Exploring the Meeting of Wisdoms

Exploring the meeting of wisdoms between indigenous ancestral knowledge systems and western empirical sciences

The grand challenges of climate change, sustainability and resilience are important and essential questions of our times. As CO2 levels in the earth’s atmosphere depart into uncharted territory, the anticipated impacts of climate change pose a clear and present threat to all of our futures.

A mosaic of infrared satellite images from geostationary satellites showing all 15 tropical storms to reach or form in th Central Pacific basin in 2015. The images were obtained through the Naval Research Lab’s Online archive.
Credit: Kevin Kodama/National Weather Service Honolulu Office

Today, humanity is faced with existential crises fueled by a deep disconnect of modern societies’ values from the laws of nature, which has led to a dysfunctional and destructive relationship with the natural world. We might argue that this is fundamentally rooted in a lack of acknowledgement and engagement with a larger sense of place.

Indigenous cultures and their concomitant systems and structures, however, cultivate different ways of thinking, being and doing to live in balance with the natural world, in ways evolved first as a survival response to very specific ecological conditions offered by a place. These later evolved to become vibrant cultures that flourished in harmony with the natural resources available to peoples by cultivating mutually beneficial relationships in which human and non-human communities could thrive.

Exploring the meeting of wisdoms between indigenous knowledge systems and western empirical sciences is a rich and emergent dialogue which recognizes that indigenous ways of knowing hold key concepts, strategies and information that are necessary to meet the challenges of global climate change.

Background and Context

The “Meeting of Wisdoms” is a systemwide dialogue that began on February 26, 2016 at UH Hilo.

After formalizing the universityʻs Executive Sustainability Policy EP 4.202 at the 3rd Annual Sustainability Summit (Feb 26, 2015), and several months of conversation with Master Navigator Nainoa Thompson, UH President David Lassner convened stakeholders from across multiple UH campuses to begin work exploring the resonances between `Ike Hawaii, Malama Honua, STEM and Sustainability.

Over 50 people from all 10 campuses gathered to acknowledge the importance of the UH System’s understanding and respect for ʻIkeHawaiʻi(Hawaiian knowledge) in teaching, research, and service, and to explore ways in which the connection between the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage and UH systemwide initiatives can strengthen work in STEM, Sustainability, and Native Hawaiian language & culture (read full article here).
We continue this exploration across our campuses, so that we can equip UH graduates with ways of thinking, being and doing that will serve you as you navigate your way through uncertain futures ahead.

2017 Meeting of Wisdoms panel #HSHE17

The 5th Annual Hawaiʻi Sustainability in Higher Education Summit #HSHE17 was hosted at University of Hawaiʻi West Oʻahu, and explored explore sustainability through indigenous perspectives and the global dialogue on sustainability.

Key questions that we explored during this 2017 plenary session are:

  • How is the “meeting of wisdoms” important to our work in the classroom and as an institution?
  • Are we adequately equipping our students for anticipated climate change impacts to Hawaiʻi and elsewhere?
  • What impedes transformative change at the University of Hawaiʻi and how could we do better?
Graphic facilitators captured key messages from the 2017 “Meeting of Wisdoms” panel.

The main plenary session elevated the Meeting of Wisdoms dialogue to the fore of the conference, featured diverse perspectives from across many campuses, and was both livestreamed to the internet  as well as broadcast in 30-min episodes to ʻŌlelo Community Television over the summer of 2017:

HSIHE503(2) from Planetviews on Vimeo.

HSIHE504(2) from Planetviews on Vimeo.

HSIHE505(2) from Planetviews on Vimeo.

#HSHE17 Panelists:

Rosie Alegado – is a member of the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant faculty cluster whose aim is to integrate science, engineering, and design into decisions on sustainable development and public policy in coastal communities, with particular focus on developing, engaging, and implementing wise and sustainable use of energy and water resources, and in the management and reuse of waste.

Born and raised in Kaʻiwiʻula Oʻahu, Rosie’s parents, grassroots community activists and professors at the University of Hawai‘i Mānoa, ingrained the tenets of social justice, equality, and aloha ‘āina (love of the land). Alegado grew up within local organizations (Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana, Ka Papa Lo‘i o Kānewai, and Katipunan ng mga Demokratikong Pilipino), which afforded unprecedented awareness of the social issues that faced Native Hawaiian and local communities in the 1980s and 1990s. Over the course of her education at Kamehameha Schools, MIT (undergrad), Stanford University (PhD), and a postdoctoral fellowship at University of California, Berkeley, these themes continue to permeate her life.

Since returning home, the focus of Alegado’s Lab is to understand the influence of microbes on their environment. Her group combines genomic approaches with field-based sampling of microbial populations in coastal environments such as He‘eia Fishpond to understand microbial community dynamics. She hopes to translate her findings from modeling microbial community dynamics to understanding the impact of land use in fragile Hawaiian estuarine and marine wetland ecosystems and model the microbial processes underlying indigenous Native Hawaiian sustainability practices.

Pauline W. U. Chinn – a former science teacher, Pauline is a professor in Curriculum Studies, College of Education, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Her teaching and research center on science education relevant to Hawai`i’s unique ecosystems and cultural diversity.

Her awards support field and community based instruction intended to develop teachers’ abilities to write STEM lessons relevant to the ecology, history and culture of their communities. Recent NSF awards enable an interdisciplinary team to translate and incorporate Hawaiian language newspaper articles into science education and research.

The US Department of Education grant, Malama I Ka `Aina: Sustainability allows her to work with teachers to develop science curriculum relevant to the ecology, history and culture of their communities.

See also: Kulia I Ka Nu’u   |  Kahua A’o 

Aurora Kagawa-Vivani – was raised on the slopes of Puowaina (Punchbowl) on Oʻahu in a Chinese-Hawaiian family compound.  She is currently a PhD student in the Geography Department at UH Manoa, studying how processes of plant invasion and ecological restoration shape hydrological processes in native dry to mesic forests of Hawaii.

She ended up in a Geography department following a circuitous educational path from environmental engineering bachelor’s at MIT to a master’s degree in botany at UH Manoa. Prior to her PhD work, she was an educational specialist at Kapiolani CC working on a 6-campus pre-engineering program funded by NSF’s Tribal Colleges and Universities Program, and was a research technician and outreach specialist in rural Kohala, where she grappled with differences in cultural and class perspectives of herself, supervisors and students.

When she isn’t playing with sensor data or thinking about ecohydrology, she spends her time researching how plants like ʻuala (sweet potato) were/are/could be cultivated in unirrigated Hawaiian field systems, and trying to better understand how Hawaiian and kamaʻāina scholars might successfully navigate undergraduate and graduate STEM programs while fulfilling kuleana to themselves, their families, and communities.


Timothy Botkin – is Program Coordinator and Instructor in the Sustainability Science Management program at UH Maui College, and has taught sustainability courses since 2008. Prior to teaching he practiced environmental law sixteen years, and for seven years was judge for land use and development in his community. Upon election as County Commissioner he focused on smart growth, comprehensive water management, transit-oriented development, youth asset building, budget reform and urban redevelopment; a broad scope which morphed into sustainability. Later a sustainability consultant, among other things he directed an innovative LEED platinum clean energy business park and sustainable business institute design.

Tim holds a J.D. from the University of Oklahoma and Masters in Sustainability Management from James Madison University and the University of Malta. At UHMC he is sponsor of the Student Ohana for Sustainability, sits on the campus sustainability committee, chairs the Budget Committee and teaches sustainability courses. His applied research work seeks to build decision-making processes which consider all connected interests, costs and benefits; and instill sustainable thinking and practices across organizations and communities. Working on Maui through UHMC provides bountiful opportunity to pursue sustainability in this manner.


Noa Kekuewa Lincoln – is of native Hawaiian, German, and Japanese decent, born in Kealakekua on Hawai‘i Island. The Hawaiian cultural epistemology, which places environment at the core of human well-being, has been the kuamo‘o (lit. backbone) of his personal and professional accomplishments.

Noa received his BS in Environmental Engineering from Yale University, and his PhD in Environment and Resources from Stanford University, where his work focused on traditional agricultural development pathways and management strategies. His postdoctoral work examined traditional values and practices of ecosystems for food in Aotearoa.

He was the Ethnobotany Educator for the Bishop Museum’s Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden and has implemented projects facilitated through a variety of partnerships with community organizations. He has worked to revitalize traditional dryland agricultural systems in Hawai‘i, learning from the past while simultaneously feeding and educating the present. His primary interests are in combining traditional and modern knowledge of land management to evaluate social utility, rather than economic, contributions. He is currently a research fellow with Ngai Tahu Research Centre at the University of Canterbury and an Assistant Professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa with a focus on Indigenous Crops and Cropping Systems.


Albie Miles – is Assistant Professor of Sustainable Community Food Systems at the University of Hawai’i, West O’ahu. Dr. Miles received his Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Policy and Management from the University of California at Berkeley in 2013. His natural science research explores the synergies between farming system biodiversity and the provisioning of globally important ecosystem services from agriculture. His social science research explores the socio- economic and political obstacles to a more ecologically sustainable and socially equitable food system.

Dr. Miles teaches a wide range of courses on the topics of agroecology and sustainable food systems, and is directing the development of a new undergraduate concentration in Sustainable Community Food Systems at the University of Hawai’i, West O’ahu. Dr. Miles has an extensive background in curriculum development and post-secondary education emphasizing experiential and hands-on learning. He has held posts at the Organic Agriculture Program at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at the University of California at Santa Cruz.



Manulani Aluli Meyer – is the fifth daughter of Emma Aluli and Harry Meyer.  Her family hails from Mokapu, Kailua, Wailuku, Hilo and Kohala on the islands of Oahu, Maui and Moku O Keawe.

The Aluli ohana is a large and diverse group of scholar-activists who have spent their lives in Hawaiian education, justice, land reclamation, law, health, cultural revitalization, arts education, prison reform, transformational economics, food sovereignty, Hawaiian philosophy and most of all, music.

Manu works in the field of indigenous epistemology and its role in world-wide awakening.  Professor Aluli-Meyer obtained her doctorate from Harvard (Ed.D. 1998) by studying Hawaiian epistemology via language, history, and the clear insights of Hawaiian mentors.  She is a world-wide keynote speaker and has published extensively on the topic of native intelligence and its synergistic linkages to quantum sciences, transformational and whole thinking, and to liberating pedagogy.

Her book: Ho’oulu: Our Time of Becoming – Hawaiian Epistemology and Early Writings, is in its third printing.  Her background is in wilderness education, experiential learning and ecological literacy, and she has been an Instructor for the Outward Bound schools, Wilderness Hawaii, Hawaii Bound, and other alternative learning programs.

Dr. Aluli-Meyer championed the Hawaiian Charter School movement in Hawaii, worked within the prisons, and developed Hoea Ea and Kaiao Garden for the Hawaii Island Food Sovereignty movement.  Professor Aluli-Meyer was the International Indigenous Scholar in 2005-06 at Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, the Center for Māori Research Excellence at the University of Auckland.

She is an international evaluator of Indigenous PhDs and is mentored with the lessons learned.  Manulani has been an Associate Professor of Education at the University of Hawaii in Hilo and host to many creative community transformational education projects within/outside the university.  She has lived 5 years in New Zealand working for Te Wānanga o Aotearoa as lead developer/teacher for their innovative Masters of Applied Indigenous Knowledge, He Waka Hiringa.

She is currently the Director of Indigenous Education at UH West Oahu and working with many community initiatives in educational reform, food security, and prison transformation.  Mau ke aloha no Hawaii.