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Kekahu leads Washington march, plans another

Garden Island newspaper
August 22, 1998

by Healani Waiwaiole, special to the Garden Island

ANAHOLA-- Butch Kekahu, with his family and about 200 others, saw his dream come true earlier this month in Washington, D.C.

Following the Aloha March Aug. 7-8 in the nation's capitol, the family went straight to `Iolani Palace grounds in Honolulu for the annexation events there on Aug. 11-12, and then broke the news that there will be another Aloha March in the year 2000-- "20,000 in 2000."

Back on Kaua`i now, catching up on his dialysis, sleep and rest, Kekahu reflects on the activities of the past couple weeks.

"It was awesome in DC. The people there, I was overwhelmed by them. By everything."

His eyes filled with tears as he thought back on the experience. "It was just... more than we expected it to be. So much more."

Even though there were less marchers than anticipated, Kekahu said that the event was a success because of the connection that has developed between Hawaiians and their supporters on the East Coast and those from Hawai`i.

"The people who helped us with the DC logistics-- First Kumu Hula Mahina Bailey and his leading alaka`i, Carolyn Wong, then Al Kuahi Wong in Boston, and more people in the area answered calls for help on the internet, and soon there were maybe 40 people all helping," Kekahu said.

Many of them, though living in neighboring areas, met for the first time at the Aloha March.

"As we progressed through the logistical meeting Thursday night, when we all met for the first time face-to-face, through the opening protocols on Friday, the 24-hour prayer vigil, the ceremony in Statuary Hall, to the march itself, the presentations on the Ellipse and the closing pa`ina (dinner), a bond has developed," Kekahu said.

"That's the main reason I want to go back. We feel so connected to the people there, now."

Butch's mom, Kupuna Mikala, agrees with her son. "The people were fantastic. Unbelievable."

Back home on Kaua`i, apparently unaffected by jet lag, she was bursting with energy, her eyes dancing with excitement. "We're going back, you know. That's right, in 2000-- we already have the whole first floor of the hotel reserved. We're gong to bring more of our family, and we're going to stay longer."

Any fears Kupuna Mikala once had about the march in Washington apparently dissolved in here exuberant eagerness to do it all over again.

As the Aloha March delegation arrived in Honolulu, they were met with a constant litany of "I saw you on TV, I saw you on TV!"

The Aloha March drew the attention of CNN, Associated Press, National Public Radio, Scripps, the Washington Post, Channel 8 TV, and many other media from Japan, Germany, and Italy. There were several independent video crews with documentaries in mind. Pictures and articles are popping up on the internet.

The Aloha March also drew some response from the Hawai`i Congressional delegation. Reps. Patsy Mink and Neil Abercrombie visited the prayer vigil briefly, apologizing for not being able to attend the Statuary Hall ceremony due to a meeting with President Clinton in the White House.

Butch's family were not the only ones strongly affected by the march. Aaron Akamu and Russell Kallstrom, Kamehameha grads now attending Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, joined the prayer vigil mid-stream and stayed the whole night.

They marched to the White House and stayed throughout the afternoon's presentations on the Ellipse. They appeared at the closing pa`ina at the St. James Hotel, looking refreshed and jubilant.

"It's important for Hawaiians to rejuvenate lost spirituality, and to connect with other Hawaiians when living so far from home," said Akamu, who heard about the Aloha March from surfing the net. "I wanted to come because being Hawaiian is about doing and being; taking action, not being passive."

Kallstrom heard about the march from Akamu, and they came to represent the Hawaiian club at Dartmouth. "I'm interested in sovereignty because I believe it empowers people," said Kallstrom. "Living away, it's important to share aloha, but kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiians) are just existing and surviving. So I came to share my aloha.

My grandfather told me that Hawai`i's 'soul food' is poi," added Kallstrom. "Putting poi back on the table is symbolic of sovereignty giving people the strength to sustain, as well as keeping us away from the traps that others set."

Nani Rogers, who came with the Kaua`i delegation and helped to facilitate the prayer vigil, said that the highlight for her was staying up all night sharing chants and prayers with others.

"That's where we built the mana (spiritual energy), and when we went from that into the march, it was so powerful!" Indeed, Rogers was seen leading the march blowing her pu (conch shell) and chanting "I ku mau mau..." then doing the same walking the full length of the marchers and back to the front again.

"You would never have guessed she'd been up all night and the day before," said Maile Thompson, Washington resident and volunteer.

"I will always remember Nani and the look on her face," Thompson said. "Because of these events, I feel grounded in my culture now. I am so grateful to everyone who brought the Aloha March here. And if anyone of them ever needs anything again, I am here."

It is that sentiment expressed again and again by many people, and many other positive aspects of the Aloha March experience, that Butch says is the reason he wants to return.

"My message in the year 2000 will be the same as it is now. We want to see a change, we want to see the wrongs made right. There are many in the Hawaiian community working on the final outcome. But a for me and my family, we will continue to march to raise awareness and to gather support."

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