It was lights, camera, action from Varney Circle down to the fertile Ka Papa Loʻi O Kānewai (taro patch) at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa to capture the campus’ efforts to ask critical questions that can guide its kuleana (responsibility) to Hawaiʻi and the world. Several UH Mānoa faculty, staff and a student were identified to be featured in a 30-second branding spot that sheds light on the ongoing work to create a campus that is physically and conceptually grounded in Native Hawaiian knowledge and values.

The journey to become a Native Hawaiian place of learning traces back to 1986 when Native Hawaiian staff and faculty published the first of four reports with proposals on how the UH System could better support Native Hawaiians and become more reflective of Hawaiʻi.

man being filmed
N. Haʻalilio Solomon

“We have a lot of work to do but we are taking some steps in the right direction,” said UH Mānoa Native Hawaiian Affairs Program Officer Kaiwipuni Lipe. “More NH (Native Hawaiian) students are important and we are definitely on an upswing. ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) is also critically important and we have seen some awesome programs develop over the last couple of years. We are also working hard on everyone’s baseline understanding of Hawaiʻi‘s history, language and culture so that our institutional practices and policies can begin to better reflect Hawaiʻi.”

In 2020, the Associated Students of the University of Hawaiʻi partnered with Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge to host free weekly ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi classes. The non-credit courses open to all UH students, faculty, staff and community members were taught by fluent ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi speakers.

Dialogue in the 30-second spot is spoken in both ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and English. Viewers will see English subtitles when Hawaiian speaking faculty pop-up on screen which include Hawaiʻinuiākea Dean Jonathan Kamakawiwoʻole Osorio, Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language instructor N. Haʻalilio Solomon and Eōmailani K. Kukahiko, a curriculum studies specialist at the UH Mānoa College of Education (COE).

“Our awareness and inspiration come from our language, our stories, songs, and our experiences with our ʻāina,” said Osorio. “Our teaching serves more than our native people. The knowledge of our ancestors is critical knowledge for Hawaiʻi and the world.”

Faculty and staff from outside the Hawaiian Studies realm who come from diverse backgrounds are also featured in the TV spot.

woman smiling
Eōmailani K. Kukahiko

“Whether we are talking about becoming a NH place of learning or just our general kuleana to Hawaiʻi and the world, that’s a kākou (everyone) thing, as my friend Chris Yanuaria reminded me,” Lipe said. “So we wanted to highlight some of the diverse folks on campus who are already modeling their commitment to this important work. If we had more than 30 seconds we could showcase so many more!”

UH Mānoa Department of Second Language Studies student Ha Nguyen is one of those diverse faces. Nguyen, originally from Vietnam, is keen on honoring Hawaiʻi’s Indigenous values.

“I’m a malihini (visitor) to this place and I feel that it is my kuleana to learn from the wisdom of Native Hawaiians who have lived here for generations,” Nguyen explained. “The university itself is striving toward being a Hawaiian place of learning, isn’t it natural that each of its members should work toward that goal, too?”

Viewers will also see UH Mānoa COE faculty Keith Cross and Charmaine Mangram who are both from Los Angeles and Maui-born Christopher Yanuaria, program coordinator of Prevention, Awareness, Understanding Violence (PAU Violence) program at UH Mānoa. Campus Arboretum Curator Nōweo Kai closes the TV spot beneath the award-winning sprawling trees she helps to mālama (care for) along McCarthy Mall.

Collaboration between UH Mānoa Enrollment Management, the Native Hawaiian Place of Learning Advancement Office and Hawaiʻinuiākea was vital to molding the branding spot’s message. Each branch shares a combined commitment to the institution’s goal of becoming a university that is a Native Hawaiian place of learning.

“It is our responsibility to build stronger pathways and access for Native Hawaiian and Indigenous students to further their education at UH Mānoa,” said Ryan Yamaguchi, interim assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management and director of admissions. “How we engage in conversation and connect with our communities locally and abroad is critical to the future of our campus, from our faculty and programs to the students we recruit, retain, and support through graduation and beyond.”

The commercial will air on KGMB and also be prominently featured during special coverage and livestream of the 58th annual Merrie Monarch Festival set to debut on K5, July 1–3.

This work is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Becoming a Native Hawaiian Place of Learning (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.