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Int Public Health J 2016;8(2):271-282 ISSN: 1947-4989

© 2016 Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

Look to the source: Gathering elder stories as segue to youth

action-oriented research

Lana Sue I Ka‘opua1,, PhD, DCSW, LSW, Abstract

J Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘opua2, PhD,
J Mahealani Kaawa1, BW, Scott K Amona3, The Native Hawaiian proverb “nana i ke kumu” (“look to
the source”), reflects reverence for elder wisdom and stories
MEd, Colette V Browne1, PhD, MSW, that pass knowledge from older to younger generations. An
and Andrew S Robles4, BA oral history curriculum was developed to advance
Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work, secondary students’ capacity to conduct action-oriented
research with/for Native Hawaiian elders and families.
Hā Kūpuna National Resource Center for Native
Curriculum development was guided by critical pedagogy
Hawaiian Elders, University of Hawai‘i-Manoa, theory, as first advanced by Friere and subsequently,
Honolulu, Hawai‘i indigenized by Native Hawaiian scholar-activists as Aloha
Department of Political Sciences, Indigenous Politics ‘Aina (loving care for land and people) literacies.
Program, University of Hawaii- Manoa, Honolulu, Objective: Piloting the curriculum occurred at a Native
Hawai‘i Hawaiian culture-based public chart school. Aims were to
3 enhance relational connections between elders and youth,
Hālau Kū Māna Public Charter School, Honolulu,
inspire interest in elder wellbeing, and provide perspectives
Hawai‘i on diverse action-oriented opportunities. Methods:
Department of Sociology, University of Hawai‘i- Learning was assessed through a Knowledge-Attitude-
Manoa, Honolulu, Hawai‘i, United States of America Practice survey, written reflections, and other activities.
Results: Students produced videotaped interviews. KAP
results indicate that students learned about elders’ actions to
make Hawai’i a better place for all, were moved to think
more deeply about their social responsibility, felt more
connected to elders, and desired future contact. Reflections
suggest that intergenerational connection may potentiate
future action-oriented research. Discussion and Conclusion:
Despite promising results, the curriculum needs to be
piloted with students in other Native Hawaiian culture-
based schools. Considerations for fostering capacity to
conduct action-oriented research in the context of culture-
based schools may be of interest to educators, health
researchers, gerontologists, and others partnering with
Native communities.

Keywords: action-oriented research, critical pedagogy,

elders, indigenous, intergenerational relations, oral history,

Correspondence: Lana Sue I Ka‘opua, PhD, DCSW, LSW,
Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work, Ha Kupuna
National Resource Center for Native Hawaiian Elders, Across the life cycle the health status of Indigenous
University of Hawai‘i-Manoa, 2430 Campus Rd, Gartley peoples living in the United States (US) compares
Hall, Honolulu, HI 96822, United States. E-mail: unfavorably with non-indigenous populations (1, 2).
272 Lana Sue I Ka‘opua, J Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘opua, J Mahealani Kaawa et al.

Native Hawaiian, American Indian, and Alaska This project developed and piloted an oral history
Native populations are burdened by disparate rates of curriculum intended to increase the capacity of Native
disability, morbidity, and mortality from Hawaiian youth to conduct action-oriented research.
cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, cancer, The project involved 11th and 12th grade students from
and other serious conditions. Health inequalities Halau Ku Mana (HKM), a Native Hawaiian culture-
commonly are linked to proximal factors with based public charter school located in a densely
interventions focused on the health behaviors of populated area of Honolulu, Hawai‘i. The name
individuals and groups, as well access to care and “Halau Ku Mana” derives from the traditional
other health systems barriers. However, indigenous Hawaiian wisdom “Ku no i ka mana a ke kahu hanai”
researchers increasingly are linking health inequalities (“be like the one from whom you learned”) which
to more distal social determinants, including the attributes a person’s values and commitments to the
effects of western colonization, collective trauma, elders who provided care and taught them (5,16).
intergenerational marginalization, and cultural erasure Language revival is fundamental to addressing effects
(3-13). Cultural erasure occurs when Native of cultural erasure and study participants’ comments
knowledge is denigrated and when mainstream, frequently are laced with Hawaiian language terms.
written history expurgates the perspective of Table 1 provides brief definitions of Hawaiian terms
Indigenous peoples, as well as their collective efforts used, with terms spelled with all diacritical marks.
to survive and resist the impact of western knowledge HKM partnered with elder volunteers and
hegemony on their wellbeing (5, 9-13). Emergent University of Hawai‘i Manoa researchers associated
Indigenous research views cultural erasure as a means with Ha Kupuna (HK) National Resource Center for
for colonizing forces to justify expropriation of native Native Hawaiian Elders. As with HKM, the name “Ha
lands and resources. Kupuna” reflects the vital connection between elders
Mainstream public education historically has and younger persons; specifically, it refers to ways in
served as a key medium for cultural erasure, with the which na kupuna (elders) share the ha (breath or
latter promulgated through educational policies and essence of life) with na makua (adults of the parent
pedagogical practices forbidding use of Native generation) and na ‘opio (youth). The vision of HK is
language in the classroom and obliterating from to raise the health and wellbeing of na kupuna to
instructional curriculum the knowledge and the belief parity with that of elders from other ethnic groups.
systems central to Indigenous traditions of land While na kupuna hold a valued place in the Native
stewardship, health maintenance, and livelihood (5-6, Hawaiian tradition, this population of older adults (≥
9-13). In the 21st century, Native Hawaiian, 60 years) have a higher percentage of disability, the
American Indian, and Alaska Native community greatest number of years of productive life lost, and
schools are engaged actively in creating “alter-native” lowest life expectancy of Hawai‘i State’s elder
learning environments that emphasize educational population (7-8). Na kupuna tend to live in multi-
self-determination and sovereignty, a culturally safe generational family households and in comparison to
learning environment, and critical pedagogy tailored non-Native Hawaiian households are more likely to
on the traditions of specific Indigenous groups (5,9- live at/below 100-199% of the U.S. federal poverty
13, 15). Of critical concern are issues related to: (a) level. This oral history project was intended as an
preparing youth for literacies reflective of the multiple important first step in advancing students’ capacity to
intelligences essential to continuity of traditional conduct action-oriented research on health and
Indigenous knowledge and replenishment of their wellbeing with/for na kupuna and their ‘ohana
communities in a post-modern society, (b) (family). Through conducting oral histories with
transmission of land-based cultural traditions and elders, our aims were to: 1) enhance relational
social history to Native and non-Native students, and connections between elders and youth, 2) inspire
(c) the role of intergenerational connectedness in among youth an interest in elder wellbeing, and 3)
cultivating cultural continuity and in building strong, provide perspectives on diverse social action
healthy communities. opportunities for students poised to enter adult life.
Offered in a language arts course, project activities
Elder stories 273

also served as instructional vehicles through which observing, and integrative use of internet-based and
youth might advance grade-level appropriate electronic communication technologies (17- 18).
competencies in the expected domains of critical
thinking, reading, writing, speaking, listening,

Table 1. Glossary of Hawaiian Language Terms

aikāne – Same sex relationship.

‘aina – Land, earth.
Aloha ‘Aina – Philosophy, praxis, and pedagogy of deep love and care for the land or earth and all that dwells
upon it; from within the Native Hawaiian tradition the land is both physical and spiritual entity; humans and ‘aina
have a familial relationship that necessitates ongoing attention.
Hā Kūpuna (HK) – One of three national native elder resource centers; name “Hā Kūpuna” speaks to the giving
of “hā ” or “breath of life” from older to younger generations.
hālau – School, place of learning.
Hālau Kū Māna (HKM) – Native Hawaiian culture-based public charter school; the name “Halau Ku Mana”
reflects a place of learning where power of traditional knowledge and elder wisdom is recognized.
ho‘olauna – To be friendly, often used to describe sociable interaction.
ho‘omāna - To empower; as Aloha ‘Aina literacy the terms refers to appreciation of cultural memory and
subjugated perspectives, with reflection potentiating social action.
‘ike – Knowledge.
Kaho‘olawe – Hawaiian island used by U.S. military for ship-to-shore bombardment. Native Hawaiian protests to
end the bombing of this once sacred island precipitated revival of Aloha ‘Aina cultural practices.
kāne – Male person.
kilokilo – Observe or watch; as Aloha ‘Aina literacy it refers to observation of the natural and social world.
kokua – Help, support, comfort, relief; frequently, given without being asked.
kuleana - Social responsibility, knowledge of self-in-relation to others; an Aloha ‘Aina literacy.
kumu – Teacher, mentor, source of learning.
kupuna – Elder.
kūpuna – Elders.
māhū/māhūwahine – Male-to-female transgender person.
makana – Gift.
makawalu – Seeing with eight eyes, infers multiple ways of knowing and being.
makua – Adult of the parent generation.
mālama – To care, steward, look after someone or some matter.
māna – Power.
mo‘olelo – Story or history shared with intent to instruct or inspire action.
nā – The; pluralizes a noun (e.g., nā kūpuna or the elders).
nānā – Look, seek.
‘ohana – Extended family of blood-related and fictive kin.
oli – Chant which may be offered as formal welcome, thank-you, or for other commemoration.
‘opio – Youth
pa‘ina – Small party with meal.
wahine – Female person.
wahi pana – Sacred place.

Aloha ‘Aina as critical pedagogy social injustices and other inequalities (14, 15).
Essential to learner engagement is the tailoring of
Critical pedagogy refers to the philosophy and praxis pedagogical approaches and educational content such
of education intended to enhance understanding of that both are experienced as socio-culturally relevant
social context, influence of unequal knowledge and (9-11). Aloha ‘Aina (deep love and care for the land)
power, and the role of social action in addressing is a central value of the traditional Hawaiian
274 Lana Sue I Ka‘opua, J Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘opua, J Mahealani Kaawa et al.

cosmology and in contemporary times, serves as the in community forums, written reports, and
grounding for Aloha ‘Aina as Native Hawaiian presentations, as well as in conventionally academic
critical pedagogy. The time-honored values of medium. Quantitative and qualitative approaches
reverence for the land (‘aina) is reflected in cultural often are used in integrative fashion and the use of
wisdoms or proverbs, history and stories (mo‘olelo), multiple methods is understood to best represent
chant (oli), and other traditional expressions (16, 19- diverse ways of knowing and experiences.
20). Importantly, Aloha ‘Aina also is viewed as Oral history is among the qualitative methods
action—specifically, those actions which reinforce used and is valued as a medium for promoting
practices of human connection, intergenerational health/wellbeing and other forms of equity (22,23).
continuity, and working together to continuously By definition, oral history is a purposeful and
steward land in a dynamic relationship characterized disciplined dialogue focusing on an aspect of the past
by reciprocity (5). considered to be of historical and social significance
HKM educators, parents, and community to interviewer and interviewee (24). Interviews are
supporters have sought to make Aloha ‘Aina the understood to offer a distinct portal for viewing the
foundation of a socio-politically engaged, lived experiences of “ordinary” persons whose stories
intellectually-rigorous, project- and place-based might otherwise be muted from conventional written
learning curriculum (5). Aloha ‘Aina literacies are records or historical archives. American Indian
woven into course content that also aligns with educators and researchers note that oral histories of
learning outcomes set forth in the common core of elders living through extraordinary circumstances
federal and state educational standards (17,18). (e.g., native land struggles) have inspired middle
Indigenous critical pedagogy with its emphasis on the school students to learn about their tribal history and
conscientization process (becoming conscious of cultural heritage thereby, cultivating students’ sense
one’s experiences as shaped within specific relations of proactive agency (25). Also, reported are the
of power and hegemonic discourses with active benefits to participating elders who experience a sense
transgression of those relations and discourses) of purpose and validation for knowledge shared
undergirds the curriculum of language arts and other through oral history interviews.
courses (5, 21). Attended to are the specific Aloha Because traditional roles and ways of interaction
‘Aina literacies of: (a) kilokilo (observation of the vary considerably across native groups, attention to
natural and social world), (b) ho’omana (appreciation culture and context is crucial when conducting oral
of cultural memory and subjugated perspectives, with history or other qualitative research with/for
reflection potentiating social action), and (c) kuleana indigenous elders (26). Thus, while interview
(social responsibility cultivated through knowledge protocols developed for other indigenous populations
and sense of self-in-relation to others) (5). generally are relevant for use with Native Hawaiian
elders, additional considerations are important to keep
in mind (27-30). For example, initial contact with
Action-oriented research and oral Native Hawaiian elders might begin with ho‘olauna
(sociable interaction) through which binders (similar
experiences, mutual acquaintances, family relations)
between interviewer and interviewee are identified.
Action-oriented research is a generic term for
From the Native Hawaiian paradigm, binders
systematic inquiry that leads to social action; included
strengthen interpersonal connection among persons
under this umbrella term are action, participatory,
meeting for the first time and establish the trust
empowerment, and feminist research models (22).
requisite for discussion of a more sensitive nature (27,
These models share common emphases namely, a
28). Also, it may be vital for the interviewer to share
focus on issues of practical and social relevance to
information on ‘how’ the interview will benefit the
affected communities, commitment to collaboration
elder’s community and to offer a makana (gift) as a
between researchers and community stakeholders, and
token of respect and appreciation; food that can be
accessibility of research findings to facilitate timely
shared is a customary gift (28, 29). Attention to
action. To enhance portability, findings may be shared
Elder stories 275

sociability, discussion of benefits to the interviewee’s recruitment; specific criteria included: (a) elder health
community along with demonstrated respect and status (well, ambulatory), (b) history of community
appreciation were integrated into the development of service (associated either with HKM as board
the oral history curriculum piloted at HKM. member, grand-parents active in the school
community or another community-based organization
with a youth-serving component that included active
outreach to Native Hawaiian communities and
Methods groups), (c) capacity to communicate in information-
rich ways (public speaking and/or experience in
Curriculum development was informed by evidence- health education) . Faculty invited 11 elders to
based oral history programs and subsequently, participate; six agreed to be interviewed. Faculty
tailored on socio-cultural relevance, linguistic ensured that elder volunteers had accurate information
appropriateness, and peripheral elements for use with about the project, obtained informed written consent,
high school students of a Native Hawaiian culture- addressed their questions, offered reminders on
based school (5, 9, 20, 24-25). Curriculum-piloting logistical arrangements, and as needed, provided
commenced upon receiving approval from university transportation to HKM, the site of all interviews .
and charter school institutional review boards. The Faculty introduced elders to student small group
curriculum included: 1) introduction to oral history members and facilitated ho‘olauna prior to the
and recording technology, 2) demonstration of interview.
respectful curiosity through adherence to participant Elders completing an oral history interview were
rights (informed consent), interview etiquette, and diverse in ethnic background (four Native Hawaiian,
preparation of questions that elicit relevant facts and one Pacific Islander, one European-American) and
meaning, 3) interviews with elders followed by gender (four wahine or women, one kane or man, one
structured de-briefing of learning, 4) transcription of mahuwahine or transgender person). All were born
recorded interviews with identification of key themes when Hawaii was a US territory and grew to
and exemplary quotes, production of edited adulthood as Hawaii transitioned to statehood, a
videotaped interview, (5) presentation/dissemination period characterized by rapid economic development,
escalation of the Vietnam War, shifting land use, and
of interview recordings, and (6) student evaluation of
the growth of social resistance among those engaged
project learning and desired next steps.
in small farming and labor-community-student
All units with the exception of Units #3 (Going
alliances. Interviewees were of sound memory,
Live) and #6 (Evaluation of Project Learning) were ambulatory, and employed. All but one elder was a
four hours in duration. Unit #3 involved oral history- grandparent. Further, all elders had a history of
taking and was conducted in two-hour class sessions participation in community-based action for positive
over a period of six weeks. Faculty gathered post- change (advancement of health equity, lesbian-gay-
project evaluation data in a single, two-hour class bisexual-transgender or LGBT civil rights, Native
session. In-class instruction totaled about 40 hours. Hawaiian education, indigenous land and water rights,
indigenous stewardship of land, de-militarization of
indigenous lands, Native Hawaiian self-
Research participants: Elders, faculty, students determination).
Students worked in small groups of their own
In line with action-oriented research approaches elder selection. Based on their stated interests, small groups
volunteers, students and faculty were considered were assigned an elder to interview. All small group
research participants, albeit with different project members participated in developing questions for
roles. The instructional team was comprised of faculty their interview and produced a final edited videotaped
members from both HKM and HK hereafter, referred interview. Individual responsibilities (preparing the
to as “faculty.” Faculty was mindful of creating a physical environment, interviewing elder, recording
learning environment that was culturally safe for the interview) within the small group were arrived at
students, as well as elder interviewees (9). Thus, through consensus discussion. All interviews occurred
purposive sampling was used in interviewee at scheduled class sessions. Class members were
involved in all interviews, either as part of the
276 Lana Sue I Ka‘opua, J Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘opua, J Mahealani Kaawa et al.

interviewing team or as participant observers. participated in creating a composite version of

Participant observers recorded their comments and excerpts from all interviews; this tape was used in
questions on a worksheet and joined in the post- presentations to HKM community and other
interview de-briefing discussion. Also, class members organizations.

Table 2. Learning Units, Key Content, Activities


Unit #1A: Look to the source , Oral History, Unit #1A: Look to the source, Oral History
Overview Overview
 Native Hawaiian oral tradition and elders: Exemplified by  Share story (mo‘olelo) of elder wisdom and family legacy.
proverb “nana i ke kumu" (“look to the source”) which  Using lecture-discussion methods provide overview of oral
encouraged watching elders and listening to their stories. history.
 Oral history: Seeking knowledge through elders’ stories of  Faculty models “mock” oral history interview; students de-
lived experiences, as well as their letters, photographs, brief ‘what’ was learned, ‘what’ they might wish to explore
official documents, and personal artifacts. further in the interview.
 Oral history: Many ways of knowing--first person accounts Unit #1B: Introducing Technology
may reveal what written historical accounts alone do not  Faculty demonstrates technology; students observe and
namely, stories of “ordinary” people with “extraordinary” practice.
knowledge.  Administration of knowledge-based examination on oral
Unit #1B: Introducing Technology history and digital technology.
Use of digital technology to record oral history interviews,
design/create intermediate and end products, manage
preservation and access.
 Preparation of classroom as recording studio.
Unit #2: Respectful Curiosity Unit #2: Respectful Curiosity
 Informed consent and participant rights.  Lecture-discussion on negative experiences of Native
 Interview etiquette. Hawaiians as “subjects of research”, importance of
 Developing interview questions that elicit “facts” (e.g., full participant privacy and confidentiality.
name, birthdate) and “story” (e.g., experiences growing up  Model and practice consenting and use of entry etiquette.
in transition of Hawai’i from U.S. territory to 50th state).  Small groups assigned an elder to interview and to retrieve
information on elder which is used to formulate interview
Unit #3: Going Live: Conducting interviews Unit #3: Going Live: Conducting interviews
 Six interviews conducted/taped; one interview per 2-hour  Faculty obtains elder’s written informed consent.
class session.  Small group meets to ho‘olauna with elder, explains
interview set up, makes elder comfortable.
 Class welcomes elder with lei and oli aloha.
 Student interviewer reiterates participant rights prior to
conducting oral history interview.
 Interview de-briefed by all present.
 Class expresses thanks with oli mahalo
Unit #4 : Transcription /Identification of Themes Unit #4 : Transcription/Identification of Themes
 Each small group transcribes interviewee responses,  Unedited recording made available to elder who indicates if
identifies themes, with exemplary quotes. Each interview is any parts should be edited.
edited to highlight key themes and provides captions to  Faculty uploads recording to a secure online site. Small
produce final deliverable. group transcribes elder’s responses and uses Brace map to
 Final version of all interviews placed in HKM archives. identify exemplary quotations, key themes, and meanings.
 Elder approves final recording prior to dissemination.
Unit #5: Presentation/Dissemination Unit #5: Presentation/Dissemination
 Six individual interviews and one composite of all  Products presented by class members to school and other
interviews produced and presented. organizational venues (e.g., HKM family day, uploaded to
HKM site).
 Interviewees personally thanked and offered final product.
Unit #6: Student Evaluation of Project Learning Unit #6: Student Evaluation of Project Learning
 Project learning evaluated by individual student, small  Self-reported learning evaluated through KAP survey,
groups, and class. individual written reflections, and structured discussions.
 Summary of project learning and possible next steps.  Results shared/discussed with community partners.
 Pa‘ina, celebration of project completion and lunch.
Elder stories 277

Evaluation Results
Student learning outcomes were the primary interest Written examination and other assignments. Upon
in evaluation. Knowledge about oral history and completion of Units #1A and #1B, overview of oral
digital recording of oral history interviews were history and introduction to technology, respectively,
assessed through written examination and other non- the classroom instructor administered a 10-item
graded assignments (completed interview primarily, multiple choice examination. There were
questionnaire, worksheets to track in-class seven items on conducting oral history and three
observations of interviews, brace map to identify key items on using technology to record oral history. All
themes and exemplary quotations). A final evaluation class members (N = 18) completed this examination
was conducted once all student groups had completed and answered correctly 80-100% of items. Class
the final (edited) version of their interviews with na members also completed a series of assignments (e.g.,
kupuna. Post-project evaluation included a KAP brace map) which received feedback but no grade.
survey, written personal reflections, and written KAP survey. Eighteen students completed the oral
comments gathered through small group and class history project. However, three students were absent
discussions. from school during Unit #6, the post-project
The interview experience of elders was assessed evaluation session. Of the 15 students completing the
through participation in class de-briefing sessions and KAP about 60% were male (n = 9), 60% were in the
through post-interview discussions with faculty eleventh grade (n = 9), and 93.3% (n = 14) reported
members. All data were collected and analyzed by Native Hawaiian ethnicity. Years at HKM ranged
HK researchers. Content analysis was conducted on from two to seven years, mean = 3.5 years (SD = 1.8).
all qualitative data sources, with accuracy of Students agreed unconditionally that learning gleaned
interpretation ensured through co-coding by HK through the oral history project increased their
researchers and discussion with the full team of HKM knowledge about the history of Hawai’i and the
and HK faculty. Descriptive analyses were performed proactive contributions of elders. Also rated highly
on survey data; when indicated, means and standard were attitudinal items related to research ethics,
deviations were calculated. interviewee rights, feeling more “connected” to n?
k’puna, and desire to learn more from/with them.
Students expressed moderate agreement with respect
to the practices of interviewing and use of technology.

Table 3. Assessment of Learning by Proportion of Students (N = 15)

Knowledge Items
Learned more about the history of modern Hawai ‘i 100% agree (n=15)
Learned about things nā kūpuna have done to make Hawai‘i a better place 100% agree (n=15)

Attitudinal Items
Would like to learn more about nā kūpuna 93.3% agree (n=14)
Believe in importance of telling people their rights before interviewing 100% agree (n=15)
Think it important to let people see interviews before public sees them 93.3% agree (n=14)
Feel more connected to nā kūpuna after doing oral history 93.3% (n=14)
Believe in importance of telling people their rights before interviewing 100% agree (n=15)

Practice/Skill Items
Learned to put together interview questions 80% agree (n=12).
Learned to help nā kūpuna feel comfortable 86.6% agree (n=13)
Learned to be more comfortable in asking nā kūpuna questions 80% agree (n=12)
Learned how to summarize interview themes 73.6% agree (n=11)
Better understand how to prepare for video-taped recording 73.3% agree (n=11)
278 Lana Sue I Ka‘opua, J Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘opua, J Mahealani Kaawa et al.

Written personal reflections. Students’ personal comments on the learning of a skill set focused on
reflections augment KAP results and provide insight interpersonal communication and on observation of
into highly rated knowledge and attitudinal items. For interviewee behavior and affect. Comments included:
example, a student commented on the integration of “I learned to be patient and attentive,” “I learned how
learning from books, internet resources, and oral to engage na kupuna and talk story with them,” “I
history with the latter linked to the Aloha ‘Aina learned how to make na kupuna feel welcome and like
literacy of ho‘omana as appreciation of cultural ‘ohana.’” Moved by the personal connections gleaned
memory and subjugated perspectives: through the interviews, students suggested ways in
which they might help frail elders: “help them
In social studies class we study civil rights, racism, malama [care for] their kuleana [responsibilities],
marriage equality…from the oral histories we learned even in small ways like running errands, weed their
about discrimination from our kupunas’ [sic] personal garden,” “help them be more active,” “take them to
experience. This is what I will always remember. cultural events,” “research their lives and ask
questions that help trigger memories if they’re
Students provided additional comments related to forgetful,” “take them to their ‘happy’ places—the
learning ‘what’ na kupuna have done to make Hawai’i places where they feel comfortable and safe, the
a better place for all. These comments reference places that bring back happy memories.”
Aloha ‘Aina as practiced in different arenas by those
interviewed. Comments suggest that students were
inspired to consider actions they might take. Interviewee feedback
Suggested is their desire to be like na kupuna, find
their kuleana, and take action. Na kupuna provided feedback to students in post-
interview debriefings and to faculty in one-to-one
Our kupuna have done so much…they do so discussions. None had prior experience in giving an
much…encourage Native Hawaiians to go to college and
oral history interview and initially, were nervous
graduate, give LGBT kids a safe environment, restore
about speaking on camera or concerned that their
Kaho‘olawe and land/water rights, prevent HIV/AIDS.
disclosures might be misunderstood or misused when
I learned that Aloha ‘Aina is to be makawalu [many
recordings were disseminated beyond the classroom.
ways of knowing] like our kupuna …to understand However, all stated that the students helped them to
different experiences and people…and be moved to help. feel comfortable through their sensitive questioning,
attentive listening, and iteration of interviewee rights.
Personal reflections frequently referenced the value They praised students for their efforts to take an oral
of learning from oral histories with elders and highlight history and stated that they looked forward to viewing
the importance of a felt personal connection. the final edited tapes which they intended to share
with their ‘ohana. Notably, all were moved by the
I really enjoyed the interviews. I felt a deep personal welcoming ways and gratitude demonstrated by class
connection and won’t forget the things shared. I am members. Several elders mentioned being moved to
grateful for the honesty of our kupuna and the tears by the oli mahalo which the class chanted as an
opportunity to gain ‘ike [knowledge] from their appreciation to them. An elder explains the
mo‘olelo. importance of connections made through the oral
history interviews:
Structured small group/class discussions. KAP
results on practice/skills items (e.g., putting together For generations my kupuna lived here and cared for
oral history interview questions, summarize interview this ‘aina. Oral history is a teaching tool of our
themes, understand how to prepare for video-taped ancestors. I was honored that na ‘opio wanted to know
recording) were more moderate than on knowledge about my life and this wahi pana [sacred place] where
and attitudinal items. Comments did not address the the school sits. They are our future leaders. They will
skills named in the KAP. However, students offered perpetuate the knowledge and traditions. I was touched
Elder stories 279

by their genuine desire to learn, by the smiles shared, by notwithstanding, results from the pilot are consistent
the connection we made. with findings from oral history projects developed for
use with students in other indigenous communities
and/or projects preparing students for social justice,
Discussion health equity, and other action-oriented research (22,
23, 25). Although not generalizable, our results
We describe results from an oral history pilot used in underscore issues that may be of interest to
a Native Hawaiian culture-based school which dually gerontologists, educators, health disparities
emphasizes standardized educational competencies researchers, and others partnering with
and Aloha ‘Aina literacies (5, 17, 18, 20). Aloha native communities. We emphasize three
‘Aina literacies were reinforced through engaging na considerations.
kupuna in purposeful dialogue and listening to their
stories on caring for land and people. The oral history  Aging as intergenerational issue. This project
project was intended to advance students’ capacity for revealed issues related to promoting
conducting action-oriented research with/for elders. intergenerational connections as segue to
Our specific aims were to assess the overall impact of conducting future action-oriented research in
the oral history curriculum on youths’ interest in elder the context of a culture-based school. Our
wellbeing, knowledge of diverse social action results suggest the substantial benefits that
opportunities, and cultivation of relational can be achieved by drawing upon the wisdom
connections between elders and youth. Results and strengths of older adults, understanding
suggest that the curriculum positively influenced the role culture plays in providing ways to
these aims. From this perspective, the oral history honor age while contributing to the
curriculum seems feasible as segue to future action- development of meaningful roles for older
oriented research with/for elders. adults. The relevance of intergenerational
Methodological issues inherent to this oral history programming for action-oriented research is
curriculum and its evaluation limit generalization of highlighted. Results counter a number of
results to other populations. First, the curriculum was misconceptions prevalent in western
tailored on the emphases of a particular learning mainstream society namely, that an aging
environment and results may not be relevant for use society is all about older adults, that age is
with non-Native Hawaiian culture-based schools. only about loss, and that elders take but do
Second, no baseline KAP survey or other observation not give resources to younger generations
was taken prior to project onset. Thus, it is not (31). Such misunderstanding overlooks two
possible to truly measure the influence of the key demographics: (a) younger adults and
curriculum on student progress. Third, results are youth will one day be elders themselves and
based primarily on self-reported learning and thereby, (b) younger persons already may be family
subject to social approval bias. Fourth, evaluation caregivers to elders thus, experiencing first-
assessed short-term gains only and it is possible that hand aging-related stressors. Recent Ha
knowledge, attitudes, and practices gleaned through Kupuna research confirms the preference of
project participation may decline over time and with Native Hawaiians to care for their elders
evolving circumstances of youth. These limitations within the intergenerational family system
point to implications for future praxis and research. and documents the urgent need for elder care
Should students undertake future action-oriented that is affordable, accessible, family oriented,
research with/for elders, reinforcement of learning and culturally responsive (32). Policymakers,
from the oral history curriculum is indicated. Further researchers, and other stakeholders are called
piloting of the curriculum with other Native Hawaiian to examine the intergenerational impact of all
culture-based schools, with students in younger age health policies and to design programs
cohorts, and measurement of baseline knowledge, solutions that promote health equity for all,
attitudes, and practices also are indicated. Limitations regardless of age cohort. In designing
280 Lana Sue I Ka‘opua, J Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘opua, J Mahealani Kaawa et al.

intergenerational solutions, schools may be features of indigenous sociocultural

an important venue for bringing together resilience (34). An HKM student voices the
youth, younger adults, and elders. power of intergenerational connection
 Cultural safety is essential. Cultural safety is experienced when interviewing an elder and
premised on the honoring of a community’s is moved to ponder her life direction:
strengths to perpetuate native ways of being
in the aftermath of historic trauma and in the “Remember who you are” were the last words she
face of ongoing marginalization (9). For spoke in the interview.
native peoples, the classroom– once a space These words were very touching to me because
of cultural erasure –increasingly is many of my peers and I live life not knowing the
recognized for its potential to reclaim purpose of being here on earth. We’re still working on
indigenous knowledge and values in a space our identity, but these words brought me to thinking
about my place.
of cultural safety. In this project oral histories
became a viable means for perpetuating
Native Hawaiian culture, as well as opening By extension, intergenerational connection needs
up a space for ways of being once denigrated to be a fundamental consideration when developing
and stigmatized by western mainstream health promotions that offer the prospect of
culture. For example, western gender binaries indigenous wellbeing. Furthermore, in developing
(i.e., woman/man) have overlooked such promotions there resides the potential to mentor
traditional Native Hawaiian social norms that and train native youth as future action- and health-
preference an acceptance of aikane (same-sex oriented researchers. As reminded by an elder
relationships) and value the place of interviewee, “they are our future leaders.” Indeed, the
mahu/mahuwahine (third gender persons) in erasure of health inequalities in Indigenous
pre-Western contact Hawaii (33, 34). Faculty communities and concomitant efforts to sustain
purposefully included elders of all gender wellness for all will reside in the hands of our youth
expression. From an elder identifying as as they grow to adulthood. The prudence of Native
mahuwahine, youth learned about this elder’s Hawaiian ancestors guides us to “nana i ke kumu”
family of blood-related and fictive kin which (“look to the source of wisdom”). Our opportunity is
notably, included LGBT youth for who she to prepare youth to take their place in the world as
created a safe haven. As indicated in an culturally-grounded, critical thinking stakeholders and
earlier section, students’ reflections evidence leaders. In so doing, we nurture the hopeful vision of
increased insights on makawalu as today’s youth becoming future sources of
appreciation of diversity. Thus, the classroom wisdom for those who follow in the generational
inclusive of the oral histories of all gender continuum.
expression became kipuka, a safe zone for
indigenous cultural growth (5).
 Intergenerational connection potentiates Acknowledgments
resilience and future leadership. To
effectively address health inequities This project was supported by awards to the
experienced by indigenous peoples, it is University of Hawai’i from the National Institute on
crucial to keep in mind that sociocultural Minority Health and Health Disparities
resilience emanating from traditional native (U54MD007584) and the US Administration on
ways of knowing has persisted, despite Aging, Department of Health and Human Services
profound and protracted cultural erasure from (90OI0006/01). The content is solely the
colonizing forces (5, 9, 12, 13, 35). Native responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily
scholar-practitioners argue that a collectivist represent the official views of the National Institutes
orientation and meaningful connections of Health or US Administration on Aging.
between elders and youth are enduring
Elder stories 281

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Submitted: January 04, 2015. Revised: February 06, 2015.
Accepted: February 14, 2015.
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without