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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 13, 2004

Hawaiian groups gather at U.N. forum

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

A delegation of 18 people representing various Native Hawaiian groups is at the United Nations for the next two weeks, seeking international support for Hawaiian rights at the third Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The forum was established in 2002 to give a voice to indigenous issues, enabling native people to present needs to U.N. agencies that can provide financial support.

The focus of this year's forum is indigenous women, but among the various issues being explored, education is one of particular interest in the Hawai'i caucus, said Kai'opua Fyfe, a board member of the nonprofit Koani Foundation, a Hawaiian unity organization.

The caucus is hoping for support of using the charter school model "as a means of establishing indigenous education systems," Fyfe said.

Other forum topics include health, culture, socioeconomic issues, human rights and environment.

"Under 'culture' we will be raising issues related to protection of indigenous knowledge, Mauna Kea and other sacred sites, 'iwi kupuna (bones), and the Northwest Hawaiian Islands" Le'a Kanehe, a member of Na Koa Ikaika o Ka Lahui Hawai'i, told The Advertiser via e-mail.

Kanehe added that the caucus will present testimony on the federal recognition bill during the segment on human rights.

Hawai'i also is represented by delegates from the University of Hawai'i Center on Hawaiian Studies and groups such as the 'Ilio'ulaokalani Coalition and the Waikiki and Prince Kuhio Hawaiian civic clubs.

Keali'i Gora, a Ka Lahui member who has been active in Hawaiian cultural education in public schools, said the caucus wants the U.N. to "support the rights of Native Hawaiians to speak our native language and to educate our children and families in the native language, using cultural paradigms and processes."

Adrian Kamali'i, representing 'Ilio'ulaokalani and the UH center, said the forum helps to "take Hawaiian issues to a different level," requesting aid from U.N. groups such as the international education agency UNESCO.

Native Hawaiian activist Mililani Trask has been active with the forum since its formation, and is now in the final year of her three-year diplomatic term as a U.S. representative.

The forum was established in 2000 by the U.N. Economic and Social Council, despite objections from the United States and Canada.

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8053.