About the Author

Naka Nathaniel

Naka Nathaniel has returned to regular journalism after being the primary parent for his son. In those 13 years, his child has only been to the ER five times (three due to animal attacks.)

Before parenting, Naka was known as an innovative journalist. He was part of the team that launched NYTimes.com in 1996 and he led a multimedia team that pioneered many new approaches to storytelling.

On 9/11, he filmed the second plane hitting the South Tower. His footage aired on the television networks and a sequence was the dominant image on NYTimes.com.

While based in Paris for The New York Times, he developed a style of mobile journalism that gave him the ability to report from anywhere on the planet. He covered the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and was detained while working in Iran, Sudan, Gaza and China. He is one of a handful of Americans who has been in North Korea, but not South Korea. He worked in 60 countries and made The Times’s audience care about sex trafficking, climate change and the plight of women and children in the developing world.

Besides conflict, The Times also had Naka covering fashion shows, car shows and Olympics. He did all three of those events in the same week (Paris, Geneva and Turin) before going to Darfur to continue reporting on the genocide (it was the fifth of sixth trips to the region.)

Naka lives in Waimea on the Big Island and his writing for Civil Beat will initially focus on his reflections on moving home.


It was an excruciating year for the islands and we need to work together to seek solutions to the challenges we face.

My ohana tries our best to make time to be reflective at the end of the year. At our best version of this effort, my wife will find a nice place for us to retreat to for the holidays and I’ll print out a stack of essays recommended by a former New York Times colleague.

The Monday-to-Monday stretch this year seems to give a little extra breathing room and perhaps a little extra space to think and discuss

The columnists for Civil Beat are fortunate to write under the banner of “Ideas.” I’m happy for “Ideas” instead of “Opinions” because I think it asks for more thoughtfulness from those who write under the banner. 

I want to first revisit three ideas I wrote about earlier this year, then recommend two worthy reads. Maybe you can make time to explore some of these as 2023 comes to a close.  

The first idea that I really worked through was the notion of changing the labeling and phrasing around the usage of the phrase “The best and the brightest” in Hawaii. The most common usage of the phrase goes something like “the best and the brightest are leaving Hawaii.” 

Our use of the phrase is misplaced and places incorrect expectations on our students, both those who stay and those who go. I also pointed out that the alliterative label was made popular because it was an ironic title for David Halberstam’s book, “The Best and the Brightest” about the supposed geniuses in Kennedy’s Cabinet who were directing the Vietnam War. 

Kamehameha Schools marching band joins in the World Series Little league parade celebration leaving from Aala Park.
The creation of a private research university could catapult Hawaii much in the way Stanford helped propel the Silicon Valley. Could a nonprofit university run by an entity like Kamehameha Schools help Hawaii retain its talent? (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

The second idea I’d like to revisit is the need for a nonprofit private research university in Hawaii. Is it time for Kamehameha U.? Should the educational legacy of Bernice Pauahi Bishop be updated to reflect the educational baseline of the 21st century? 

The University of Hawaii system is too exposed to the capriciousness of our elected state officials (and in disclosure, I’m preparing to teach a class at the Manoa campus next semester) and we need a more robust educational environment.

The creation of a private research university could catapult Hawaii much the way Stanford helped propel the Silicon Valley. And it could also keep more of the “best and brightest” in Hawaii.

The third idea was the need to prepare the people of Hawaii for the negotiations ahead for the extension of military leases requiring the approval of the state. Hawaii needs a better reciprocal relationship with our military guests. They have been found wanting in their stewardship of our lands and waters, and since the leases for several prominent places are expiring, now is the time to reimagine what the relationship will be going forward. 

Three ideas that I’m looking forward to writing about in 2024 are the fundamental issue of trust and faith in society, the ongoing shifts in contemporary storytelling (and how the television series “Reservation Dogs” recast what it means to tell stories about Indigenous communities) and, of course, how the devastation and recovery on Maui will impact all of our futures here in Hawaii. 

It was another terrible year for trust in Hawaii. And that is on top of the terrible corruption that our current system tolerated and accommodated for decades. Corruption and malfeasance directly, and indirectly, led to people dying.

The man-made disaster in Lahaina (and the official shift of more Native Hawaiians living outside of Hawaii than in Hawaii) has opened up venues of honesty that haven’t existed here for a long time.

I hope we can find spaces and places that aren’t exclusively social media to grapple with these issues in 2024.

My ohana are notoriously big readers and books were the most wrapped things under our tree this year.

“Every Drop Is a Man’s Nightmare,” was published by Megan Kamalei Kakimoto in 2023. Kakimoto’s storytelling is powerfully and distinctly Native Hawaiian in its POV. (Naka Nathaniel/Civil Beat/2023)

At the start of the summer, I recommended five books in lieu of the conventional staples like James Michener’s “Hawaii.” A few months later, a book that certainly would have made my list, “Every Drop Is a Man’s Nightmare,” was published by Megan Kamalei Kakimoto. 

While Kakimoto’s storytelling is powerfully and distinctly Native Hawaiian in its point of view,  the remarkable thing for those of us writing in Hawaii was how she held onto the artistic and cultural imperative not to have to translate olelo Hawaii into English. The absence of parentheticals was a breath of fresh air (he makani malie) and another notable marker on the rebirth of the Hawaiian language.

A second book that I’ve been recommending is “Demon Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver. Her retelling of “David Copperfield” is set far from Hawaii in the western corner of Virginia at the start of the opioid epidemic. Kingsolver does a marvelous job of rooting the plight of the Appalachian population to a single industry. Mining companies kept the education system impoverished and undermined attempts to introduce other economic opportunities, therefore maintaining their supply of cheap labor.

As I read parts of her novel, which won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, I couldn’t help but see parallels to the situation of Hawaii where our leading industries haven’t gone above and beyond to encourage an educational system interested in elevating the local and native population.

When I read my fellow Civil Beat columnist Jonathan Okamura this weekend, the parallel was confirmed: “Tourism is also a major source of ethnic inequality through the low-wage jobs it creates that limit socioeconomic mobility among Hawaii’s Indigenous and ethnic minorities,” he wrote. “Together with systemic racism, tourism maintains ethnic inequality by limiting opportunities for socioeconomic mobility among the less equal groups — Filipinos, Native Hawaiians, Samoans and other ethnic minorities.”

I’ve truly enjoyed interacting with Civil Beat’s audience and discussing these crucial issues and the ideas that could underpin answers. I look forward to deepening that interaction in the coming year.

I hope our 2024 is better, full of solutions and answers (or at least helpful ideas) for the problems that we continue to struggle with here in Hawaii.


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About the Author

Naka Nathaniel

Naka Nathaniel has returned to regular journalism after being the primary parent for his son. In those 13 years, his child has only been to the ER five times (three due to animal attacks.)

Before parenting, Naka was known as an innovative journalist. He was part of the team that launched NYTimes.com in 1996 and he led a multimedia team that pioneered many new approaches to storytelling.

On 9/11, he filmed the second plane hitting the South Tower. His footage aired on the television networks and a sequence was the dominant image on NYTimes.com.

While based in Paris for The New York Times, he developed a style of mobile journalism that gave him the ability to report from anywhere on the planet. He covered the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and was detained while working in Iran, Sudan, Gaza and China. He is one of a handful of Americans who has been in North Korea, but not South Korea. He worked in 60 countries and made The Times’s audience care about sex trafficking, climate change and the plight of women and children in the developing world.

Besides conflict, The Times also had Naka covering fashion shows, car shows and Olympics. He did all three of those events in the same week (Paris, Geneva and Turin) before going to Darfur to continue reporting on the genocide (it was the fifth of sixth trips to the region.)

Naka lives in Waimea on the Big Island and his writing for Civil Beat will initially focus on his reflections on moving home.


Latest Comments (0)

Love this article and the thoughts it provokes. A private university un encumbered by meddling politicians. Brilliant. Another point in fact that I personally have made comment on is the status quo government and unions (which if you have lived in a cave, control Hawaii politics and economy) do not want changed for selfish reasons. I couldn’t help but see parallels to the situation of Hawaii where our leading industries haven’t gone above and beyond to encourage an educational system interested in elevating the local and native population.New ideas, dreams, plans and visions are the opposite of stagnation and status quo thinking. Keep the natives down and directed towards indentured jobs and reliance upon government assistance and you have a captive audience.

wailani1961 · 1 month ago

We should strengthen all avenues of economic growth to make things better. That means buliding on Hawaii's strengths - tourism, military and government - as well as developing new industries to diversify the economy. However, Hawaii has shown that its small minded attitude by government and citizens is the biggest impediment. We had a great example of potentially diversifying/expanding our economy with the telescope on Mauna Kea. Not only would there be construction jobs, but the research derived from the telescope would create some of the jobs we crave as well as bring in foreign money. It would be a net brain gain, not brain drain. Yet the native Hawaiians had issues with it and pretty much killed it. So you can't have it both ways. We can't want these nice things, but then when the opportunity arises fight against it because we want to keep everything the same. We are in the 2020s not the 1800s. Some of the backward mentality in this state, not just the government, but also its citizens, is hampering our ability to collectively move forward.

tiderider · 1 month ago

Naka, this article has done a great job in sparking discussion. Readers are responding with several of their own "out of the box" ideas. You and Civil Beat are stirring up community awareness that we can't get anywhere else. Keep up the good work and keep us all thinking about Hawaii's future.I mua!

MsW · 1 month ago

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About IDEAS

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 news@civilbeat.org to submit an idea.

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