Native Hawaiians gather for advancement convention


HONOLULU - More than 1,000 Native Hawaiians and Asian Pacific Islanders gathered Aug. 22 - 24 at the Hawai'i Convention Center for the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement's sixth annual convention. This year, the council partnered with the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development. That move resulted in a near doubling of convention attendees, who traveled to Hawaii from as far away as New Zealand, Alaska and North Dakota to join together to promote Hawaiian and Asian culture and economic development.

Council President Robin Puanani Danner, Native Hawaiian, has been leading the council since 2001. Danner said, ''This year's convention is really a historic opportunity to join forces and fight for our rights and economic development. The fact that Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Mazie Hirono, and Gov. Linda Lingle were all here in strong support of our mission is a real show of strength for Native Hawaiians.''

Danner founded the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement as a nonprofit organization in 2000. The mission of the council is to unify and promote sound policy, economic and community development for Native Hawaiians. To date, the council counts 178 statewide and national members consisting of Native Hawaiian organization and nonprofits. The council works across the state of Hawaii in critical areas such as affordable housing, economic development, health care, education, culture and the environment.

The council has grown to the extent that it now operates the Hawaiian Way Fund, which is supported by donors from around the world and invests in programs designed to protect Native Hawaiian culture. The council also operates the Hawaiian Homestead Technologies, a company that specializes in information technology and the conversion of military helicopter and fighter plane manuals into digital format.

This year's convention featured the Hawaiian GRAMMY Awards Gala and Convention Concert, featuring Native Hawaiian musicians who are nominated by the NARAS in the Best Hawaiian Music Album category of the GRAMMY Awards. The concert was held at a packed auditorium in the convention center and featured Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom, Ledward Ka'apana, and Cyril and Martin, who are the sons of Gabby Pahinui, the godfather of slack-key guitar.

Lilia Kapuniai, operations manager for HHT, coordinated the GRAMMY concert. Kapuniai said, ''We love hosting the Hawaiian GRAMMY Awards Gala because it gives our community an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of all of the nominated artists in one place. Just look at the amazement in everyone's eyes here when they realize that they just received a 'backstage pass' for an evening with some of Hawaii's finest artists. It's a music lover's dream come true!''

In addition to the Hawaiian GRAMMYs, the council agreed to push ahead and join with Alaska Natives and American Indian businesses and fight in Congress to protect the status of the Native 8(a) small business program for Natives. Inouye gave a fiery presentation, telling Natives that this program is not a gift, but that ''this is something you have already paid for'' with their lands.