ESSAY:  Kuleana

na Raymond Pintor


The Native Hawaiian people have a unique relationship with land and culture, deeply rooted in the concept of Kuleana. Kuleana is a Hawaiian word roughly translated as responsibility and privilege. It refers to the idea that each person has both responsibility and privilege to care for and protect the land and the community to which they belong.

This concept of Kuleana is a reciprocal relationship, central to the Native Hawaiian worldview, playing an essential role in shaping Hawaiian history and relationships with the criminal justice system. As kānaka care for the land, the land also provides for them. Each kānaka would have a function. The community would work together to ensure everyone was cared for. 

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Native Hawaiians have been disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system in the United States. According to a Hawaii Department of Public Safety report, Native Hawaiians comprise about 20% of the state's population. Still, they account for over 40% of the state's prison population. This over-representation in the prison system reflects the historical and ongoing marginalization of the Native Hawaiian people, as well as the systemic racism and bias that permeate the criminal justice system. Even though Native Hawaiians that fulfill their kuleana by serving their sentence, it seems that the Hawaii criminal justice system has not reciprocated in kind.

Despite the challenges that Native Hawaiians face, many are deeply committed to the concept of Kuleana, even in the face of adversity. For many Native Hawaiians imprisoned, incarceration is not just a punishment but an opportunity to reconnect with their culture and community. They can see their time in prison as a chance to reflect on their past and learn from their experiences.

In some cases, Native Hawaiians have used their time incarcerated to engage in cultural and educational programs that help them reconnect with their heritage and sense of Kuleana. These programs have included traditional Hawaiian music and dance, language classes, or Hawaiian history and culture workshops. By participating in these programs, they can gain a deeper understanding of their identity and place in the world and recommit themselves to the principles of Kuleana.

The challenges faced by Native Hawaiians imprisoned are not limited to their time behind bars. Once released from prison, they often face significant barriers to reentry and reintegration into their communities. These barriers might include employment, housing discrimination, limited healthcare, and access to social services. Native Hawaiians need support from their families, communities, and the government to overcome these challenges.

To address these issues, a few initiatives are underway to help Native Hawaiians reenter society and reclaim their sense of Kuleana. These include job training and placement programs, counseling and support services, and cultural and educational programs that help justice-involved folks maintain their connection to their heritage and community. By providing these resources, we can help Native Hawaiians who are justice-involved rebuild their lives, taking active roles in caring for their families, communities, and land.

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In conclusion, the concept of Kuleana is central to the Native Hawaiian worldview, essentially shaping the history and experiences of Native Hawaiians. Despite many challenges, many remain deeply committed to the principles of Kuleana. They see their time in prison as an opportunity to reflect and recommit themselves to their community and heritage. By providing support and resources to Native Hawaiians, we can help them overcome the barriers to reentry and reclaim their sense of Kuleana as they build a better future for themselves and their communities.


~This blog was authored by Raymond Pintor,

an MSW student who interned at Papa Ola Lōkahi during the 2022-2023 academic year.

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JOB Project Specialist Ohana COE 2023 1


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Papa Ola Lokahi is seeking a full-time Program Specialist who will be working in Hawai'i with the AANHPI Center of Excellence.




In one PDF file, e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or mail to POL Human Resources, 894 Queen Street, Honolulu  HI  96813:

No walk-ins or phone calls, please.    

Equal Opportunity Employer



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January 12, 2023

NHHSP Scholars 2022 2023 1

Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship awards 11 students

(Kaka‘ako, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i)   Congratulations to eleven (11) awardees in the 2022-2023 cohort of the Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program (NHHSP). 

The recipients include two (2) physicians, a master level social worker, a psychologist and a physician’s assistant.  This cohort also has six nursing students: three attaining bachelor’s degrees and three working toward their doctorates.

These new awardees join more than 320 health care professionals across 20 different primary and behavioral health care disciplines and even more sub-specialties. More than 200 have joined the health workforce across six islands impacting the mauli ola, well-being, of the communities they serve. More than half have remained in those communities beyond the required service obligation.

Established in 1991, the NHHSP has impacted health care delivery by increasing the body of providers that are competent, knowledgeable, and committed to serving the unique needs of Hawaiian communities. Each scholar commits to serve full-time in a clinical capacity in medically under-served areas in Hawai'i for a period proportionate to the length of scholarship support.

“These scholars represent the next generation of professionals poised to serve the health care needs of our island communities,” shares Dr. Donna-Marie Palakiko, herself a NHHSP alumna and director of Papa Ola Lōkahi’s health workforce development office, Mauli Ola Mālamalama. “Once in the community, these new professionals have attracted individuals who had avoided seeking care for years, sometimes decades.”

Three of the awarded students are from Maui; the others from O‘ahu. Six have been accepted into accredited programs in the continental US, two are in school at Chaminade University of Honolulu, two are at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and one is at Hawai‘i Pacific University.

“They join an expanding network of Hawaiian health professionals, colleagues at the ready.” Dr. Sheri Daniels, Papa Ola Lokahi executive director adds, “Beyond building a Hawaiian health workforce, this program has set a course for Hawaiian leadership development. So many of our NHHSP alumni have risen to positions of leadership in medical, public health, academic and Hawaiian communities.”

Visit for more information about the Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program.

Applications for the 2023-2024 cohort will open on February 1 and close on March 15, 2023.

DOWNLOAD:  PDF News Release

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HIVAIDS Campaign Week 1December is HIV/AIDS Awareness month.  It's a reminder that tremendous strides have been made, yet there is still much more to be done to end the epidemic. There are actions, supported by Hawaiian values, that we can take every month to monitor our HIV status and partake in activities that strengthen our bodies as well as our relationships with our ʻohana and community members who are living with HIV and AIDS.  

OLAKINO MAIKAʻI (maintaining a healthy person). This month we bring you up-to-date information about HIV/AIDS and advancements in medication. We will emphasize the importance of open dialogue, testing regularly, and promoting a healthy body. 

HOʻOMANAʻO (remember, learn from the past). December is a month of both remembrance and acknowledgement of how far we've come in testing, prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS. Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has been among us for nearly 40 years.  It is fortunate that new, breakthrough treatments have have provided the opportunity, regardless of diagnosis, to enjoy greater longevity and mauli ola (healing).  Although HIV and AIDS are no longer considered deadly, the stigma around diagnosis, education and treatment remains.   

‘IMI ‘IKE (to seek knowledge). Available data and resources enables us to make more informed decisions, so we can be makaʻala (vigilant) around our own lives and mālama (protect/care for) our partners, ʻohana and community.

Looking at newly diagnosed rates by age, the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health reported in 2020 that the highest rates ranged between the age group of 20 – 29 years.  

Mālama kekahi i kekahi. To be proactive, if you fall within this age range, get tested, know your status, and consider other methods to protect yourself and others.  These include talking to your PCP about PrEP, as well as using condoms. If you are outside the 20-29 age group, you can still practice harm reduction techniques and talk openly with those within your family and friend circles, however awkward.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an initiative to end the HIV epidemic (EHE) in the United States. The Hawaii State Department of Health Surveillance report identified 50 cumulative positive cases in 2020, which is a gradual annual decrease since 2016.  We are on a downward trajectory toward achieving the EHE campaign but it is still our kūleana (responsibility) to continue that stride and mālama one another.  We can learn from each other, for each other.   

HIV Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U) is achieved by using Antiretroviral therapy (ART).  Though ART does not cure HIV, it does help suppress the viral load and can work effectively to prevent transmission by 96% according to World Health Organization. At a 2018 AIDS Conference, during a presentation on a study on condomless sex, there were no HIV transmissions among almost 77,000 condomless sex acts where the HIV-infected partner had an undetectable viral load.  Research and advance medicine also introduced pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent further transmission for those uncertain if they may have been exposed. If you're considering taking PrEP, you must be HIV-negative prior to starting and test regularly. For any of these therapies to be of any use, it is vital that the medications are taken early and as prescribed by your PCP.   

NA‘AU PONO (nurturing what is right or just). The safest measure is to know how HIV/AIDS can be transmitted in order to prevent it. HIV can be spread from an infected person through blood fluids, rectal fluids, and breast milk.  Having unprotected sex or sharing needles and syringes are some risky behaviors of those who have tested positive. Testing regularly as part of your routine health care practice is important for prevention of HIV infections that applies to everyone.  CDC notes that nearly 40% of new HIV infections are transmitted by people who don’t know they are infected.  Doing what you can as part of your kuleana (responsibility) protects your health.   

If you or anyone have questions or in need of services in Hawai’i, the Hawai’i State Department of Health has a list of agencies throughout the state listed below.  They provide a safe space for further resources, testing services, and support.  

Hawai’i (East) Kumukahi Health & Wellnes

     Hilo Lagoon Center, 101 Aupuni Street, Penthouse 1014C, Hilo, HI 96720 - (808) 982-8800 

Hawai’i (West) Kumukahi Health + Wellness 

     Palani court, 74-5620 Palani Road, Ste 101, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740 - 808) 331-8177 

Kaua’i – Malama-Pono Health Services 

     4370 Kukui Grove Street, Suite 115, Lihue, HI, 96766 – (808) 246-9577 

Maui County – Maui AIDS Foundation 

     1935 Main Street, Suite 101 Wailuku, HI 96793 – (808) 242-4900 

O’ahu – Hawai’i Health and Harm Reduction Center 

     677 Ala Moana Blvd Suite 226, Honolulu, HI 96813 – (808) 521-2437 

We are strengthened by our ala kūkui (guiding principles) to support our ‘ohana with HIV/AIDS and our kuleana (responsibility) to protect one another. 

E ‘Ilau Mai Kākou – We are in this together! 



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Report Cover COVID 19 Vaccination Experiences and Perceptions Among Communities of Hawaii 2022 1117






Kim Ku'ulei Birnie

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Brooks Baehr

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New Report Documents Cultural Context and Recommendations for Pandemic Response in Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Communities

Hawai’i State Department of Health in collaboration with community and academic researchers releases “COVID-19 Vaccination Experiences and Perceptions among Communities of Hawaiʻi'” documenting COVID response in the context of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities.


HONOLULU – A new collaborative report, COVID-19 Vaccination Experiences and Perceptions among Communities of Hawaiʻi,” authored by the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health and community and academic researchers examines the COVID-19 vaccine effort in Hawaiʻi from December 2020 through June 2021 in order to better understand successful strategies and identify lessons learned from this large scale public health intervention. This report offers valuable insight into creating equity and access for underserved and marginalized communities.



 Scenes from community-based organizations’ collaborative outreach to extend COVID-19 testing and vaccine access in Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities statewide. Photo Credit: COVID Pau; click here for hi-res files.


Key Recommendations from COVID-19 Vaccination Experiences and Perceptions among Communities of Hawaiʻi” to improve public health emergency response among Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander communities:

  1.  Acknowledge the historical trauma and the lived experiences of marginalized communities to understand the adverse effects on one’s emotional and physical health. 
  1. Foster collaborative partnerships with trusted community messengers and organizations to promote messages of well-being. 
  1. Ensure transparency and diverse representation in decision-making processes at all levels and allocation of resources. 
  1. Utilize multidimensional approaches that promote holistic healthcare by prioritizing in-language services, cultural values, and traditional practices. 
  1. Document processes and protocols to create streamlined clinical responses that are replicable for future public health emergencies.

Following a series of interviews conducted in talanoa, or talk story style, the emerging themes highlighted the well-known impacts of colonization:  degradation of natural resources, urbanization fueled by consumerism, introduction of foreign diseases, systemic changes in social and economic systems, and generational traumas that have led to health disparities and inequities. 

The findings are a follow-up to DOH’s 2021 report entitled “Addressing Health Equity in Diverse Populations: COVID-19 in Hawaiʻi'' describing how long-standing structural inequalities were laid bare during the COVID-19 pandemic. The earlier report coincided with collaborative efforts to provide equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine for every eligible individual in the state in the earliest months of vaccine availability. 

Recognizing the diversity of peoples from islands across the Pacific offers many unique experiences, histories, and cultures. Shared intergenerational traumas manifest today through ongoing structural racism, inadequate and often inappropriate health care, and broken promises from federal and state governments that further undermine trust enjoyed by other communities. Because the vaccination effort described here was situated within the ancestral lands of the kanaka ʻōiwi, the authors have used the history of the Hawaiian Islands to contextualize this report as it is representative of Pacific peoples’ lived experiences. The summaries are organized into the four key themes of moʻolelo (story), pilina (relationship), maopopo (understanding), and hoʻolālā (plan).

The stories and experiences shared under these themes inform five key recommendations provided to guide equitable pandemic recovery efforts as well as future public health preparedness and prevention.

This report recognizes the uneven burden borne by Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian communities and identifies the root causes of those disparities. Trusted relationships and relevant public health communication and engagement are necessary strategies in any campaign to reduce the inequities across health, social, economic and other indicators. This report offers valuable insight into improving access and striving for equity for underserved and marginalized communities throughout a public health emergency.

For more information or to read the full report, click here

MEDIA ASSETS: click here to access

  • Full report as a PDF file 
  • Video interview clips with Dr. Sarah Kemble, report authors Chantelle Matagi and Keʻalohilani Worthington
  • Video b-roll of community testing and vaccine outreach 
  • Photos from community testing and vaccine outreach 
  • News release as a PDF 

About the Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander Hawaii COVID-19 Response, Recovery & Resilience Team (NHPI 3R) 

The Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander Hawaii COVID-19 Response, Recovery & Resilience Team (NHPI 3R) was established in May 2020, in alignment with the national NHPI Response Team, to improve the collection and reporting of accurate data, identify and lend support to initiatives across the Hawaiian Islands working to address COVID-19 among Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islanders, and unify to establish a presence in the decision-making processes and policies that impact our communities. More than 60 agencies, organizations and departments comprise the NHPI 3R.Team. Papa Ola Lōkahi serves as the NHPI 3R backbone organization.



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