Naka Nathaniel: How To Rediscover Hawaii's Soul? Here Are 4 Scenarios - 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

A report issued at the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement conference in Las Vegas summed it up using four birds as symbols.

LAS VEGAS — Talk about Hawaiian birds dominated discussions on Tuesday at the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement conference in Las Vegas to the point that it’s hard to avoid writing an avian cliche or a pun — but, I will spare the readers a trite introduction.

During a morning session, four leaders from the Hawaii Executive Collaborative (Duane Kurisu, Kamana’opono Crabbe, Micah Kane and Lynelle Marble) and former Gov. John Waihee shared their four scenarios for possible futures in Hawaii. Each of the scenarios was given the name of a bird: The iwa, the nene, the manu o ku and the ua’u.

The Hawaii Executive Collaborative, a business organization chaired by Kurisu, teamed with Reos Partners for a process called “Transformative Scenario Planning.” The process was inspired by the Mont Fleur Scenario Exercise, which was conducted in South Africa after the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid. 

Read more about “Rediscovering Hawaii’s Soul” here.

In 1991-1992, South African leaders were brought together to think creatively about possible futures for their still deeply divided country.

They settled on four plausible scenarios and gave them the names of birds: The ostrich symbolized what would happen if the country’s government continued to be nonrepresentative; the lame duck, in which the transition was slow and indecisive; the icarus, in which transition is rapid but the new government pursued populist economic policies; and the flight of the flamingos, in which the government’s policies are sustainable and the country took a path of inclusive growth and democracy.

native hawaiian future scenarios mont flour South Africa
Reos Partners was known for the work they initially did with South African leaders in the early 1990s after the end of apartheid. (Courtesy: USC ICA Lab)

The exercise has been used in other places confronting strife, including Cyprus. The exercise was undertaken last fall in Hawaii and the four scenarios were presented in Las Vegas.

Iwa is a great frigate bird whose appearance warns of incoming storms. In iwa, the structures of Hawaii’s governing system do not change, and access to power, influence and opportunity is increasingly controlled by those from outside. The nature of the economy is extractive, built around using the land, culture and people in Hawaii to drive economic profits. Iwa sees those who are benefiting under the current conditions continuing to benefit, while those who are currently struggling see their lot deteriorating.

Nene, the Hawaiian goose, is known to fly in pairs. In nene, Native Hawaiians seek and receive federal acknowledgement as Indian tribes and establish a government-to-government relationship with the United States. The term “Hawaiian” is defined as a person holding citizenship in the tribal government. Hawaiians in this scenario feel reconnected to land, and a subsistence economy emerges on Hawaiian lands. Nene enshrines existing tensions between the Native Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian communities in new structures.

Manu o ku, the white tern, is a native Hawaiian bird that thrives in both ocean and urban environments. In Manu o ku, the structures of Hawaii’s governing system do not change, and traditional Hawaiian values are increasingly embraced and embodied by leaders in business, politics and civil society. Manu o Ku sees access to power, influence, and opportunity being driven by those inside Hawaii. This widespread adoption of Hawaiian values fundamentally shifts how people and institutions in Hawaii engage with one another, and the term “Hawaiian” grows less fraught.

Ua’u, the Hawaiian petrel, guides voyagers to unknown lands. In ua’u, regulatory power and governing authority shift toward the individual states. A weakened federal government leads some states to leave the union, and Hawaii becomes its own sovereign nation. As an independent nation, Hawaii becomes a political and economic target for existing world powers. All citizens of the new nation are considered Hawaiian. ua’u occurs via a major shift in the longstanding international order, and contains the most uncertainty around Hawaii’s future.

The scenarios were accompanied by taglines: For iwa. it was Hawaii’s soul is lost; for nene, it’s Hawai’s soul is split in two; for manu o ku, it’s Hawaii’s soul is transformed; and for ua’u, it’s Hawaii’s soul is tested.

“In today’s world, we want to say, if I do these three things, this is the outcome that we’re going to have and (the scenario planning) is not that,” said Kane. “It is more about understanding the trajectory of our place and are the actions we are taking in alignment with one of those scenarios? And, if you don’t like that those actions are leading to that scenario then maybe you should rethink those activities. So it does force us to do a lot of self-reflection, especially if you have a higher degree of authority, and the decisions you make impact peoples’ lives.”

When the ua’u scenario was read aloud by Kurisu, Hilinai Son-Dudoit, a University of Hawaii Manoa political science doctoral student, gasped. He was bothered that it was the only scenario with a sovereignty pathway.

Report birds scenarios Native Hawaiian Advancement
The Hawaii Executive Collaboration used four birds to label the scenarios for their Rediscovering Hawaii’s Soul project. (Courtesy: HEC’s “Possible Futures of Hawaii’s Soul” report)

“Obviously everything is hypothetical, but they took a lot of liberties with the ua’u, more so than with the manu o ku,” he said. “The only feasible possibility of independence (in the ua’u scenario) is the dissolution of the federal government.”

Kahilo Keller, an ethnic studies student at UH Manoa, said the ua’u perspective was “the only one where sovereignty would be gained and it was with the United States collapsing.”

“Then a new (foreign) power, or multiple powers, would subject themselves onto Hawaii. I thought it was interesting that it was the only sovereignty route that they saw as realistic,” Keller added.

Michelle Ka’uhane, a member of the Rediscovering Hawaii’s Soul Core Steering Committee, said there was power in the process of scenarios.

“If you don’t like parts of one or you don’t like anything about any of them, you can ask yourself what are you doing to perpetuate the scenario that has the transformation that you want?” she said. “We each need to say to ourselves, what are we going to do to perpetuate the things that we want to happen?” 

She also acknowledged to Kainoa Azama, 21, that a deficiency in the project was the lack of youth input for the scenarios.  

“None of the scenarios seem to be in a position of abundance,” Azama said. “But as an opio (youth) watching how things are, there’s nothing I saw that would be a huge benefit to us.” 

Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole brought the discussion of the scenarios into his panel on public policy. 

“What I thought was fascinating and ultimately necessary and critical that they did is that they expanded the circle to non-Hawaiians, to people that are decision-makers and have influence and reach,” he said. “They put them all together and asked them what you think and they stepped away and that was the result of that conversation. I don’t know that anybody on Bishop Street in downtown Honolulu has actually been asked meaningfully about what they think about the kingdom and independence. But you saw that that was the number four scenario.”

Makaio Villanueva of Waianae said his visceral reaction to seeing the scenarios was hurt.

Report birds scenarios Native Hawaiian Advancement
The four scenarios are compared in the project’s report. (Courtesy: HEC’s “Possible Futures of Hawaii’s Soul” report)

“I felt like federal recognition was being shoved on our throat,” he said. “They tried to frame it in a way where it’s different, but each one of these presented a scenario where we were always subject to another world power.”

The Reos team told Kane that this is one of the most complex projects they have worked on..

“It has generational issues, it has interracial issues because of the early influx of immigrants into Hawaii,” he said.

“You have people that have come to this place, six, seven generations, eight generations ago. They know no place other than this place as their home. And when you look out a thousand generations from now is the 30 generations difference between what one would say is we want our culture to have a presence here that guides this place forever.”

Read this next:

Neal Milner: Will The Real Hawaii Please Stand Up

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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)

While these scenarios are theoretical, it is hard to envision a return to being a sovereign nation because of what is necessary for that definition to happen. One major qualification is that all sovereign states must have control over their borders and without some form of protection and security force, army, navy, air force, that definitive test cannot happen. We are inextricably tied to America because of this, not to mention military spending is second to tourism in the economy. I've heard this desire from the Hawaiian community for decades and although the thought of controlling your own government, bolstered by some economy we create that will provide more for everyone, is IMO, just fantasy. IF something like U'au where to somehow take place it would resemble more chaos than paradise. We need to be realistic and stop fantasizing about Hawaii 200 years ago because it doesn't fit in 2023. Who would you follow as Ka Mo'i? When the US pulled out of Iraq, what happened, a return to order and peace? Nope, chaos ensued. We need to strive for something closer to Nene and Manu o Ku, if we want a best case end result.

wailani1961 · 3 months ago

The most ancient and perfect of all beings is the soul (Socrates). The life of soul is discovered by one who possesses such a being. No form of government can prevent or mandate such a discovery. Regarding the transference of hereditary sovereignty from a king or queen who represented all the people to mundane elected representatives of the all people, no amount of political activity can undo the transference.

SwingMan · 3 months ago

If Hawaiians are able to regain independence from the United States, China and Russia will not be far behind to exploit or take it over. Hawaii, unfortunately, is "found" and is too strategic of a location to ever be left alone and independent. Practical realities are not always pleasant. Perhaps one question that should be explored is do Hawaiians prefer to be Americans, Russians or Chinese…

Mnemosyne · 3 months ago

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