Connection to Place

By 2030, create a sense of belonging and responsibility among people by enhancing appreciation of ‘āina (people + place) and connection to neighbors and community.

Connection to place includes creating a sense of appreciation, belonging, and responsibility to ‘āina and community. The interconnectedness of unique natural resources, culture, people, and an island way of life grounded in the foundation of Native Hawaiian culture is what makes Hawai‘i special. Honoring people of all backgrounds and cultivating the interdependence between people and place through collective mālama ‘āina can strengthen the resilience of communities to meet 21st century challenges.
Hawaiian Traditional Knowledge
Native Hawaiian ancestral knowledge is grounded in the relationship between people and ‘āina. ‘Āina (meaning that which nourishes us) encompasses land, ocean, ecosystems, and all living things. Aloha ʻāina is a way of life that practices reverence and stewardship for the land and all life forms.
As a part of this practice, early Hawaiians divided major land areas on into districts called moku, and further into ahupua‘a. Ahupua‘a are traditional land divisions, generally from mauka to makai (mountain to ocean), that served as a holistic system for resource management and governance. Ahupua‘a centered around fresh water resources, and were overseen by a konohiki (place-based land manager) to ensure the land supported and sustained the community. Smaller sections within an ahupuaʻa were called ʻili, which belonged to makaʻainana (people of the land or common families). In addition to what was referred to as wao kanaka (a zone for human activity), ahupua‘a include the deeply revered wao akua (realm of the gods) in the upland forest.
A set of rules and prohibitions known as kapu were strictly enforced, including stewardship protocol such as for fishing. Makahiki season occurred once a year in honor of the god Lono to celebrate a time of peace, fertility, and prosperity. Each ahupua‘a presented the bounty of that land and community to the ali‘i (chief), which was placed upon the ahu (alter) at each of the boundaries.
An ahupua‘a is a prosperity model for ‘āina momona (abundance) and this system is an important foundation for sense of place in Hawai‘i. This model can applied today to rebuild integrated systems that support community stewardship, connection, and well-being.
Figure 1: Ahupua‘a model

Figure 2: This image features an example of land divisions on the island of O‘ahu (Source: Kamehameha Schools) 
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) is tracking ahupua‘a managed to support natural, cultural, and economic resources. This is measured through OHA’s scoring system rating how land owners manage lands in Hawaii and how this accomplishes the vision, mission, and strategy of "bridging the ancient use of lands with future land use patterns and advocating for land use and transaction practices and regulations congruent with the Hawaiian Sense of Place" (OHA, 2007). This evaluation is contingent upon OHA’s influence over major land owners through a voluntary third-party verification process. The purpose of this measurement is to demonstrates leadership, innovation and ‘āina-based stewardship of landowners through sustainable land management. Currently, OHA data demonstrates that 15 percent of ahupua‘a landowners have a community-based resource management plan in place, which is an increase from 12 percent in 2011. This includes 119 ahupua‘a measured managed for cultural resources, 107.25 managed for natural resources, and 858 ahupua‘a managed for economic resources.
Percent Ahupuaʻa Managed with community-based plans
Figure 3: This graph illustrates the percent of Ahupuaʻa Managed to create economic value, preserve cultural and natural resources and historic properties, and provide cultural opportunities for Native Hawaiians in a sustainable and balanced manner. (Data Source: Office of Hawaiian Affairs)
I ka nānā no a ‘ike. By observing, one learns.
‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings, Mary Kawena Pukui, Proverb: 1186
Investment in Community and Native Hawaiian Well-being
In fiscal year 2017, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs OHA awarded nearly $10 million in grants and sponsorships to programs across the state that are diverse as the community needs they serve. These priorities include culture, education, health, housing, income, land, (OHA 2017 Annual Report). 
Place Names
Recognizing that every place in Hawai‘i has a name and genealogy, place names tell a story of connection. Native Hawaiian place names communicate a deep, nuanced understanding of the land, wind, rain, water, and other geographical features; this knowledge was learned and shared through observation and intergenerational mo‘oleo (a succession of oral traditions or stories).  A place name might be given based on the features of the land, a famous historical event or mo‘olelo, or an important resource, such as wai (water). Names were given to each mokupuni (island), moku, ahupua‘a, and many landscape features within; place names connect people to ‘āina, their community, and a shared context.
 However, many locations around the islands have been renamed since western contact; this loss of traditional place names can disconnect people from the significance of the land around them. For example, iconic landmarks such as Diamondhead (Leahi), Punchbowl (Puowaina), and Pearl Harbor (Pu‘uloa or Wai Momi) are currently more recognized by their English names. Pearl Harbor was given two names by early Hawaiians – Pu‘uloa (long hill) and Wai Momi (waters of pearl),  as the lagoon was said to once be home to an abundance of oysters and mother-of-pearl shells. The now globally recognized and iconic Diamond Head was given its English name for sailors who thought the calcite crystals on its slopes were diamonds. Its original name, “Leahi,” was given for the volcanic crater’s strong resemblance to the dorsal fin of ahi or tuna.
Use of Hawaiian place names enhance a greater sense of connection to place, for kama‘aina and visitors alike. As a part of an effort to restore use of Hawaiian place names and educate the public on their significance and historical context, signage for ahupua‘a and moku have been installed on multiple islands. O‘ahu has ahupua‘a signage across the island, and the County of Kaua‘i recently installed ahupua‘a and moku signs as part of the cultural heritage program, Kaua‘i Nui Kuapapa.

Figure 4: The photo shows the ahupua‘a signage on the island of O‘ahu, which were installed by the State of Hawai‘i and Department of Transportation in 2011. This effort was first inspired by the “Ko‘olaupoko Ahupua‘a Boundary Marker Project,” from the Ko‘olaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club, and other civic clubs.
Source: Honolulu Weekly, March 30 2011
Figure 5: This image shows the moku signage from the County of Kaua‘i. (Source: Kaua‘i Nui Kuapapa)
‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i
Hawaiian language, or ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, is a rich oral tradition and cornerstone for cultural practice and identity. After western contact, the use of Hawaiian language was rekindled in the 1960 and 1970s, and in 1978, it was re-established as an official language of the state of Hawai‘i. Currently, Hawaiian is the most widely studied Native American language and the only to be officially used by a state government. (Source: University of Hawai‘i College of Hawaiian Language, Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani). The data below shows information collected through 2006-2008 surveys on Hawaiian language spoken, with over 24,000 individuals speaking Hawaiian in 2008.  According to a recent study by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism in 2016, 18,610 people or 5.7 percent of the Hawai‘i residents speak ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i in the home (DBEDT, 2016).
Table 1: The chart below shows the number of Native Hawaiian speakers both in Hawai‘i and the continental United States 2006-2008.  (Source: Office of Hawaiian Affairs, American Community Survey)
Mālama Hawai‘i
Kenneth Francis Kamu’ookalani Brown, a significant figure in Hawai‘i’s political, business, and cultural community in the decades spanning the 1960s through the 1990s, discussed the mālama ethic in his 1973 speech to the State Legislature:
“All of man's acts in Hawai`i must be dominated by the spirit of ʻMālama’. The Pukui-Elbert Hawaiian Dictionary defines ʻMālama’ thus: "To take care of, care for, preserve; to keep or observe, as a taboo; to conduct, as a service; to serve, honor, as God; care, preservation, support; fidelity, loyalty; custodian, caretaker." Mālama is thus an imperative. It is applicable to our entire lives in Hawai`i. It is applicable to all our transactions with each other, to all of our transactions with the overseas world, and to all of the transactions between society and nature. Each of these transactions must meet the test of mālama at all times, without exception.”
-Kenneth Brown
Community Driven Decision Making, Stewardship and Planning
In addition to connection with the land, culture and context of a place, civic engagement is an important pathway to build vibrant, connected, and empowered communities. Civic engagement involves work to make a difference and promote greater quality of life, and this can be a powerful mechanism for individual or collective action. This can include both political and non-political action, from involvement in current events, engaging in local groups, service and volunteering, place-based stewardship, and other work that seeks to positively affect the community. In Hawai‘i, kūleana (responsibility) to family, community, and ‘āina is a core value and way of life, and also seen as an honored privilege.
Community service, volunteering, and stewardship are often unpaid work by individuals or a group of people that benefit the public and support overall well-being. Many organizations, place-based projects, and people rely on volunteers, such as various education programs, social services, ‘āina-based work like fishpond restoration or native tree planting, beach clean-ups, and many others. The Dashboard is looking to capture volunteer hours as a metric for community engagement and stewardship as there is not yet a mechanism to capture these efforts.
As part of their kūleana, practitioners across the state are actively stewarding natural, cultural, and community resources from cultural sites, language, and practices; for example, the image below features a snapshot of traditional fishponds across the state that are being actively managed, stewarded and restored by local communities. In addition, something as simple as knowing and supporting your neighbors is an important contribution to community connection and resilience. Together, local communities can take a personal responsibility for community projects, shared places and resources, neighbors, elders, children, and vulnerable members of society.
Figure 6: The map above shows a snapshot of Hawaiian fishponds across the state, which is a key example of stewardship of natural, cultural, and community resources. Many of these communities are collaborating the through the network based-organization Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA). 
(Source: DHM Planners Inc., Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Applied Research Group, Public Archaeology Section and Moon, O’Connor, Tam & Yuen. Hawaiian Fishpond Study: Islands of Hawaiʻi, Maui, Lānaʻi and Kauaʻi. Honolulu: DHM Planners, 1990.)
Through civic engagement, communities can identify and address issues of concern, and co-develop shared solutions. Engagement opportunities in political decision-making processes can include participation in Neighborhood Board meetings, civic clubs, public hearings, community meetings, County Council, State Legislature, and voting in local and national elections. Actively engaging local communities to provide a voice in decision-making processes and ensuring cohesive networks are important to supporting empowered citizens, particularly in underserved areas.
Equally, if not more important, than caretaking current community assets, is planning to ensure their health and longevity for future generations.  In terms of planning locally appropriate communities, input and engagement from the community itself is paramount to develop a collective framework, future vision, and what that looks like in practice. Local government agencies engage the public on General Plans and Community Development Plans for each island to help ground future planning in the context of each community’s distinctive character, environment, culture and economy. Plans are often updated every ten years through a participatory system, and guide government action and decision-making based on the plans.
“Placemaking” is a less formal, hands-on approach to improving a neighborhood or community through inspiring people to creatively reimagine their shared public spaces. It is a community-driven process focused that focuses on collaboration, local assets, potential, and context to enhancing a sense of place. Placemaking seeks to contribute to community connection, health, and quality of life.  Through placemaking, communities can design everyday spaces, such as parks, markets, streets, campuses, public buildings, and downtown areas, and neighborhoods.
Figure 7: This diagram shows an overview of the major goals, values, and measures of placemaking, which can be applied locally by communities. (Source: Project for Public Spaces)

Volunteerism in Hawaiʻi

Volunteering is another critical part of community engagement and connection to place. Currently, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, only 28% of Hawaiʻi residents regularly volunteer, putting Hawaiʻi in 41st place in the U.S. The average resident volunteers 26 hours per year, which ranks 45th in the nation. 
Figure 8. Kanu Hawaiʻi is working to expand the culture of volunteerism in Hawaiʻi through Volunteer Week, an annual week-long event where dozens of organizations and thousands of volunteers come together to make a big collective impact through environmental, social and cultural projects (Source: The State of Volunteerism in Hawaiʻi, Kanu Hawaiʻi). 

Political Participation in Hawai'i 

Voting and political participation go hand in hand with a person's connection to their community. Voting has always been a way for citizens to advocate for change in their community and lives and is meant to give a voice to those who might now have one. The following graphs show the representation and participation of men and women in Hawaiʻi's politics. 
This graph is showing the percent of men and women holding political offices in Hawaiʻi. Representation of women in Hawaiʻi’s government is low, 50% of US representatives for Hawaiʻi being the highest percent of women in politics for the state. As of 2015, there were no women in statewide elected executive offices. (Status of Women in the States, 2015)
Women in Hawaiʻi tend to participate more than men when it comes to voting, as more women are registered to vote and more women vote, according to data from 2015. (Status of Women in the States, 2015)

This infographic shows the participation and representation of women in the government of Hawaiʻi since statehood in 1959. Representation in the past is low, and it remains low as of May 2020, with the exception of 50% of Hawaiʻi’s congressional delegates being women. On the other hand, 52.3% of women in Hawaiʻi are registered to vote, which is higher than the 50% of men registered to vote (2010-2012).

Learn More and Make a Difference         

Health, Wellness and Waiwai in North Kahala:
Culture, language and ‘āina based practices are the foundation for connection to place in Hawai‘i:
Kenneth Francis Brown is part of a rich heritage of Hawaiian tradition. He is a historic figure and visionary for the Mālama Hawai’i ethic as an imperative value for decisions, policies, and actions which inspired many of today’s movements and leaders. Read Kenny Brown’s 1973 Speech:
Which moku and ahupua‘a do you live in? Visit Aha Moku to see maps of each of island ( and AVA Konohiki (
  • Learn more about the traditional ahupua‘a system through the online Kumukahi educational resources on Hawaiian culture and ancestral knowledge.
  • Explore Hawaiian place names with the book Place Names of Hawai‘i by Mary Kawena Pukui, Samuel H. Elbert, Esther T. Mo‘okini and through the Ulukau electronic library.
  • Use the Wehewehe Hawaiian language dictionary.
  • Search through Office of Hawaiian Affairs Hawaiian data bases and electronic libraries to explore place names, language, Hawaiian newspapers, historical information: Kipuka Data Base and Papakilo Data Base
  • Visit Kaua‘i Nui Kuapapa to learn more about the County of Kaua‘i signage on moku and ahupua‘a.
  • Moon cycles informed traditional practices such as planting and fishing, and was a central component to observation of place. Learn about the Hawaiian lunar calendar with the Polynesian Voyaging Society and Hōkūle‘a navigation resources: (Hawaiian Lunar Month and Hui Mauli Ola Moon Calendar)
  • The Aloha Spirit Law (Hawai‘i Revised Statutes, section 5-7.5) was written by the late Aunty Pilahi Paki “acknowledges the that The Aloha Spirit was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawai`i."  Aloha continues to ne the guiding principle for Hawai‘i, and sets a code of conduct with the State Law for all officials, citizens, and visitors. 
Neighborhood and County-Level Engagement:  
Make a difference in your neighborhood! Get involved or serve on your neighborhood board or community association to discuss local issues, community events, and opportunities. Connect with your neighborhood board on O‘ahu (, and with your Community Association on Maui, Hawai‘i Island, and Kaua‘i.
County General and Community Plans: 
General and Community Plans outline the goals, objectives, policies, and actions for the County and each district. Plans are updated every ten years by the County and include a process of community meetings and input. Learn more about the planning process in your county and get involved in planning for your community’s future: 
Community Networks and Resources: 
There are many important community resources available, and the following networks support statewide community engagement, stewardship, and capacity building: 
  • Get Involved with the Hawai‘i Alliance for Community-Based Economic Development (HACBED), a non-profit that works as a statewide intermediary to support community-led decision-making:
  • Capacity Building & Technical Assistance
  • Networking Assistance
  • Strategic Community-Based Planning
  • Learn more about Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA), a backbone organization that supports statewide grassroots stewardship networks of ‘aina-based practitioners to accelerate knowledge sharing, grow collaboration, and affect large-scale change.  
  • Kanu Hawai‘i is a statewide values-based organization that that seeks to cultivate connection between people, community, and ‘āina through empowering both individual and collective action. Kanu provides tools and opportunities for people to connect, take action, and build more compassionate and resilient communities across Hawai’i.
Get involved! Service and Volunteering Opportunities:
Volunteer with a local organization or project in your community. Explore these resources to help you find an opportunity in your area.  
  • Use this online tool to look for various volunteer opportunities in your local community
  • Conservation Connections by the Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance provides a resource hub for conservation, cultural, and other community opportunities
  • Learn about volunteer opportunities through Kanu Hawai‘i
  • Sign up for volunteer opportunities to help clean up local beaches with the following organizations:
  • Find volunteer opportunities on Maui:
  • Find volunteer opportunities on Kaua’i: 
  • Find volunteer opportunities on Hawai’i Island: 
State Legislature:  
  • Find your Legislator is a resource to help find the legislator who represents your district at the statewide-level on legislative action and policy. This resource allows you to search by your home address or current location. 
  • Learn about the Legislative process with the Hawai‘i Public Access Room. The Public Access Room is available as a resource to enhance citizen’s ability to engage in the legislative process in-person at the State Capitol, by phone, via email, and offer workshops: 
  • Citizen’s Guide to the Legislative Process
Hawai‘i Congressional Delegation:
  • Learn about your congressional district and members of Congress here.  U.S. Congressional Delegation represents Hawai‘i nationally at Congress: 
Your Vote Counts!
Register and Vote! Voting in local and national elections is an important part of civic engagement, and can make an especially large impact at the local level.
SDG 1 - No Poverty
End poverty in all its forms everywhere
SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
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Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
Reduce inequality within and among countries
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Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
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Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies
SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals
Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development