I attended the world gathering of Native American Indian Studies Association (NAISA) Conference in Hawaii. It was the first time NAISA gathered outside the USA mainland and was well attended by many indigenous groups from around the world.
It was my first time meeting this group.
As a champion of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, I was looking forward to exploring the possibilities from a new perspective and to bring my experience to this association. I was looking forward to harnessing the power of tradition, story and strength to identify opportunities for economic independence in a respectful way.
We quickly delved into the complexities of culture, belief, self-determination, post colonisation, corruption, tragedy, strength, passion, mourning, regret and the intergenerational wounding of the soul.
And that was the first morning.
After four days I was emotionally drained and shocked when confronted by the “truth” as revealed and shared by Harvard, Yale, RMIT academics, to name a few. It would be very easy to ignore such a traumatic impact of the history that indigenous groups are living with on a daily basis. I thought that it would be so easy to throw up my hands and say it was all too hard. One of the days of the conference we visited an organic fruit, vegetable and herb farm on the west coast of Oahu. The area is one of the poorest in Hawaii and mostly populated by Hawaiians. The farm epitomised those things I hold close to my heart; creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. The farms’ success is based on traditional farming techniques perfected over centuries, the creation of employment, economic independence and the creation of role models of success. I did appreciate the gentle remark made by Michelle Obama, when visiting the farm previously, who thought that this model was at the same time old, new and normal.
One of the founders told a story which sums up what many are struggling with today; complexity. The story went something like this. Before colonisation, there were many more Hawaiians living in a balanced environment. The balance was between plentiful food, water, health and prosperity and the respect for the land, water, sea and each other. This had been (and still is) considered the only way to live.
Our host then started to laugh and finally said, “That’s what you (pointing at me) call sustainability!” I thought to myself that the answers to many problems are so simple, obvious and achievable. I was quickly reminded of the lessons I have learned from the many Maori I have been privileged to met, teach, mentor and work with over the last 15 years. I then thought about the way many Maori have worked very hard to achieve “balance”. You may be surprised that the Hawaiians often look to the Maori as leaders in achieving the balance.
So why am I telling you this story?
I have founded a business on the Island of Hawaii (The Big Island) to provide training, coaching and support for Hawaiians who wish to create those two powerful dividends; the social and economic dividends. We have often chosen the economic over the social dividend. And yet, to achieve sustainability we must not value the economic over the social, we must strive to have both, or as my friends in Hawaii would say, “try to be normal!”