First Annual Kaha Nui Summit Informs and Motivates Polynesian Students

The first annual BYU Polynesian Interdisciplinary Summit was held fall semester in the Wilkinson Student Center. Speakers and panelists provided learning opportunities and inspiration. 

 

In the opening session, G. E. Kawika Allen, McKay School professor of counseling psychology and Kaha Nui Summit director, said he was pleased and grateful for the opportunity to gather Polynesian professionals and highlight the various intellectual, artistic, and academic contributions Polynesians offer to the world. “What a momentous occasion to have in one place, in one room, several great thinkers and doers among our people,” Allen said.

 

BYU associate professor John “Keoni” S. K. Kauwe was the keynote speaker, followed by four other speaker sessions and a panel discussion. 

 

“Success, Pride, and Polynesians” by John “Keoni” S. K. Kauwe, PhD, BYU 

 

“Our success doesn’t change or diminish anyone else’s success,” said Kauwe in his keynote lecture. He wanted the student attendees to understand that success is different for each person and can be achieved in different ways. Kauwe gave examples of a football star, a medical doctor, and an individual who returns home to support a family through farming and agriculture. He emphasized how each of these people is successful in an individual way and that one is not greater than the other. 

 

Kauwe also discussed how pride can often creep into our lives when we view our own definition of success as the correct one; he cautioned against judging others as inferior. He recognized, however, that pride can also be good when used correctly and for the right reasons. 

 

“When we have the right type of pride in our hearts for our community, ourselves, and each other, that is when we can love and serve others,” said Kauwe.

 

Kauwe has much to be proud of; he and his team are currently studying Alzheimer’s disease and its effects on the human body. He shared some of his research and techniques with the audience. 

 

Kauwe concluded with a reminder to “dip your paddle in.” He explained that this means to do your part. Do what you can to increase your capacity to serve your family and community and learn to value other’s success as much as your own. 

 

“Culture-Based Leadership Program at Utah Valley University” by Victor Narsimula, MS, UVU

 

Victor Narsimula talked about deficit stories, which he defined as negative stories and stereotypes that exist about Polynesians. He said that by succeeding in high school and college, Polynesians are countering some of the deficit stories. During the session he introduced a panel of students who attend UVU from all over the world. These individuals told their stories about overcoming obstacles and attending college. Afterward they answered questions from the audience about scholarships, college success, and other topics. 

 

“First-Generation Students: Navigating Uncharted Territories” by Natasha Gillette, PhD, and Logan Gillette, MPA/JD, BYU

 

Natasha and Logan Gillette, who are from New Zealand, are both first-generation high school and college graduates. They discussed challenges facing first-generation students today. These obstacles include growing up in low-income households, managing time ineffectively, lacking social and academic integration, and being unfamiliar with university resources. 

 

They referred to mana, a term used throughout Polynesia that refers to power or prestige. They explained that knowing who you are and where you come from is important to success. They said, “Through our religion, culture, ancestors, family, or tribes, we have the ability to call on the mana and overcome obstacles.” 

 

“Factors Related to Dropout Rates among Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander Youths in Salt Lake and Utah Counties in Utah” by Afa Palu, PhD, BYU

 

The session featured research findings from Afa Palu, who explained results from his major study concerning dropout rates among high school students, specifically Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander youth in the state of Utah. He found that dropout rates were predicted by peer-related experiences, followed by self-related, family-related, school-related, and lastly culture-related factors. Palu said, ”We must change the way we work with our kids. If they get an F on an assignment, we as parents need to show them a better way. As parents and as students, we must rise up and fulfill our responsibilities and duties.”

 

“Cultural Competence and Community Advocacy in Our Professional Practice” by Hema Katoa, MSW, LCSW, University of Utah

 

Hema Katoa, dean of students at the Academy for Math, Engineering, and Science, has an extensive background in social work. He talked about the importance of sharing the cultural knowledge of Pacific Islanders with the community to disperse racial prejudice. 

 

“You can’t fit all Pacific Islanders into one group,” Katoa said. 

 

Katoa meets with organizations around the state to teach cultural interventions and to help other Pacific Islanders clear up the misconceptions they may have about all Pacific Islanders. 

 

“Wherever you are, please stand up, put yourself out there,” he said. “If we don’t advocate for our people, someone else will do it, and we need to represent ourselves.”

 

“Johnny Lingo Goes to School—Behind the Hibiscus Curtain” by Toanui Tawa, MS, SUU

 

Southern Utah University English professor Toanui Tawa gave nine rules he has learned from his teaching career: 

 

1. Know who you are and hold yourself accountable. 

2. Be a credit to your ancestry by making your college proud of you. 

3. Step out of your culture once in a while and enrich your life. 

4. Find balance.

5. You will never make as much money as you think you will your first year after you graduate. 

6. An A is not everything. 

7. Recognize and acknowledge the sacrifice of many, including yourself. 

8. Realize the difference between a good excuse and a bad excuse.

9. Pay it forward. 

 

The first annual Kaha Nui Summit provided many opportunities for learning and enlightenment for all those in attendance. Allen and the Summit’s executive board are excited to continue this new tradition next year. In his closing remarks, Allen highlighted the importance of the Polynesian heritage and culture.  From ancient navigational skills and patterns of knowledge and learning to powerful narratives passed down from one generation to the other, Allen emphasized the richness of the Polynesian ways.

 

 “We are in a position now to continue this legacy of honoring our ancestors and advancing our next generation by expanding our sphere of influence,” Allen said. 

 

 

Writer: Maddie Schmidt

Contact: Cynthia Glad (801) 422-1922