Aaron Perry


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  • Episode 07 – Rev. M. Kalani Souza – Native Hawaiian Elder & Wisdom Keeper

Episode 07 – Interview with Rev. M. Kalani Souza. For more visit http://mkalani.com/

Featured on the Y on Earth Community Podcast – Stewardship & Sustainability Series.

Rev. M. Kalani Souza shares his work as a Native Hawaiian Elder and Wisdom Keeper, in the context of the 21st Century. Also a film-maker and teacher, Kalani is broadcasting from his multi-media studio, where he has several students from tribal nations throughout the United States visiting and studying “communication media for the empowerment of indigenous peoples.”


(Automatically generated transcript for search engine optimization and reference purposes - grammatical and spelling errors may exist.)

Hello friends, welcome to another edition of our YonEarth Community Stewardship and Sustainability


And I am so happy and grateful that today we have the opportunity to speak a bit with

Reverend M. Kalani Souza from the big island of Hawaii, where he is a, get this.

He is a permaculturist, a philosopher, a musician, a poet, a priest, a producer, an educator.

You might say he is an activated human being.

And Kalani, it is such a pleasure to be talking with you today.

I am so excited, we have the opportunity to share some of your work and some of your

important messaging with our YonEarth audience.

And welcome to our show.

Thank you, thank you so much, you know, it's a pleasure, it's an honor, Aaron, to be going

face-to-face like this, you know, we've spoken mostly on emails for the last year or so,

which has been fabulous, but this is much better.

We're in a caution.

My grandfather said to me, you know, boy, if you do your job correctly, no one will remember

you were here.

They'll think that they did it for themselves.

And so, you know, to that effect, yeah, you know, just call me Kalani and I mostly have

my capacity set for me through the auspices of fine people like these young folks here

and who work and try hard to get things, we'll get back to these some of the students

and some of the folks that actually make me look good.

So it's less about what my capacity is and more about me just being a head cheerleader.

You bet.

Well, that's so appreciated.

And I'll mention, too, for our viewers and our listeners that you are also a certified

FEMA instructor.

You work with the University of Hawaii National Disaster Training Center.

You do work as a cultural competency consultant for NOAA.

That's the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, I believe, Pacific Services Center.

And you also work with adaptations sponsored by the National Center for Atmospheric Research

NCAR, which is of course located right here in Boulder, Colorado, where I'm currently


And it's so amazing, Colony, to get a sense of the many, many networks that you're a part

of, some with scientists, some with educators, a variety of community members, indigenous


And perhaps you can speak to us a little bit about this incredible woven web work that you

find yourself a part of.


And thanks for that acknowledgement, you know, I don't think people recognize very often

the importance of bridge building and focusing on the relationships between people that

make things possible.

And I think that's been sort of the focus for the last 40 years.

How do we build these pathways for possibility?

And it does happen because we're able to see everyone's place at the table.

A friend of mine, Robert Goff, Bob Goffy, passed away just last year as a great community


He used to say to me, you know, Colony, if you're not at the table, you're on the menu.

So I try to encourage the people we work with to not only do everything they need to do

to get themselves to the table, but to ensure quality control by us sharing that all others

are allowed at the table.

And in particular, I think if we don't see something that is 180 degrees from us when

we're contemplating a decision or a route, a choice of action, we should be able to see

clearly the direct opposite impact that we intend.

But it might be the consequence of our actions.

And until we see that 180 degree position, I think it would be erroneous of us to make

that decision or move forward.

Or as my grandfather would say, you know, if you don't see the shadow of something, you

haven't seen it all.

So make sure you see the shadow of something.

So you have the clarity of decision.

Go ahead with the decision you need to make, but be aware of the surround of the consequences.

This kind of fundamental understanding of people, of groups of people, of the need for

all of us to be participating together, I think it comes from the Polynesian perspective

of the planet as a canoe.

And we know from long distance voyaging the crew on the canoe, everybody's important.

We may not all see eye to eye, but everybody's got an invested interest in a good outcome.

I'm hoping that there are people on our planet that participate with the idea that they

think a good outcome would be the destruction of the environment of our capacity, of our

ability to sustain life forward, not just for the two-legged, but for everything that's

needed to keep the system going.

Yes, it all goes together indeed.

And I was, I'm so struck by your couple of references to your grandfather and the notion

of the intergenerational knowledge transfer is so important.

Of course, you've got with you in your studio a handful of students with whom you're sharing

some of this information and wisdom and was hoping we could do a quick introduction so

that our audience has a chance to get a sense of who these young adults are that you're

working with.


I'm going to give them a chance to speak for themselves.

I just want to set it up by saying this is the first core group here doing a study program

called the Introduction to Community Media where our community participants who run our

media pieces and enable our networking happen and work with the Indigenous Phenology Network

and the National Phenology Network and the Climate Science Center's trying to encourage

young people to do citizen science and communicate with each other using technologies that they're

very familiar with.

And so with no further ado, take it away and introduce the students that they've been

introduced themselves.

They've been, by the way, they just met.


I'm Desi from O'ahu, by the way of Japan.

I'm Ciara from Louisiana and I'm part of the department of each shop to opt to try.

Hey everyone, I'm Devon.

I'm the future chief of the Grand Coyote Do-Like Band of Blocsi Chitamachi Chokta.


I'm Dobrik Nakan.

I'm junior chief of the band of Aozajan Trolls, Blocsi Chitamachi Chokta.

So the two of us have come here and met and joined together.

I want to give them a chance to give you an idea of what it is they've been up to and

what it is we have them doing.

What we've been doing media work, very guerrilla, very quick getting the point across of what

we want to voice in our community and we've been learning that from Kalani as well as other

media experts that we've been working with.

And it's basically a two-week crash course.

We've been very magical and it's been quick too.

We've been going out in the field learning to shoot quick video, cut edit, you know, get

a product out there as quick as you can and it's been really amazing what we can learn

in two weeks compared to maybe a six-month audio and video class.

It's been pretty incredible, especially in the variety of forms of user use cell phones,

anything that's basically on hand.

So in the heat the moment we're able to record and capture the event as our gain instead

of like, where's my stuff?

Let me go to my car and we can just go and record or they've been in time.

Yeah, it's been pretty great.

We've been learning this kind of new style.

You go in, you capture the moment, you get the message and then you come back and you slice

it together and you get your message out there as quick and concise as possible.

In the best way.

Oh, sorry.

Go ahead, go ahead.

In the best way.

Never hold it.

Never apologize.

That's a good girl.

Never apologize.

She can just bust you lady and baby.

The best part is how we audit and know each other and then we came together.

Everyone does a team to create all this difference.


So I think that's pretty awesome.

Yeah, that just, trust the females to be the one concerned with teamwork and the

ability to build together, right?

But I love the messaging and the fact that they send us the best and the brightest.

We like to think of ourselves as an organization that trains trainers to go back out to community

and have the impacts we hope for when we design the learning.

Are we going to make mistakes every time?

You know, is that going to stop us?

Probably not.



Well, I'm so excited to be connected with all of you and hope that each of you will engage

with our why on earth community ambassadors and share the media that you're developing in your communities.

With the broader network of folks that we're working with through why on earth.

And it's such a joy to meet each of you and be connected.

I should mention for our viewers and listeners that if you're tuning into the podcast,

you can go to why on earth.org and check out some of our other recordings on the community page.

That's why on earth.org slash community.

Also, if you'd like to, you can use the word podcast as a coupon code to get some of our audio book and ebook products

at nice discounts at why on earth.org market slash market.

You know, this notion of being able to produce and share media quickly through our network

is so important with our ambassadors.

One of our mantras is document and celebrate document and celebrate document and celebrate.

And this is how we help to share the good wisdom, the good acts that we're able to perform

in our communities in very simple ways.

And it's such a joy to see that network continuing to grow and get further activated

and really cross-pollinated through these kinds of discussions.

I wanted to read a passage, Kalani, from why on earth.

And you know, when it was being written, which took quite a while, it's 33 chapters,

it became very clear that the place to begin was with a chapter called place.

And our connection to place is so important.

And we have so many different cultural ways of doing this.

And I was so delighted and overjoyed and humbled when I came across something you said,

which I'll quote here, you said, everyone on this planet is indigenous.

To Venus, we all look like one family.

Imagine what we look like to Andromeda, like siblings.

Perhaps the problem is that we see the world around us as resources, rather than relationships.

If we were to view all the other life in this water bubble as family,

we might change the way we operate with our models of commerce.

So I say, go forth, spread the word everyone on this planet is indigenous.

It's so beautiful, Kalani. How can you expand on that for us today?

You know, I learned pretty much everything I needed to know from my grandfather,

sometime between 7 and 14.

And, you know, he says to me one day when I'm about 11,

I was having a hard time.

I got sent to a very fancy boarding school with folks not from my village.

That's one way to put it.

Thank you affirmative action.

So I was having a hard time adjusting.

And he said to me, he says, boy, there's only two kinds of people in the world.

He says that's a Malahini, which is what we call tourists or a stranger, or a Kama Aina.

So we in Hawaiian means little or short.

So Malahini means somebody who's been here for a short period of time.

And then Kama in Hawaiian means to understand.

And Aina means in the ancient Polynesian family.

But in Hawaiian it means land or the food that feeds you.

So your agriculture, your garden.

So Kama Aina to understand the land around you, what feeds you.

So my grandfather said, there's only two kinds of people in the world.

You either Malahini, you a stranger, you just got there and you don't know what's going on.

Or you're a Kama Aina and you've been there for a little while.

And you know what's going on.

So he says to me, only two kinds of people in the world, boy, and you're both of them.

It just depends on where you're standing.

It just depends on your perspective.

Are you there for a long time?

You understand what's going on?

Or did you just show up?

So in some sense, when we make that journey down the vaginal canal and we pop out,

we're the ultimate Malahini, right?

I mean, we just showed up.

We're not really sure what's going on.

The arms and legs don't quite move yet.

Not quite the right size.

Sometimes I wonder if human beings are actually marsupials.

We finish up outside the body, right?

We come out as a larva and then we become these 15, 20 years go by.

And we finally reach this adult stage where we can participate in this sapient way.

Now, all that being said, I still believe that each one of us

is having the same human experience as my grandfather tried to point out to me.

We're both of them.

We're strangers.

We're the familiar.

You know, we're the particle.

We're the wave.

We're the great individual.

We're the great generalization.

You know, it's really hard to think about how we could do anything other than generalize.


If each of us has the same unique property that creation granted a snowflake or a leaf

or a grain of sand, if we have that same property value of being one off each other,

even as twins, same DNA, but if we commit a murder, if you don't find a fingerprint,

you can't tell which one of us did it.

We're all individually marked.


If we're the collection of individuals, then how could we say anything specific about any one of us?

We'd always be one off.

The most we could do is make sweeping generalizations about everything and then believe none of it.

Because none of it would be true.


We would be so specifically unique.

If you didn't understand our unique circumstances, our personality, our preferences, our socioeconomic

station, our religious upbringing, the framework under which we see our cosmological connection,

you would not, in fact, be able to determine how we would react, how we would behave.

In light of this kind of awareness, all I can do is treat all of life with the same respect

and reverence that I would treat anything I loved greatly, particularly myself.

You know, so call me selfish, but I think I'm going to go with compassion and understanding.



I'll go to that love and compassion, right?

It comes down to that in such a simple and profound way.

Yeah, it's not weird.

It's not rocket science.


It's more like sex education or something else.

It's the ability for us to sit with a friend, pick the lights off their back, have a quiet afternoon

of, or derives and community.



Well, let me ask you in the last few minutes we have together here.

I know you're doing some work on the doctrine of discovery.

And this is an important effort that I know some of our other brothers and sisters around the world are working on.

If you could share with our audience briefly what it is and what's happening and where we might be heading with relational doctrine, et cetera.

It would be great to, I think, share that with some of our audience.

Yeah, we are.

I wish I'd better have had some slides available or a present every could show, but you know, just extremely.

We've been having this discussion in native country for some time now.

And along with several other cohorts, Daniel Wildcat and Haskell and, you know, Bull Benad and Bob Goff and quite a few others.

Even up at Dartmouth or in Lions came over, we had this discussion with the IPCC, WG, the Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Working Group.

The doctrine of discovery, which I consider to be an erroneous document created to lever or lever economic and unjust racial superiority claims.

You know, to proper a dominant narrative that prompted just a small slice of humanity.

Now, this erroneous document is still the basis for land court decisions today.

Right? And there seems to be push back round this idea that we could deconstruct colonial and imperialist ownership of the globe as it were.

But in fact, those notions and rightly so are being challenged every day, right?

In World Court and United Nations, heck, they're being challenged in the fourth grade in the town right up the street here.

You know, the notion that Christopher Columbus discovered America is by saying James Cook discovered Hawaii, right?

Apparently, both of these lands were uninhabited.

Right. Right. When the guys showed up when they bought, so we started investigating this idea that one of Christopher Columbus had actually recognized this relationship with the hourglass.

Gun proper protocol and engage with them as if they were other human beings rather than being sanctified by the church, which was the power authority at the time to treat these people as non-humans if they were not Christian and worshipping the same God that they were worshipping in either France, Italy or Austria at the time.

So we know it's erroneous and yet our legal court documents are still operating under this basis.

So there are many legal challenges I think coming up now and legal arguments regarding this, but my interest was in the moral fabric.

How do you find a solution to what some people might term an unrighteous wrong?

How do we address these intractable social injustices in a way that looks like we can construct a path forward that graces all sides with dignity and yet achieves a sustainable balance?

Because as it stands now, these land ownership laws, in fact, threaten the very existence I believe of life on the planet.

Of course, I'm predisposed to that because I'm Hawaiian and our Constitution in 1854 declared that all lands were owned by the creator and so humans could only steward a piece of land.

And there could be no private land ownership, which, of course, don't tell anybody, but it led to American sugar businessmen and missionaries illegally taking over the country and the US moving in and making us a state.

Well, yeah, I think we've been concentrating on this idea that our commerce models and our ideas of privatized ownership will, in fact, threaten our larger, closed loop system that we call the atmosphere, the planet, and we metaphorically refer to as the canoe from time to time.

And so I think as participants in the sort of the play of life, we've reached that moment in Act 3 where we have to come to terms with the fact that the play may come to a very bad ending if we don't have some rewrites.

Hey, listen, even the best musical, right? Even Hamilton went and played Boston for a couple of weeks first to get it right before coming to Manhattan, right?

So I get it as human beings, we've been falling down a bit, but I'm not ready to give up. And I think we can adjust our sales, match the wind, clear the reef, make it to that shore. All we got to do is get everybody to the table, get everybody working together.

It's not science. That is so beautiful, Kalani, and you know, we'll have to wrap up here in just a minute, but you have shared so much with us today.

It's wonderful meeting some of your students as well. I hope we'll all be connected and in touch. Thank you so much for sharing.

We'll be connected going forward. And, you know, I'm reminded with the comments you all are making around the rapid utilization of global communication technology.

I'm reminded of this really powerful essay I came across as a student called the meta-industrial village written by William Irwin Thompson back in the 70s.

And he was anticipating a future where on the one hand, we were united globally through the power of communication technology that really over time would enhance our civic institutions, our abilities to exercise dignity and sovereignty and liberty.

And then also in parallel, our communities would choose to relocalize, re-consecrate, re-engage in that relationship with soil and water and the localities of living ecology.

And it strikes me that we live now in the time where that is potentially exactly what's playing out. Of course, we have a lot of challenges. There's a lot of work to do.

But I am so heartened knowing Kalani that you're doing the work you're doing, that your students are doing the work that they're doing, and that more and more and more of us are recognizing we're all in this great canoe together.

And we're all creating a future together.

Absolutely. To close it off, I've been having some dreams about this doctrine of relationship.

You know, what if using the medicine wheel and the four directions, what if the doctrine of discovery is simply the doctrine of the north of the element of the air and ancestral, you know, older religious doctrine that we know now to be erroneous.

And the doctrine of the east, you know, is the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of the south in direct opposition to the doctrine of discovery might be the doctrine, you know, of relationship of protocol of recognition.

You know, that says we are all engaged in this human activity and the doctrine of the west would be the doctrine of separation.

So in the doctrine of east, the feminine, the creation, the verdant, the growing, in the west, the sunset, the fire, the element of destruction, the masculine, the rebirth, right?

The generation is happening through the fire. So the east is the element of earth, the south is the element of water, you know, the thing that connects all of life that is the doctrine of recognition and then the west is the doctrine of separation.

If something, I think as a society, we do not do well. You know, we tend to take our toys with us on this endless march to an ivory tower, you know, we bury ourselves with the goal.

It's like King of the Hill, right? But really, the older traditions understand that the children learn from their parents and the parents learn from the elders and the elders learn from their parents.

They learn from the children who have just recently come from the spirit world. And so I've come with these tools ingrained in their DNA, these things that they need to survive.

What they might lack is the wisdom on how to apply those tools, which is why this connectivity of the creation of youth, the operational capacity of parenthood, and the wisdom of eldership.

They're all three needed to propel the human experience along. So really the connection, the web of relationship between these three generations is more important than what's actually passing along that web.

You know that the pathway remains intact. The type of information moves along the pathway. It differs by region, by culture, by club.

But when we're looking at the culture of modernity, dismantling this intergenerational connectivity and us falling into a nuclear family, a society that no longer experiences five generations.

But only two generations of best we've undercut our capacity to adapt and survive to the changes that necessarily occur to our canoe.

Beautiful. Well, may we reestablish and heal these relationships as we're healing our intercultural relationships as we're healing our relationships with our living planet.

Kalani, thank you so much for being with us today. It's such an honor and I very much look forward to staying in touch and many blessings to you, your students and your community. Thank you.

Thank you, and thanks to all the great work you're doing. We really appreciate it.

You bet, brother. Take care.

Y On Earth - Podcast Cover
Stewardship & Sustainability Series
Episode 07 - Rev. M. Kalani Souza - Native Hawaiian Elder & Wisdom Keeper

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