Naka Nathaniel: Addressing The Elephant In The Ballroom: 'Las Vegas Is Not The 9th Island!' - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Naka Nathaniel

Naka Nathaniel spent much of his career as a journalist with The New York Times, helping launch, covering war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the collapse of the second tower on 9/11. He lives in Waimea on the Big Island. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at

The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement held its convention in Las Vegas this year because of the large Hawaiian population there.

LAS VEGAS — Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu was ready to talk about the elephants in the ballroom on the opening morning of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s convention in Las Vegas.

“First of all, Las Vegas is not the ninth island,” Wong-Kalu said Monday. “That was a campaign deployed by those in the tourism industry to promote (Las Vegas) back home (in Hawaii.) It made it seem as if Las Vegas was just a hop, skip and a jump.”

“We have a ninth island in Hawaii: Nihoa,” she explained. Nihoa is northwest of Kauai.

Wong-Kalu said that like many from Hawaii who traveled to Las Vegas for the conference, the decision to accept the reality that more Native Hawaiians lived outside of Hawaii than inside was tough.

“As the cultural ambassador for the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, I initially sat with it and wrestled with it because I’m always for the kanaka (Hawaiians) in the homeland,” she said. “I don’t love our kanaka here any less, but my focus is always on the homeland. But coming here is good because we can help to remind our people to come home, remember the way home, and remind our people that if you are proud to be Hawaiian, then know that you’re in a foreign land. It’s not your land.” 

As Wong-Kalu taught two workshops on an oli (song) she wrote titled “Ha’akei Nā Mauna o Hawai’inuiākea,” she offered a hearty dose of political commentary along with the chant about Na Kai Ewalu, the eight seas of Hawaii.

Wong-Kalu criticized Native Hawaiians for not sending money back to Hawaii the way other Polynesian societies do.

“If they’re not going to stay, then they leave behind their votes for political office,” she said. “They pay taxes in other states. But they don’t remit money like the rest of the Polynesians do to all of their ancestral homelands. Tongans and everybody else, they go out across the world and they go to work and they send money back home. Hawaiians come over here to the U.S., they send shit home.”

Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement Las Vegas convention
The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement opened its Las Vegas convention on Monday. (Naka Nathaniel/Civil Beat/2023)

She also didn’t relent on the role of Hawaiians moving to Las Vegas. “People want to come here for gambling. But it’s not our land, and we shouldn’t be just so quick to try and assume a position of prominence here because somebody did a promotional campaign and made Las Vegas appealing to our people,” she said.

“Hawaii is our home. We shouldn’t have to beg at somebody else’s trough for what’s rightfully ours. We shouldn’t have to continue to look outside for all of the solutions for our social and economic and political woes,” she added. “We should be able to govern our affairs in a manner and format that is appropriate for us. And that people who come to a Hawaii should learn to be with us. But we can’t do that because our current political status is what it is.”

She also challenged her class with the question: “Why did you come?”

The responders from Las Vegas, Montana and Michigan strived to establish their desire to connect with Hawaii and Native Hawaiians. Sandi Brown, a Las Vegas resident who grew up on Kauai, emotionally described her efforts to stay connected to Hawaii despite having left for the mainland in the late 1980s. 

“I came to be in the presence of those that are connected to the homeland and that speak out in a powerful way,” said Brown.

Pomaika’i Gaui from Utah answered, “I try to keep that connection strong. Not only for me but for my children. They come home to Utah to connect. So I have to keep myself grounded.”

Three of Gaui’s Utah-raised children have moved to Hawaii and though he’s active in Hawaiian Civic Clubs, this was his first CNHA conference.

“I want to keep carrying the torch for future generations of Hawaiians. We have melded into all these other cultures. It’s easy to go with the flow, that’s the Hawaiian way, but we need to keep going.” 

Wong-Kalu is not a fan of Las Vegas: “No offense to our ohana here, but how can you live in an aina wela (hot land)!” 

“If you love living up here great, aole pilikia (no problem), maikai, but don’t forget where the homeland is,” she said. “We are responsible for our culture, our values, our perspectives for them to survive into the next century. And it is up to us, it is nobody else’s kuleana (responsibility) but ours.”

Read this next:

The Sunshine Blog: Cleaning Up The Voter Rolls

Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.


About the Author

Naka Nathaniel

Naka Nathaniel spent much of his career as a journalist with The New York Times, helping launch, covering war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the collapse of the second tower on 9/11. He lives in Waimea on the Big Island. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at

Latest Comments (0)

The " Name Calling" needs to stop! Everyone is entitled to their choices in life. Where you live does not make you, "more" Hawaiian. 🤷‍♀️ Live with Love and Aloha❣️I am a graduate of Kamehameha and know encouraging our race to Love one another is the positive way to move forward!

HarolynK · 2 months ago

Hawaii Culture in Las Vegas, well if you can't afford to live or retire in Hawaii due to the rising costs from mostly foreigners flooding Hawaii (i.e. China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, etc.,), the next closest thing is Nevada. The other problem is foreigners making money in Hawaii yet moving the money out of Hawaii instead of spending it here (i.e. Tonga, Samoa, Philippines, Laos, Vietnam, etc,.), this causes local businesses to suffer. But Las Vegas is the closest thing to being on the Islands (i.e. food, ABC stores, Islanders, etc.,).....

Triway1993 · 3 months ago

Regarding convention in Las Vegas, Wong-Kalu should keep her comments to herself. She mentioned how Hawaiians have move out of hawaii. Sometimes people who speak for the Hawaiian people have no tact. Yes, moving has several reasons. I moved to California with my family 1971 have no regrets moving here. It has provided my boys with good education in a private Christian school , successful in their business, n owning their own homes. Hawaii will always be our home n I am proud of my Hawaiian heritage.

Minniemouse · 3 months ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.