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KS Kapālama and Maui haumāna hosted the Moananuiākea: Pacific Conversations and Cultural Exchange series at FestPAC 2024.

Youth lead the way at FestPAC cultural exchange

June 13, 2024

Hawaiʻi students led a groundbreaking event series at the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture in Honolulu from June 11-13. Over 150 high schoolers from Kamehameha Schools, Hawaiʻi charter schools, private schools and Guam were part of the Kula Hawaiʻi delegation that hosted the Moananuiākea: Pacific Conversations and Cultural Exchange, a 3-day conference series showcasing Pacific lifestyles, arts and discourse.

This unprecedented event marked the first time FestPAC featured formalized knowledge-sharing seminars and entrusted school-age youth with integral roles. From offering oli at opening protocols to monitoring breakout sessions, the students facilitated the cultural exchange, demonstrated indigenous dance and engaged in profound dialogues, celebrating their heritage and embodying youth-driven activism.

KS Kapālama haumāna Ayceton Aona said he feels honored to be a part of this youth delegation.

“Not only do I get to represent my own identity and culture through the symposiums but I also get to immerse myself in other cultures and take inspiration from other youth leaders from across the Pacific,” Aona said.

Kula Hawaiʻi delegates open the symposium with oli.

As a cultural consultant at Kamehameha Schools, Kilinahe Coleman affirmed the importance of student involvement in this conference series as a unique educational opportunity.

“Our lāhui in Hawaiʻi is not alone; we are part of Moananuiākea,” Coleman said. “For our students to understand that their identity and relationships go beyond the reef is the most important thing we can provide them through these educational experiences.”

The pupils engaged with a diverse range of topics, from Māori musical instruments to the Samoan Creation Myth. Hundreds of festivalgoers attended the symposium keynote speech from Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, Ph.D., KSK’08, examining sovereignty, ea and liberation. She urged the crowd to reimagine the definition of sovereignty from an Indigenous perspective – one that provides refuge and humanity with an eye towards teaching and including others.

“Those in power want us to believe that the world cannot change but the world changes every day,” Osorio said. “The nature and direction of that change is up to us all. Make it count. Make it transformative. Make sovereignty mean ea – mean life – again,” Osorio said.

Another focal point was a call for support of the Declaration of Indigenous Youth, developed in 2014 by hundreds of youths from around the world who attended the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education. The young delegates presented the latest updates, seeking feedback and emphasizing the importance of demanding native rights.

“My self-determination and identity as a Native Hawaiian are not just seeking recognition by others but living out true ʻōiwi values,” Aona said. Seeing so many nations come together inspired him to dive deeper into his own culture and what it means to be an ʻōiwi leader.

Ayceton Aono (center) plays Māori games with fellow Kula Hawaiʻi delegates from Kula ʻo Kamehameha and Aotearoa.

His Kapālama classmate, Addis Belay, is already thinking about how they can be student government leaders that don’t just elevate their class but their campus.

“When we go back to school, it is really important that we don’t make decisions that just boost us as leaders but our whole community,” Belay said. “That’s really what alakaʻi lawelawe is – to lead by serving others.”

Motivated by the speakers, Belay reflected on how their talents and passion fueled their activism. Learning about Osorio’s art as a form of protest and how musician Josh Tatofi fuses his multiple Pacific identities to stand out in the industry, she realized that leadership can be found in anyone willing to uplift their lāhui.

“This conference highlights the leaders who aren’t necessarily making policy or pushing legislation but still creating change,” Belay said. “That’s what this youth delegation is doing by using our voices and skills to make a change that can reverberate across communities and can affect even the generations after us.”




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