral thinking so that we’re creating powerful opportunities for employment.

 

Did you know what that looked like at the time?

 

I’d watched my dad try to do that.  I mean, that’s what Kaala was trying to do.  They had backyard aquaculture programs where they would have families raise tilapia in their backyards.

 

I remember there was a time, was it in the 80s, when practically everybody had a tarp and a …

 

Tilapia, yeah, and aquaculture.  And like, that was an attempt to kind of look at the ancestral practice of fishponds or opelu fisheries, and to have people do it in their backyard as a way to generate revenue.  And I was really fascinated by the idea, and I was able to work at HACBED. And, you know, my younger brother Solomon is one of the founders of Mao.  He was the first intern.  So, I was always tracking what they were doing.  So, right around the time I was finishing up my class, a position opened up. I was working at this other organization called Empower Oahu with Richard Pezzulo and it came out of the EZ Economic Zone initiatives that under, I guess the Clinton administration, where they gave money to communities to be able to start up economic empowerment zones. So, me and Richard was working there, but then a position opened up in Mao as education specialist.  And I was like, I really feel that this is the time to come back to my community.  ‘Cause I had been living in town for ten years while I got my bachelor’s and my master’s.  And as much as I love Manoa, I was getting homesick.  I really felt like I wanted to be back where I could be directly engaged in like, working with my own community, and it’s an opportunity to grow our ability, to be strong again.  So, I took it, and I was working there for ten years.  And while I was doing that, I’d continue to be helping Bob Agres every once in a while in the class that he was teaching at Department of Urban and Regional Planning.  I love both the Hawaiian Studies Department and the Urban and Regional Planning Department, and Leeward Community College as an institution, ‘cause those three places really allowed me to learn who I was and how I serve best.

 

And it’s so interesting that it’s not like you suddenly see your future open up. I mean, you are following, you know, clues along the way, listening for the sounds in the forest, kind of.

 

And getting slaps in the head when I step out of line.  [CHUCKLE] You know, I think it’s never about us; I think it’s always about how people guide us.  And like, you know, we have to learn how to humble ourselves to the fact that we’re put on paths, and kicking and screaming, and resenting it is part of it at times.  [CHUCKLE]

 

Or taking the wrong path.

 

Taking the wrong path.

 

Taking the wrong path.

 

You know, I think there is no straight path.  My dad used to always tell me: You gotta walk the crooked path straight.  It’s like, it’s not a clearly laid out path for you.

 

Kamuela Enos walked the crooked path straight back to Waianae, where he felt he could best serve the community through his work at Mao Organic Farms, an organization that provides college tuition assistance to area students in exchange for their work on the farms.

 

When people hear your title, I think many people, including me, are not quite sure of what it means.  You’re the director of social enterprise at Mao Farms.

 

I know; right?  That’s the cool thing about running your own business; you can make whatever titles you want.  [CHUCKLE] But I think to me, the idea of social enterprise is, we measure two things on a daily basis on our farm. There’s the sales of our product and the GPAs of our students.  And all the revenue from the farm doesn’t go to staff; it goes back into the mission of the program.  And the mission is to make sure that our land is productive again, and the people who are working in the land are empowered.  And that’s, to me, a really important narrative.  When people talk about what does it mean to be a Native Hawaiian business, to me, it doesn’t mean that people have Hawaiian DNA running a business.  To me, it means that to create a product or a service for society without externalizing the cost on people or land.  ‘Cause our ancestors did that.  That was how they ran an ahupuaa.  They were the first social entrepreneurs.  They were able to create tons and tons of kalo, tons and tons of fish without exploiting people or diminishing the land’s carrying capacity.  That’s how ahupuaas work.  So, I feel that’s why it’s really important to root our practices in ancestral thinking.  And that’s why the two things we track on a daily basis is sales and GPAs.  That’s what our ancestors tracked.  And I believe our makahiki ceremony where the chiefs would come and look at abundance of land and fitness of people, those two measures, those two metrics are the same metrics that we’ve translated into sales and GPAs.  The sales of our product is our land is abundant again, GPAs is our people are fit. I mean, it’s not a full measure, of course.  There’s other things we’re trying to add into it.

 

But grade point average is the recognized college standard.

 

You’re reporting to your chief.  Like, that’s what our ancestors did when the chief came and checked on his or her people.  They say: Are my people fit, is the land productive?  My responsibility is to have that happen.  So, if we create our businesses that emanate from that same idea, then I can say the programs that we’re running is ensuring that not only is food being grown, but it’s being grown organically.  And the difference in organic production is that you care about the soil’s regenerative health over annual yields.  What’s more important is that the future generations have the right to grow from that soil.  So, that means that we’re generating revenue in ways that’s caring for the soil specifically, and that the farmer is not someone that’s getting a minimum wage with no upward mobility.  Like, they’re using this opportunity to pay for their college. Which for some people is a pathway out of their community, but I want to focus that as a pathway back into your community as a person who has a degree now, that can advocate.  You know, if you’re given a gift, you better make sure that you are using it to help others.  And to me, as a parent now, like, I wrestle with like, with doing the work that I do now, knowing all the challenges environmentally, economically, socially, politically that we’re facing.  Like, you know, what kind of things am I asked to set up for my grandchildren, so that they can thrive in climate change, thrive in all these different things that are happening, and then be a part of changing it and recalibrating it.  So, I did want to acknowledge that, you know, we do what do ‘cause people invest in us, and invest like at their own expense and provide incredible sacrifice so that we can thrive.  Right? When you work with youth and land, then you’re kind of creating a breaking point in generations of poverty, and you’re with them authentically, working alongside them.  Then, they actually begin a chance to clear that space to actually see their worth.

 

To see things differently.

 

Yeah.  And to apply the things that they learn, and see a future for themselves.  That for me, the big thing I always think about is, I had a really rare childhood.  And that what I just stay awake at night thinking about is, how do I make the childhood I had available to as many students as possible. where you are able to have a deep sense of what your ancestors did in a place from a strengths perspective.

 

And you have your own children now, too.

 

I have two children.  I have an eight-year-old and a five-year-old, who I love dearly.  And like, to me, the fact that I can kind of replicate that experience for them, but also give them more agency in helping to—they can say what they like about it too, and they can give input is really exciting.  One of the joys I get in the work that I do now in Mao which really drives me is the same joy I think my father had when he was doing Kaala, is I get to show up and go to work every day in what people would have considered impossible.  I get to go to a job where young adults from Waianae are running the largest organic farm on the island, while getting a 2.0 in college.  If you would have asked people fifteen years ago we were gonna do that, they would have told you: You are crazy, there’s no way that the largest organic farm on Oahu is gonna be in Waianae.  Much less that kids from Waianae are gonna work there, much less kids from Waianae are gonna work there as college students maintaining a 2.0; that is impossible. So, the fact that I get to work every day in a space of what the other people consider impossible really helps me think that things that people are saying are impossible now, can be possible.

 

In 2010, President Obama recognized the work of Kamuela Enos, and appointed him as a member of his advisory commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Kamuela says he’ll continue to live by the examples of his ancestors, while keeping a focus on modern day problems like climate upheaval and the health and wealth disparities of his community. Mahalo to Kamuela Enos of Waipio and Waianae, Oahu.  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.

 

When you work with youth and land, then you’re kind of creating a breaking point in generations of poverty, and you’re with them authentically, working alongside them.  Then, they actually begin a chance to clear that space to actually see their worth.

 

To see things differently.

 

Yeah.  And to apply the things that they learn, and see a future for themselves.

 

[END]

 

 

GLOBE TREKKER
Tough Trains: Bolivia

 

Since the 1860s, Bolivia has lost land to all its surrounding countries, leaving it landlocked and without vital access to coastal ports. As compensation, both Chile and Brazil agreed to build railways from Bolivia to their coasts, but they have not received proper investment since. Trekker Zay Harding travels along these railways from the Brazilian Pantanal to the Chilean coast. The first stop is Bolivia’s agricultural heartland of Santa Cruz, followed by the constitutional capital of Sucre. Zay then heads to Potosi, followed by a journey to Uyuni, where he visits the Salar de Uyuni – a salt flat rich in both salt and lithium. Zay heads to Bolivia’s administrative capital, La Paz, before concluding his trip at the Pacific coast.

 

Our Election Policy

 

PBS Hawaiʻi’s policy on candidate forums since 2008:

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI is a regularly scheduled news and public affairs program. During the election season, PBS Hawaiʻi will continue to provide our trademark, loosely structured live format, featuring candidates discussing issues of community interest. PBS Hawaiʻi exercises sole control over the format of the program. Depending on the number of candidates and newsworthy issues in a given race, there are practical limitations as to the number of candidates who participate. Decisions in presenting Insights on PBS Hawaiʻi are based on good-faith journalistic judgment in providing a conversation that will best serve the public interest.

 

OPERATION WILD
Part 3 of 3

 

Join veterinary teams around the world as they undertake groundbreaking operations to try to save animals’ lives. Find out how pioneering human medicine is transforming ways to look after animals in some of the most remote places on earth. Witness dramatic stories of ingenuity, invention and dedication.

 

Part 3 of 3
Witness extreme dentistry on a five-ton elephant. Find out if a remarkable invention can help a dolphin swim again. And see a Galapagos tortoise receive keyhole surgery.

 

OPERATION WILD
Part 2 of 3


Join veterinary teams around the world as they undertake groundbreaking operations
to try to save animals’ lives. Find out how pioneering human medicine is
transforming ways to look after animals in some of the most remote places on
earth. Witness dramatic stories of ingenuity, invention and dedication.

 

Part 2 of 3
See a rhino’s groundbreaking skin graft after poachers stole her horns and an
orangutan’s micro-surgery to try to restore her sight and her freedom.

 

OPERATION WILD
Part 1 of 3

 

Join veterinary teams around the world as they undertake groundbreaking operations to try to save animals’ lives. Find out how pioneering human medicine is transforming ways to look after animals in some of the most remote places on earth. Witness dramatic stories of ingenuity, invention and dedication.

 

Part 1 of 3
Learn whether an ingenious idea could help save giant pandas, and if an operation deep in the jungle can transform the life of a young gorilla. Watch as an elephant with a gunshot wound makes an extraordinary journey.

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Does Fine Arts Education Have a Place in Hawai‘i’s Public Schools?

 

Federal and state mandates have compelled public schools to focus more time and resources on academic standards and less on the fine arts. Are we shortchanging students by not giving them an outlet for creative expression? Has fine arts education fallen by the wayside with the push to excel in critical thinking in Hawai‘i’s public schools?