In a recent Zoom interview, Pua Case spoke with Āina Momona about her background, the founding of her non-profit organization, Mauna Kea Education and Awareness as well as the term Aloha ʻĀina and what it means to her.
Pua Case, born and raised on the Island of Hawai’i surrounded by the high mountains of Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Hualālai and Kohala, the fresh waters of Kohākōhau and Waikoloa and the plains of Waimea. Pua’s life path and purpose has led her to become a Kumu Hula, a teacher of traditional dance and chant, and a teacher of the life ways, culture and traditions of the kanaka maoli or native peoples of Hawai’i. With a degree in Hawaiian Language and culture, and a teaching degree in Social Studies, interwoven with the traditional teachings, philosophies and expectations from her kupuna or elders, Pua has integrated ‘Ike Hawai’i or Hawaiian knowledge and lessons into the public school system for over 30 years.
Pua serves on various educational and cultural boards and is the Lead Coordinator of Mauna Kea Education and Awareness, an organization formed five years ago ‘to educate and raise the awareness of communities in Hawaiʻi and beyond on the spiritual, historical, cultural, environmental, and political significance of Mauna Kea. MKEA provides cultural learning opportunities to everyone from keiki to kupuna, residents, visitors and others concerned about indigenous rights and responsibilities in order to create a platform for protection of sacred places.
Q: What inspired you to create your non-profit organization Mauna Kea Education and Awareness?
“Mauna Kea Education and Awareness was birthed during the time of the arrests that had occurred on Mauna Kea in April and June of 2015. What we realized was that at that point, our people were beginning to come out and support the efforts to protect Mauna Kea but many of them were not aware of the cultural significance, history background or current issues and the reasons a group of protectors had organized to safeguard the mauna.
And so we came down from the mountain and we said we have to start something in our community that is going to be totally dedicated to protect Mauna Kea in every form, everything you could imagine. We were going to be the presence for Mauna Kea in any way we could be.
A small group of women gathered around a kitchen table in Kūhio Village in Hawaiian Homelands and pledged to provide cultural and educational opportunities, instruction in schools and communities, ceremonies, events, gatherings as well as support in frontline actions committed to the efforts of our people to protect the mauna and to stand for the sacred. We focused on performing arts including music, and video productions, and encouraged art of all mediums which was spread everywhere on social media.
These first moments duplicated the beginnings of the Idle No More Movement which had been created in the same manner by four women in Canada and became a national movement that had inspired me to be braver than my fear and had helped me to crawl to courage.”
As the Lead Coordinator of MKEA, Pua has worked with a team of organizers, practitioners and instructors to provide cultural learning opportunities, instruction, ceremonies and presentations essential to the revitalization of the cultural expression of Hawaiians in their relationship to their sacred mountain and places around the world. She has supported the efforts of native and local communities who are protecting their own resources, life ways and places. She and her family have traveled extensively in regards to their involvement as stewards and petitioners on behalf of Mauna Kea.
Pua has been a part of the Mauna Kea Movement over the past ten years and has been involved in both community and frontline actions to safeguard the mountain and unify peoples of all nations in a collective mission to network, plan, and support one another.
“So when I say that we’re Mauna Kea Education and Awareness, I’m saying that we are completely committed to Mauna Kea. We concentrate our efforts on bringing the mountain to the people and taking Mauna Kea around the world in every way that we can.”
Pua’s work is one of commitment, dedication, and passion with a focus on incorporating her native prayers, chants, dances, spirit, and cultural and traditional values and life ways into all efforts and actions to set a precedence of protocols for social and environmental justice and positive change for the highest good for the earth.
Q: What does Aloha ʻĀina mean to you and why is it important that we root ourselves in that concept?
“In my experience Aloha ʻĀina begins with what you embody, a connection, a deep aloha for not just the land under your feet but everything that is around you, that is connected to you in nature, in your ancestral teachings, in your personal and collective practices. It starts there. For me it began by being raised dependent on the lands and the waters of Mauna Kea, and the hills of Waimea and learning to love them like I loved my grandparents and taking care of them with that thought in mind. Watching my grandmother interact with the old ways and the one ones taught me that beyond the physical connection to the land, there were ancestral teachings, values and protocols that tied us to spiritual and cultural practices deeply connected to the elements.
Those experiences and lessons became my foundation for how I was to stand on the mauna, which meant for me to do whatever it would take, without hurting myself or anyone else for what I held dear in my heart, because you have a communion; you are one and the same and with that there is complete commitment to the sacred, the mountain, the teachings, the land and the elements which for me was Aloha ʻĀina.
I believe we all have the same underlying ideal of Aloha ʻĀina and maybe it canʻt be defined or contained in a single definition because it's a feeling, a knowing, a practice and a commitment. For everyone, it's based on their experiences, their upbringing, their personal work to honor and respect the land and the people.
When you’re weeping and you're standing in a circle with thousands feeling just as you do, and you’re looking at the elements, you feel a complete connection with no separation, and there is no defining that.
When you live on the ala like I did for almost 9 months, by the end there’s no separation between you and the sky, you and the clouds, you and the mauna, and you simply say, ‘Wow, that's what it means to be one with something greater, larger, and more than what you could possibly experience anywhere else.’ That's what our people knew before us every single day of their lives, just imagine that. The manifestations of what they asked for, prayed for, chanted and sang for, the very exchange of that was what we experienced on the mauna, that some said they would die for. That to me is, Aloha ʻĀina.