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2013 Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Award


The culture of politically and economically dominant people becomes the dominant culture in a country, overwhelming native cultures. Over the last four centuries, this tragedy has been re-enacted in many lands. Indigenous people have had to struggle to preserve their culture— including their language, their religious practices, their core values, and their oral histories—or face cultural extinction.

The Hawaiian Islands are no exception.

The Christian missionaries who came to the Hawaiian Islands in the early 1800s saw the hula, a dance central to the Native Hawaiian culture, as "an abomination" and preached against it. And the white merchants who came to Hawaii to make their fortunes also disapproved of the hula. They thought the hula and the celebration which accompanied it were a distraction that kept Native Hawaiians from fulfilling their duties as field hands on the merchant’s plantations or as workers in their processing plants. And as the missionaries and merchants grew more powerful, they actually managed to pressure the Hawaiian government into issuing an edict that severely restricted the practice of the hula. These restrictions lasted for nearly half a century.

The other major assault on the Native Hawaiian culture came in the form of efforts to obliterate the Hawaiian language. Public schools in Hawaii were banned from teaching the Hawaiian language, and Native Hawaiian children who spoke their native tongue were punished.

It is against this historical backdrop that we celebrate Blaine Kamalani Kia. While the restrictions of the past have been lifted, the new obstacle to cultural survival is indifference. As a composer, performer, producer and director, Mr. Kia has been untiring in his efforts to promote and perpetuate the hula, the Hawaiian language and music, and Hawaiian oral traditions. He has given freely of himself to the community to inspire children and adults to understand and enjoy the Hawaiian culture. Above all else, he is a great teacher who gratefully acknowledges the great hula teachers who taught him. What’s more, Mr. Kia has established hula halau (schools) all over the world, including Hawaii, California, Japan, Canada, Tahiti and New Zealand.

As Laverne Fernandes Moore, Vice Chairperson of the NEA Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus, has noted: "Blaine Kamalani Kia recognized early on that the fusion of the old with the new is at the heart of sovereignty." He has combined his deep knowledge of Hawaiian culture with expertise in modern society’s business and finance to create economic opportunities for Native Hawaiians and other indigenous groups.

For all of Blaine Kamalani Kia’s accomplishments as an individual, his guiding principle remains very Hawaiian: "A'ohe hana nui ke alu 'ia"—No task is too big when done together by all.