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New ASU organization builds community and connections for Hawaiian students

Ho'ōla Nā Hawai'i hopes to combat culture shock through events and other supportive resources for Hawaiian students

Ho'ōla Nā Hawai'i Officers Meleanaikapu'uwai Gray, Lea Kekuewa and Kuaihelani Burgess at Tempe Town Lake.

Three ASU students have come together to create Ho'ōla Nā Hawai'i, a student-led organization, to build opportunities, connections and a sense of community for Native Hawaiian students at ASU. 

Ho'ōla Nā Hawai'i began in January 2020 when Bryan Brayboy, professor at the Center for Indian Education, tasked Kuaihelani Burgess and Meleanaikapu'uwai Gray with building a community on campus that seeks out current and future Hawaiian students. The organization was approved in January 2022. 

According to the website, "Ho’ōla means to give life, to survive. Hawai’i represents ka lāhui Hawai’i, the Hawaiian people." The name's purpose is "to give life and uplift the Hawaiian people" at ASU.

According to Burgess, many Hawaiian students experience culture shock coming to college in the continental U.S., so the aim is to provide them with resources to better adapt. 

"When I came here, I realized in Hawai'i, we are very sheltered. All we understand is what we were raised with and the culture that we grew up in. We're never really exposed to outside influences because we never go anywhere else, and we don't really see different cultures," said Burgess, a junior studying sustainability. 

To combat the culture shock, the officers of Ho'ōla Nā Hawai'i created a website, Instagram and Twitter to share personal experiences and supply resources for incoming and current Hawaiian students. 

The "Guide to the Valley" features student testimonials, on-campus resources and food recommendations. The officers also created a blog; while each one had their own unique experience coming to ASU, they all share the same culture and background being from Hawai'i. 

"I think that us telling our stories makes the experience seem a lot more doable and relatable," said Lea Kekuewa, Ho'ōla Nā Hawai'i officer and a junior studying sustainability. "When you see people that look like you tackling these journeys you think, 'I can do that too.' We want to give people the chance to familiarize themselves with the experience that we've had and, hopefully, the one they might have as well." 

Looking to the future, the organization hopes to hold events and continue to collect resources. The three officers hope to inspire a strong Hawaiian presence on campus and encourage the education of Hawaiian students at ASU, according to its website. 

The three officers are planning virtual and in-person events for Hawaiian students to learn more about the organization and its mission, said Burgess. They plan to work with established Hawaiian student clubs on campus to run conjoined events and recruit Hawaiian students. 

Burgess will be participating on behalf of Ho'ōla Nā Hawai'i in the virtual IMPACT National Conference on Feb. 25. The event, which begins at 10 a.m. MST, will have a panel of four Indigenous participants who will discuss climate, land stewardship and food sovereignty. 

Some of the other events the organization hopes to host later this year are Pau Hana and Lonoikamakahiki. Pau Hana is a welcome event where new Hawaiian students can get to know each other and their families. 

Lonoikamakahiki, a season significant to Hawaiian culture, celebrates a time of peace and abundance. The organization hopes to give students the opportunity to celebrate if they cannot go home, said Burgess.

"(Hawai'i) is a place where everybody knows everybody, and you have a support system to fall back on, and I think a lot of Hawaiian students crave that," said Gray, a junior studying sustainability. "... It's important to provide that support system. It's not just important to have events, but to have somebody to check in on you."

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Lauren KobleyCommunity Reporter

Lauren Kobley is a reporter for the Community and Culture desk at The State Press. She has previously interned with the Fountain Hills Times. 

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