For the past week, thousands of people have gathered in Honolulu to attend the tri-annual World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPCE), which was held on the campus of Kapiʻolani Community College.
This conference attracts indigenous peoples from Aotearoa (New Zealand), Australia, Native American nations and other areas from around the world. The Native Hawaiian Education Association with support from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kamehameha Schools and other community organizations put on this year's conference.
The purpose of this conference is to empower the transmission of indigenous culture, knowledge and wisdom for the benefit of not only indigenous cultures but also all of humanity. Its goal is to leave a legacy of hopes, dreams and aspirations for all peoples.
This year's theme was "E Mau Ana Ka Moʻolelo, Our Narratives Endure." This theme fits well with what the conference has transformed into.
It has become a platform in which native people from all walks of life are able to come and share stories of struggle, success and hope. It is through the sharing of narratives that we are able to learn from other people and their cultures.
In this day and age, Western colonialism has colonized our mind to believe that the "Western way" is the only way. This way of thinking has caused many native people, especially those of the millennial generation, to abandon the ways of their ancestors and replace it with that of the "colonizer."
Evidence of this colonized mindset is echoed through stories that were shared at the conference from Hawaii, Aotearoa and other indigenous nations in which children were being taught to speak the language of the colonizers rather than the language of their forefathers. They were told that there was no value in their culture or its mother tongue.
It is stories like these that display some of the many struggles that we, as indigenous people, face. But we cannot let our struggles dictate how we move forward into the future. It is important that we, as indigenous people of this world, reclaim and see the value of the knowledge of our ancestors.
We must reclaim what was taken from the generation of our parents and grandparents. They were known as "the lost generation" because they were stripped of the ancestral knowledge and way of living.
With that knowledge, we would be able to solve issues that pertain to food sustainability, proper use of land and natural resources, health and well-being, etc.
The knowledge that our ancestors possessed was what allowed them to survive for hundreds of years without any of the luxuries that Western society has had. They were one with the land and their surrounding environments. They understood the importance of caring and preserving their land resources, something that our society needs to model itself after.
It is our responsibility as native peoples to learn our culture, language, history and traditions. Our language and culture will always define who we are and it is our right and responsibility to make sure that it is passed on to future generations.
We must reclaim what was taken from the generation of our parents and grandparents.
We need to allow them to have the opportunities to learn our language, traditions, culture and everything that makes us unique. It is through them that our cultures will be perpetuated for the years to come.
While conference has ended, we have much to look forward to in the coming years. I believe that the most powerful product of this year's conference comes from our youth. The youth of WIPCE 2014 has created a "Declaration of Indigenous Youth" and the preamble states that:
"We, the indigenous youth representing our native peoples of Aotearoa, Australia, North America, Europe, and Hawaii, have gathered in Honolulu, Hawaii at Kamehameha Schools Kapālama on this day, May 20th, 2014 to affirm our identities as indigenous peoples who proudly stand on the foundation laid before us by our elders and ancestors.
"As native peoples of our lands, we live by the values and principles embedded within our cultures, languages, and traditions. We stand carrying the future of our history while remaining grounded in the knowledge taught to us by our ancestors of old. As we voyage forward in time, we will not forget who we are: native youth of the world."
With this declaration, the planet's indigenous youth have taken a stance to reclaim their language, culture and traditions. They have made a vow to take this declaration back to their respective countries to inspire their peers to reclaim their native culture, language, tradition and knowledge. This declaration has had such a profound effect that Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell proclaimed May 20, 2014 as "World Indigenous Youth Day."
We must support our youth and their actions because they will become the next generation of indigenous leaders. The power of indigenous knowledge is not solely found in the past, but it is found in our children. They are the key to the survival of our culture and we must do everything we can to ensure that they carry on the works of our ancestors.
No Laila, E Mau Ana Ka Moʻolelo O Ko Mākou Kupuna
Translation: Therefore, let the narratives of ancestors endure