For the first time in its more than 20-year history, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s (CNHA) Native Hawaiian Convention will be held in the continental United States. Las Vegas may seem a curious choice to host the inaugural Western Regional Native Hawaiian Convention, an event built around gathering Native Hawaiians — community leaders, activists, educators, and professionals in health care, social services, government, and more — to engage in conversations about cultural perpetuation, housing, and tourism. But it’s a move that reflects the evolving needs of the attendee base, according to Kūhiō Lewis, CEO of the CNHA, a member-based nonprofit organization.
“There are now more Native Hawaiians living in states other than in our ancestral homeland of Hawaii,” Lewis said. Las Vegas felt like an appropriate choice for the convention, Lewis said, given that the city has the third-largest Native Hawaiian population in the country.
Classes in Culture
The event will feature pre-convention workshops that focus on cultural activities that “help to perpetuate and celebrate Hawaiian culture,” Lewis said. “Our culture and language are important elements that connect us as a community and transcend physical, geographic, and political boundaries.” Sessions include a hula workshop, genealogy workshop, and Hawaiian language class. The convention program is dedicated to different aspects of the Native Hawaiian experience, organized around a daily theme: One day the emphasis will be on the essence of Hawaii as a place and a community, while the next day will focus on empowerment, Lewis said, providing attendees with uplifting strategies.
“Whether you’re a Native Hawaiian or someone interested in working on issues affecting our community,” he said, “we want you to leave the convention feeling inspired, energized, and equipped with new knowledge and tools for creating positive change.”
The panel session CNHA’s Kūhiō Lewis said he is most looking forward to — “What Is Hawaii’s Worldwide Brand?” — will explore how to redefine Hawaii’s image for the global community. It’s a crucial topic, Lewis said, “because inauthentic and problematic expressions of our culture and identity are often used to promote Hawaii as a tourist destination.” By taking a closer look at how Hawaii is marketed, “we can work to ensure that our cultural values and identity are represented in a way that accurately reflects the diversity and richness of the Native Hawaiian experience.”
Casey Gale is managing editor at Convene. Illustration by Carmen Segovia
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