Ōiwi leaders: 'This is your kuleanaʻ

Feb. 11, 2021

KS alum encourage Native Hawaiians, young people to run for O'ahu neighborhood boards

Contributed by Crystal Kua

As a Native Hawaiian who is studying global environmental science at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, one of the greatest achievements for Tehani Malterre as a first-time member of the Hawai‘i Kai Neighborhood Board No. 1 was to vote on a resolution supporting legislation calling for the further protection and preservation of the Ka Iwi Coastline in East Honolulu.

“It was really good to be able to advocate on behalf of the community and even on behalf of the ‘āina. It was an opportunity to be able to have a voice in that,” said Malterre, a 2019 graduate of KS Kapālama. “The Ka Iwi Coast is just a special place for people in this community and that was something that was really memorable for me.”

When she won a seat on the Hawai’i Kai board in 2019, Malterre was hailed as the youngest person elected to the neighborhood board. She was a senior in high school when she decided to run.

“First of all, I feel like if I can do it, anybody can do it – I wasn’t even in student government at Kamehameha,” Malterre said. “I just decided to try it and go for it because I think there’s something to be said about getting involved in civic engagement for us young Hawaiians and even for us young people in general.”

Similar advice comes from Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters, a 1983 KS Kapālama alum, who started his career in public service on the Kailua Neighborhood Board.

“Important decisions are being made every day that affect each and every one of us,” Waters said. “You have a chance to weigh in on that, you have a chance to make a difference and you have a chance to have a voice in these decisions. If you don’t, we don’t know who else will. You’re putting your future in someone else’s hands.”

During a recent webinar with KS Kapālama haumāna, Malterre told students that the neighborhood board is a great opportunity for them to help their community but it’s also a way to bring younger voices to the table of community issues.

“I know that we’re young and sometimes it can be intimidating and scary… but if your heart is in the right place, it’ll all work out,” Malterre told the students.

Waters also noted that two current members of the Honolulu City Council are also KS graduates – Esther Kia‘āina KSK’81 and Andria Tupola KSK’98.

“We all ran for office because we care about our beautiful Hawai‘i and it’s important to have good people in place making important decisions because it’s all of our kuleana,” Waters said. “I just want to encourage you. This is your kuleana. This is our Hawai‘i nei.”

Malterre also reflected on the traits of what makes a good ‘ōiwi leader – a person deeply connected to their community who takes the time to educate themselves about what their community needs and wants.

“I think of someone who’s well-versed in their culture and has the best interest of the Lāhui at heart,” she said. “I don’t really consider myself to be much of a leader but the neighborhood board is really a great place for leaders and even future leaders to become familiar with the issues and to have a role using the knowledge that they have to close the gap between community and government.”

The neighborhood board election will run from April 23 to May 21. Want to be a candidate in the neighborhood board elections? Go to the City and County of Honolulu’s 2021 Neighborhood Board Elections web page to register by Feb. 19 and for more information.