Podcast with Luka Kanaka'ole from the Edith Kanaka'ole Foundation

February 2024

Luka is a natural resource and environmental management scientist, Communications Officer of the Edith Kanaka'ole Foundation (EKF),  and a native Hawaiian - the great-grandson of Edith Kanaka'ole.

In this podcast we discuss the importance of Indigenous Knowledge and its role in conserving nature and species. We learn about the Edith Kanaka'ole Foundation, and its important role in researching and communicating how Indigenous Knowledge and Western science can be effectively blended to care for the health of the environment and the conservation of species. Enjoy!

Listen to the podcast 🎙️:

Interview transcript:

Aleksandra Smilek 00:10
Welcome to the Wise Ancestors podcast dedicated to biodiversity conservation. Here, we discuss the
importance of Indigenous Knowledge and its role in conserving our nature and species. This is your
host, Aleksandra Smilek and today we are with Luka Kanaka'ole, all the way from the Edith Kanakaʻole
Foundation, a nonprofit established in 1990 in Hawaii to maintain and perpetuate Hawaiian cultural
knowledge and skills related to land and resource practices, as well as cultural site restoration protocol
and ritual. Welcome, Luka.

Luka Kanaka'ole 00:56
Thank you. Glad to be here.

Aleksandra Smilek 00:57
I have a first question actually, about the foundation. So you are working at this amazing Hawaiian
Edith Kanakaʻole Foundation? Could you provide us with an overview of the foundation and its

Luka Kanaka'ole 01:11
Sure. Yeah. So the Edith Kanakaʻole Foundation, which is named after my great grandmother, was
created to heighten Hawaiian intellect and Hawaiian consciousness within our community. And not just
our community. When I say our community, not just our native Hawaii community, but just within all of
the networks in which we touch. Heightening Hawaiian intellect means not just providing hula, which is
one of our biggest projects or programs, but by being able to enhance people abilities to engage in
our Hawaiian Indigenous Knowledge, and utilize it in every facet of our growing modern society, and
not just teaching the people of this island, but teaching everybody who has the urge or the need, to
want to learn and utilize the Hawaiian intellect that was born here on these islands. So that is our
primary mission. Yeah, it to heighten Hawaiian intellect.

Aleks Smilek 02:21
Amazing. And so you gave us an amazing workshop at EKF and I believe we spoke a lot about the
capacity of Indigenous Knowledge actually, to be mixed with western science. So for you, how do you
believe this Indigenous Knowledge and western science could mesh effectively? What's your opinion
on that?

Luka Kanaka'ole 02:52
Yeah, so my scholar background is working in marine conservation, and learning from the universities
to do fishery surveys, and marine biology surveys, and doing that type of research, western
conventional research. And I was always, as being a native Hawaiian, I was always asked to be the
bridge between culture and conventional western science. But in my opinion, it's more of a blurring of
the lines being that both systems or both methodologies are looking at the same environment, and
they just speaking different languages. And a lot of what Western science misses, is the ability to
connect to the environment that they studying in a way that makes it familial. And that what our
Indigenous science does, is that we do see the same elements and the same natural phenomenons
that western science sees and studies, but what western science lacks is that being able to connect in
a way where as if the environment or the rivers or the forest or the birds are their families and that
connection is really, really critical when it comes to conservation and preservation of nature. Because if
you just see it as something apart and not as a family member, then essentially you would just move on
from one project to one project, whereas Indigenous science or Indigenous care for nature is committed
and determined for the rescue of.

Aleks Smilek 04:48
That's super interesting and that's an amazing view actually and your work actually often focuses on
something that you haven't mentioned already but focuses on the concept of the kilo, right? Which we
can somehow translate into the English word of observation?

Luka Kanaka'ole 05:12

Aleks Smilek 05:12
Something like that, right?

Luka Kanaka'ole 05:14

Aleks Smilek 05:14
Could you explain actually what this kilo is and its role in the conservation of measure you've been

Luka Kanaka'ole 05:23
Yeah. So kilo is the same thing that researchers utilize. Kilo is observation, observation of all your
senses and it's the same method that western scientists utilize in just observing your space, jotting
down and writing down patterns, and seeing different patterns and connecting one element with the
other. And kilo is just that except that we utilize what we call Papakū Makawalue, the name of our


Transcribed by https://otter.ai
methodology. And we connect everything that happens above our head, the sky, which is Papahulilani,
everything that happens on the earth, the river, is Papahulihonua, and everything that is born,
everything that has a gestation period, is Papahānaumoku. So when we're studying something, we're
not just looking at one thing, we're looking at all of those different connections that make that one thing
part of a cycle, and part of a larger health of the environment. So let's say if I'm researching an & Ohi & 'a
tree, I'm not just looking at that one & Ohi'a tree or the & Ohi & a tree next to it, I'm looking at all those, all of
those different connections, and I'm naming those connections based on the text that was left by our
ancestors. And those connections help me better understand why this a tree connects with that
bird, connects with that cloud, and connects back to the soil and connects with all the other plants
beneath it. So that essentially is what kilo is. If you continue to kind of master your ability to recognize
patterns in your environment, then you get better and better at kilo and understand the ancestral texts
that were left for us.

Aleks Smilek 07:18
Yeah, that's great, actually. And you at EKF actually, you've been inviting also scientists, right, who
work in conservation or other areas to learn how to kilo? Can I say that?

Luka Kanaka'ole 07:39
Yeah, yeah.

Aleks Smilek 07:39
How to kilo? That's amazing and do you have a specific actually case study of this kilo applied to
maybe or meshed with western science?

Luka Kanaka'ole 07:53
Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's, we're kind of a, so many Native Hawaiians scientists today thought like I did in
that, well, I'm Native Hawaiian and I'm going to go into science and that's not necessarily Indigenous
science being practiced. But today, there's a lot of young, Native Hawaiian scientists in the universities
that are utilizing kilo and utilizing akua names in their studies. For example, just recently, my friend just
defended her masters thesis and her masters thesis was about fog capture by native Hawaiian plants.
And, you know, she asked to like be able to recognize different types of fog, different types of cloud
coverage, and utilize that to inform her project. And so I worked with her and her being able to
recognize what it ohu is and the no'i and being able to use that to adjust her percentage of fog capture
is just one example. I mean, there's so much more that can be done. And also, moon cycles is a big
thing as well fishery moon cycles, planting moon cycles utilizing our moon names to dictate our fishing
practices. That's been a thing in Hawaii for decades. And so that's an example of utilizing traditional
Hawaiian knowledge or traditional Hawaiian, or Indigenous science to inform your practices in an
environment. I feel like we're still kind of a long way off, because essentially, my personal goal is that
when it comes to land management and land use decisions, that people are not just so stuck on just
using western science studies to dictate their decisions, but using Native Hawaiian or Indigenous
science knowledge to help them make decisions when it comes to land management protocols and
programs in the policy sector, so that's to me, when it gets to that level, that would be a, that's a big win
for our our native Hawaiian Indigenous science community.

Aleks Smilek 10:25
Thank you so much, Luka. Thank you for all those insights. Thank you for listening, Wise Ancestors

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