Lee Cataluna: Native Hawaiian Soccer Team Has International Aspirations - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Training camps are scheduled to be held on Maui next month.

Vernon Kapuaʻala, a high school and collegiate soccer player who grew up to be a devoted soccer dad, was struck with inspiration.

He heard a lecture about the 1893 illegal overthrow and occupation of the Hawaiian kingdom and started thinking about Hawaii as a nation that extended from the monarchy through to modern times. He started asking himself how he could contribute to that concept of rebuilding the nation.

“I’ve always struggled with my Hawaiianness, my Hawaiian identity,” Kapuaʻala said. “I don’t hula. I don’t work the loʻi. I never felt connected to my roots except that I have the koko, the blood. My kids all go to Kamehameha Schools. They are more connected than I am.”

The main focus in his life was running soccer leagues and tournaments on Maui, doing everything from the little errands to the big picture stuff, setting up the field early in the morning to getting scouts to look at local players for U.S. National Teams.

While watching professional soccer games on the international level, he was moved by the pre-game ritual of players singing their national anthem and saluting their nation’s flag. He started thinking about Hawaii teams singing Hawaii Ponoʻi as their national anthem instead of the state song and flying the Hawaiian flag as their nation’s flag rather than a state flag.

for the players, though traveling will require fundraising. 

Hui Kanaka Pōwāwae players, from left: Samantha Abernathy, Kilikopela Kamakeʻeʻaina, Bella Kuailani, Sofia Abernathy. (Courtesy Hui Kanaka Pōwāwae)

The idea hit him that he could establish a federation of Hawaiian soccer teams to represent Hawaii on the international level.

“In surfing and canoe paddling, there are athletes that represent Hawaii, why not soccer?” Kapuaʻala said.  “What makes it a Hawaiian sport is who we are and how we play it.”

Kapuaʻala and his wife Trisha founded Hui Kanaka Pōwāwae, the Hawaiian Football Federation (choosing the term football, the preferred term for soccer in many countries outside America.) They established a board of directors for the nonprofit, scouted players and made plans to travel this summer to compete internationally with Maori Football Aotearoa.

They put up a website, www.hawaiianfootball.com, and stated their mission:

“Through Hawaiian Football, Native Hawaiians now have the opportunity to exercise their basic patriotic and humanitarian right to represent one’s country on the international sporting stage. International competition ignites our mission. It creates a fixture by which health and education can once again become cornerstones of Native Hawaiian Identity and well-being.”

Mikah Labuanan is a soccer player with the new Hawaiian national team. (Courtesy: Hui Kanaka Pōwāwae)

The Federation has four teams (male and female, under-16 and under-18) with 20 players per team. The hope is to form adult men’s and women’s teams in the near future. The players either identify as being of Native Hawaiian descent or have an ancestor who was born in Hawaii prior to the 1893 overthrow. 

Hui Kanaka Pōwāwae maintains a database of Native Hawaiian players from within the Hawaiian islands and also from the diaspora, that is, Hawaiians who live outside of Hawaii. Participation is free

Trisha Kapuaʻala is writing grants seeking further financial support for the program, and the players are helping in fundraising online with websites that include testimonials like:

“Being a part of this team is of great importance to me. Hui Kanaka Pōwāwae developed a program that will help to reubild my country’s collective sense of national identity, playing the sport that I love while representing the values, character, and history that is uniquely Hawaiian … My goals are simple: represent the Hawaiian islands, and reach my full potential, on and off the field.”

Hui Kanaka Pōwāwae is run by volunteers with one paid staff member, Ian Mork, who is technical director for the program. Mork came with experience from the U.S. Soccer Federation and the Belize Football Federation and is responsible for scouting talent, forming teams, coaching, and helping top talent get into college, professional clubs or national programs.

Mork said the program is guided by the Catalan Football Federation in building a national identity through the game of football.

 “Starting to build the framework for the Federation has been a huge challenge, but I believe we are on the correct path,” Mork said. “Vern is the visionary for this entire program.”

The Federation is holding training camps early next month on Maui which will include classroom time studying Hawaiian culture and history. Among the lesson plans, Kapuaʻala likes to point out that the players will learn all three verses of Hawaiʻi Ponoʻi, not just the one verse commonly sung at events.

When he talks about nation-building and a national team, Kapuaʻala is careful in choosing his words.

 “I want to tread lightly. I don’t want to cause further division or rift in the community,” he said. “I hate what was done to Hawaii, but I love Americans.”

He also loves soccer and how it can open doors for young athletes. His daughter just got a full  scholarship to play collegiate soccer. He sees the game as the means for all manner of positive growth.

“We’re not political,” Kapuaʻala said.  “This is a patriotic exercise.”

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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Latest Comments (0)

This is wonderful! Best if luck to all these fine athletes!

weenerdoggs · 10 months ago

My daughter got a soccer scholarship thanks to her Club team. Her High school dropped her from the team as she went with her club team to participate in a tournament where many college coaches attended. She got a partial scholarship to GW. Sadly the club team fell apart but it was spectacular. Not sure how it is doing today but don't think nearly as good as when my daughter played. A shame. A few felt they knew more than their wold class coach and ran the club into the ground.

buds4fun · 10 months ago

I absolutely love Soccer (Football in Europe), I coached Youth Soccer (both Rec. and Competitive) for over 13 yrs, and during that time I had studied how to advance talented players and even help several of my players gain professional careers, and it's a lot of work, Not impossible though, I don't disagree one bit that Hawaii has the Caliber of players that would do great in international play but again the player and Coach has to be willing to put the work into it, In California, most of the College/University level players have the advantage of location, Here in Hawaii it will take a lot more, Coaches (Youth,High School and Colleges) must be willing to write "performance report(s) on the player, then they have to petition the Academies' for interest and so on. Coaches play a vital part in this, what got my players on their way was our state titles won (6) player participation "report Cards" and most importantly, a video and resume of the interested player(s) play and a Bio that includes when they became interested in playing Soccer, the lists goes on. I don't want to sound like I'm being discouraging but encouraging. Hawaii has the talent to compete . Now go for it

unclebob61 · 10 months ago

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