Category Archives: Writing possibilities

Native Control of Native Research

silhouette of trees

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on

This month we are meeting again to talk about native control of native research. For many academics, it has to start with controlling the IRB process (the organization and structures we have in place in universities so that we are no longer able to do the kinds of research on humans that were done until the Holocaust.)

For me, however, it has to do with knowing the “who you.” Who are you to do this research or even ask for an IRB? What is your kuleana to this community? How do you know that this is what the community wants? It starts with this quote:

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. I want to be free. I want you to be free. And you aren’t free until I am. Spend your privilege, and just when you think you’ve spent enough, spend some more. Lilla Watson, Aboriginal activist and artist

The Spirituality of Evaluation

background balance beach boulder

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I was asked by a former professor of mine to come and speak to the UH Mānoa Ed.D. cohort 3 on indigenous evaluation. It was really to provide some feedback on their own growing understandings based on a scenario they were given on a mental health project in Hawaiʻi.

These doctoral candidates are mostly local and about half of them are native Hawaiian so they really understood the idea of native control of native research, kuleana, understanding the community and asking permission as well as input and feedback from the community.

One of the big ahas that came out of the group was the idea that even if you are a native researcher, it is not about chasing the money. Ask yourself if the intentions of the researchers sit right with your own naʻau, your gut. Also ask yourself if you are the right person to bring this evaluation forward. Are the right people at the table?

That led to a discussion on how do you know the right people are at the table? What I wanted to talk about was the power of letting go as a way to know if the right people are at the table.

In my work, I have found that I increasingly rely on the methodology of “letting go” meaning I plan, create foundations, but then there is a point where I need to evaluate the “Pono”ness the right-ness of my moving forward by letting go. This is about talking to people involved about what I am trying to do, putting it out into the universe and then waiting for hoʻailona or signs.

I tell the story of my needing participants in my dissertation project and not being able to answer my committee as far as my n=. My answer to the committee was that I was going to personally talk story with as many teachers as possible, I went to conferences, opened it up, but that the teachers that stepped forward were the teachers that were meant to step forward. I then gave my committee a random number (10) and they let me go. I didn’t end up getting 10, but each of the teachers that stepped forward were supposed to be there and proved that in many ways throughout the project.

Another story is about finding my kupuna, or elders to become mentors in the program. When I sought out specific elders, I found that things were not working out. Once, there was an elder that I really wanted. She is a famous musician from one of the last remote fishing villages in Hawaiʻi. I happened to see her at my OB/GYN. I did not personally know her, but I whispered to my husband, “look it’s Aunty D. Do you think I should go up to her and ask if she can be part of my project this summer?” My husband was aghast and told me to not do that in this place. I let it go but I still saved a spot for her in my agenda.

About a month before my project was going to start, I see on my roster of participants a name that I know is connected to Aunty D. I email this teacher, talk about what we will be doing in the summer and casually ask if she thinks Aunty D might be able to come talk/sing/spend time with us this summer. The teacher says sure, I will ask and I quickly got a reply that Aunty D will show up. Again, the right people at the right time show up when I just trust that there are forces outside of myself that will help me if what I am doing is pono.

The last story, another kupuna story came one and a half weeks before the start of the project. Of course I had already committed to going to an educational conference on the continent so although the timing was not ideal, it was part of my job so I am on an airplane, last row, middle in front of the galley and I am in the middle of three seats. Not ideal for a 9 hour plane ride. I also still have one day open without a kupuna for my project. A women sits next to me with her blanket, pillow, large bag. I look at her and recognize her from work. Although we work at the same place, we are on different campuses so I have not seen her in a while. It takes me about half an hour to get my nerve up, but I know that her mama is a very knowledgeable kupuna of another community in Hawaiʻi and that both of them are cultural practitioners, so I talk to her about my project and ask if she is willing to take us through Puna to share their moʻolelo (stories) and maybe we might hang out at her mama’s house in the middle of the lava fields. She says yes, she would like to share her community moʻolelo and have us come to their house to spend the day but she only has one day available because they are traveling again. Of course it was the only day that I had an opening.

I have many of these stories in my own research as well as my work in evaluation. This letting go is what I call the spirituality of evaluation. I find that Indigenous time has nothing to do with time. It has to do with timing and the “faith” to wait for the right timing. It also has to do with a belief that the people that you have contact with are meant to be with you at that particular time for a specific reason.  In Hawaiian thought, it means when the student is ready, the teacher will come.

Austin Kleon wrote about something similar in his post “Ideas in cars, honking”

Mana: Junot Diaz Breaks Silence


Author Junot Diaz writes a powerful personal essay, “The Silence” in the April 16 New Yorker. It is a letter to an anonymous fan who approached him after a reading, stood in line and asked if the sexual abuse alluded to in Diaz’s books happened to the author.

This is Diaz breaking the silence, not that day, but many days and years later. It is his emergence away from the mask that both shields him and destroys him.

As a teacher of English teachers, I always caution my teacher candidates to not allow themselves and their students to automatically make leaps in literature. Not everything is personal autobiography for the authors. It is a dangerous assumption to make.

However, this type of evidence, the mana, that spiritual power of a writer writing about his/her writing and how themes in their life intersect and seep out into their work is valuable and must be collected and held in our “teacher memory” so that we can help our students delve deeper into the psychological, spiritual and aesthetic power of literature.

What is sacred:

Iʻm still afraid–my fear like continents and the ocean between–but I’m going to speak anyway, because, as Audre Lorde has taught us, my silence will not protect me.



What IS the process?!

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I am guilty of owning this bit of advice: trust the process. I say it all the time. Literally. For every situation where someone asks me why are we doing this? Where? What? How? My answer is always the same. Trust the process. It’s my own fault then that as a small group of us start trying to write about our work around professional learning communities, I am given the sub topic of trusting the process which forces me to then define, demystify, bullet point out, one two step the “process.” Darn. I like to do intentional things behind the curtain and then magic happens, but should I just explain that a lot of the process is guided by na’au (gut-level) decision making based on an awakening of my own Indigenous self?  That is somewhat wrong too. I have mentor ideas that I have connected to my own ideas, analyzed them at the gut check level and moved them forward or discarded them according to what feels pono for a specific situation. Not really useful to anyone else.

I am still at the thinking as I write stage. I call this my palu stage. The word palu in Hawai’i sometimes has a wrong connotation. For locals, to vomit is to palu, but in the Hawaiian language, that is not the right word. So in a sense I am not vomiting out my thoughts in some verbal diarrhea rant. That kind of explosive, volcanic vomit is luaʻiI am also not just quickly writing out train of thought squirrel observations. . .ooh shiny flow like water sentences. That kind of flowing, watery vomit is puaʻi. Palu is fish chum, usually made with fish heads and guts, mixed together for the purpose of baiting fish. Palu writing is my way of using both my guts and my head to start forming connections. The pieces are not always set, but I am trying to throw some palu out on the water to see what kind of interest it brings up.

Here are some of the materials I am trying to massage to create this palu writing that talks about process, not about what it is, but what the intention of the process for this professional learning community is first. Then we talk about the how.

Yarning Circle (Bennet-Mclean, 2000) encompassing both modern and historic communal gathering processes found amongst many Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.

Talking Circle introduced into the Reconciliation movement and adapted from Native American Cultures (Picou, 2000). Both derive from Indigenous Peoples’ methods recorded through the stories, songs and ceremonies as mechanisms for inclusion into the transfer of knowledge, participation in the decision-making process and identifying shared goals and desired outcomes for community. (Aseron, Wilde, Miller and Kelly, 2013).

Cultural Safety Circles (CSC’s) borne of the Indigenous experience and found within traditional ways and cultural practices. CSC’s are an acknowledgement of traditional methods for sharing, learning, and collective knowledge development and maintenance. The application of CSC’s can help provide a collective space where definitions for cultural and educational exchange take place and can also be identified. It it through this application that the inherent issue of cultural safety, specifically where it pertains to higher education participation, can then be explored to a deeper understanding. (Aseron, Greymorning, Miller, Wilde, 2013, p. 412)


Bennet-Mclean, D (2000). The yarning circle.

Picou, J.S. (2000). The “Talking Circle” as sociological practice: Cultural transformation of chronic disaster impacts. Journal of Clinical and Applied Sociology (2) 77-97.

Aseron, J. Wilde, S., Miller, A. & Kelly, S. (2013). Indigenous student participation in higher education: Emergent themes and linkages. Contemporary Issues in Education Research 6(4) 417-424.

Aseron, J., Greymorning, S.N., Miller, A. & Wilde, S. (2013). Cultural safety circles and indigenous people’s perspectives: Inclusive practices for participation in higher education. Contemporary Issues in Education Research 6(4) 409-416.


Meyer’s Holographic Epistemology


Princess Leia

Source: Meyer, M. (2013). Holographic epistemology: Native common sense. China Media Research 9(2), pp. 94-101.

What is Sacred:

First, Manulani Aluli Meyer is my mentor. She helped me to formulate my masters thesis at the University of Hawaiʻi Hilo before she left to do work in Aotearoa. The fact that we are both at the University of Hawaiʻi West Oʻahu at this time cannot be circumstance or chance. Therefore, I continue to work with her and I continue to learn with her as part of my own journey toward conscientization (Friere). She is one who speaks in prophecy so it is not always simple to interpret, but this article keeps giving me pause. My understanding is right at the edge. Perhaps I need to first break down my mis-understandings before I can move to connection.

The title is holographic epistemology. As an English teacher who is really a poor reader, I always need to break things down into familiar terms. In other words, I need to make “maps” of language (Hayakawa, 1939). I understand epistemology as ways of knowing. It is a philosophical understanding of how we know, what it is that we know, where did this knowledge come from (the origin) and the limitations of this knowledge (time and place?). So when I talk about Hawaiian ways of knowing, it is about using old/(k)new knowledge from the kupuna to make sense of this modern world. Not what would they do if they were living now, but how would they adapt based on their own maps of knowledge? I digress. This is not my point.

Perhaps my misconception of this map is in the word holographic. My understanding of the word holographic is a document that is handwritten.  The Beat poet and Volcano resident Albert Saijo used to turn in holographic manuscripts to publishers. They were never typed. But when I read this, she is talking about holograms and the ability of the hologram to not only show a three-dimensional perspective, but also in the technology of the lasers, by cutting an image up into pieces, we are also able to see that “the whole is contained in all its parts.” That technique of making a modern hologram, according to Meyer, is best understood with an ancient mind (p. 94). Ea


Connections to Current/Future Work: 

I’m still working on my own understanding. However, here is where I easily connect my work to hers. Or she carries me, which she knows.


An Indigenous world view thus begins with the idea that relationships are not nouns, they are verbs. (Hoʻopili – Hawaiians understood this idea of relationships as a verb. Pilina – join, cling. Hoʻopili – to cling to, to join, to adhere, to connect and intertwine. )

Relationship as a verb infers the intentional quality of connection that is experienced and remembered. Here we begin our walk into Indigenous epistemology; into the simultaneity of the unseen and seen. We are entering a wide-open field of knowledge production and exchange with priorities in practice, relevance, context, consciousness, and shared common sense. (p. 98)

So our connction, our pilina, is not in what makes us “Other” but what makes us same. What are those ways of knowing that allow us to “cling” to each other? How can we use our own common sense, built on our (k)new understanding to move forward collectively? If we are the individual parts of this hologram, then how do we hoʻopili? That is the work, yes?