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The Tribal Ally Award bestowed on Randie Kamuela Fong (pictured right) is made of a copper medal with traditional twine.

Alaska Natives honor Kamehameha Schools cultural leader and ties to Moananuiākea

May 22, 2024

This story submission comes from Hoʻokahua Cultural Vibrancy Group.

In Juneau, Alaska on April 19, 2024, President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska presented Kamehameha Schools Executive Cultural Officer, Randie Kamuela Fong, Ed.D. with the Tribal Ally Award. This great honor recognizes an individual who has made a tremendous effort to protect and strengthen tribal sovereignty and/or advance tribal justice.

But how is it that a Native Hawaiian received a prestigious award from a federally recognized tribe in Alaska?

A chain of events spanning decades has created a deep, inextricable connection between Hawaiʻi and Alaska. In 1990, Sealaska, an Alaska Native corporation that manages land owned by the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people, gifted two Sitka spruce logs to Hawaiʻi to build a voyaging canoe. These spruce logs became the hulls of the waʻa Hawaiʻiloa, a cultural revitalization effort sponsored by the Native Hawaiian Culture and Arts Program where Fong served as the youngest member of the board. Inspired by this Indigenous act of kindness, Kamehameha Schools committed to robust koa reforestation on our ‘Āina Pauahi.

Almost 30 years later, over 100 indigenous Alaskans visited Hawaiʻi for a conference called “Hoʻoilina: Empowering Our Traditions of Exploration”. The conference was organized and hosted by ʻAha Moananuiākea, a consortium sponsored by Kamehameha Schools that includes the Polynesian Voyaging Society, University of Hawaiʻi, and Bishop Museum. Initiated by Fong, ʻAha Moananuiākea signed formal declarations of kinship and unity with Sealaska Corporation and a group of Alaska Native organizations, including the Tlingit and Haida Central Council.

Since the conference in 2019, the pilina between Hawaiʻi and Alaska has continued to blossom through virtual and in-person exchanges for KS students and staff, as well as the launch of PVS’s Moananuiākea voyage from Juneau in 2023. Fong coordinated the weeklong launch celebration, which brought together hundreds of Hawaiians and Alaska natives.

It is because of this decades-long relationship that Fong and his wife, Jamie Fong, the manager of Kaʻiwakīloumoku Cultural Center, were invited to the 89th Annual Tribal Assembly of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska in April 2024. The theme of the the three-day gathering was “Rooted in Tradition, Growing a Sustainable Future”, and brought together a wide range of elected officials of the Tlingit and Haida nation. At this gathering, Randie Fong delivered the keynote address about the magnitude of Moananuiākea. His message struck the audience, opening many eyes to the broader concept of our shared connection as indigenous people of the vast Pacific.  

The day after the keynote address, the Fongs attended the 2024 President’s Awards Banquet and Education Fundraiser. Hosted by Tlingit and Haida president Richard Peterson, the event conferred awards upon Fong and ten other individuals who uplift the Tlingit and Haida community. Fong graciously accepted the Tribal Ally award in recognition of the self-determination efforts of both Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians, and the Indigenous empowerment realized through the educational programs provided by Kamehameha Schools.

The event also raised money to build an Indigenous learning community on tribal land. This educational complex was inspired in part by Kamehameha Schools, which tribal representatives visited most recently in fall 2023. Particularly meaningful to the Tlingit and Haida is KS’s mission and approach to how we serve our lāhui through Hawaiian culture-based education. As plans for the educational complex move forward, the Tlingit and Haida will include KS as a tribal ally and thought partner. Fong comments, “One of the great signs of Native Hawaiian success is our ability to uplift other indigenous communities on their journey.”

Interested in learning more about the relationship between Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians? Check out these links: 
Kaʻiwakīloumoku website’s Moananuiākea – Alaska section 
Pacific Conversations Episode 4 – Alaska Native Canoe Legacy: Indigenous (ʻŌiwi) Leadership Values 
Video from the Hoʻoilina Alaska-Hawaiʻi Conference in 2019 

The Tlingit and Haida people measure wealth not by how much you have, but by how much you give to others.
Randie Kamuela Fong

moananuiākea,indigenous,hoʻokahua,kamehameha schools

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