Indigenous Knowledge Nourishes Restaurant Workers

Indigenous Knowledge Nourishes Restaurant Workers

Pictured: ‘Ulu (breadfruit) waffles were one of dozens of delicious recipes created with ingredients from Heʻeia Reserve as part of a new professional development program for food service workers impacted by COVID-19. Recipe and photo by Dilyuns Michael.

Food, land, and people are closely interwoven in the mission of Hawaiʻi’s Heʻeia Reserve. Now a new Reserve program is tying these threads together to help food service workers who have been hit hard  by the COVID-19 pandemic with a training on  the history, production, and use of Indigenous foods and the invasive species that compete with them. From mangrove-smoked Samoan crab chowder to ‘ulu custard pie, their work has our mouths watering!

The seven-week professional development program provided 15 participants with education on Indigenous cuisine including history, cultural practices, cultivation and harvesting techniques, and methods to prepare and preserve foods. Students worked with Indigenous cuisine experts, including Native Hawaiian agriculture and aquaculture practitioners. 

Each week focused on a different ingredient sourced within the bounds of the Heʻeia Reserve. Participants picked up the ingredient and then attended a virtual education session and cooking demonstration. From there, they used the ingredient and their newfound knowledge to develop a recipe of their own. The final weeks of the course were focused on refining these recipes for inclusion in a special, limited-run cookbook.

Two dishes created by Alicia Nunez, a program participant. Left:‘Ulu (breadfruit) tostada. Right: Samoan crab pasta.

“What I enjoyed most was being able to handle fresh, native Hawaiian ingredients that I have never handled before,” says one participant. “I cleaned and cooked my own he’e, ku’i’d my own kalo, and gutted my own kākū for the first time. I have always wanted to cook with these ingredients and this course allowed me the opportunity to do that, as well as share my experiences with others.”

The food service industry has been one of the hardest hit in Hawaiʻi during the pandemic, with a 58% loss of full-time employees between January and April 2020. In addition to professional development, the program aims to support employee retention within the industry, increase public understanding of local foods, and strengthen partnerships between Indigenous food practitioners and local restaurants. By providing a stipend to participants, they also provided a short-term source of income to workers facing unemployment or underemployment due to the pandemic.

“Many of these workers interact with huge numbers of people, including tourists, and are then able to share the knowledge they have gained of this food with others,” says Katy Hintzen, coastal training program coordinator at the Reserve. “They act as informal educators by introducing and explaining native foods and preparation techniques to the public.”

The Heʻeia Reserve education and coastal training programs developed the program in partnership with Paepae o Heʻeia, Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi, and the University of Hawaiʻi Sea Grant College Program.

“This course took a lot of different skill sets, backgrounds, and networks to pull off,” says Fred Reppun. “The Reserve is set up as an organization that can bring all those different peoplewe’re able to be the connector between the Heʻeia community, academia, funding partners, and nonprofit partners.”

Revitalizing Indigenous food systems and associated food culture is a central component of coastal and marine conservation in the Hawaiian Islands. 

“The connection between local and indigineous foods and conservation at Heʻeia is really tight,” says Hintzen. “Not only did this program let us support the restaurant industry, but it also perpetuates the cultivation of Indigenous food at Heʻeia.”

Left: Hawaiian he’e (octopus) was one ingredient program participants learned to prepare. Photo by Alicia Yamachika. Right: Samoan crab and seaweed ramen, a dish of invasive species created by Dilyuns Michael.

Talk NERRdy to Me: Kawika Winter

Talk NERRdy to Me: Kawika Winter

Talk NERRdy to Me is a monthly column about leaders and luminaries from across our 29 Reserves. This month, NERRA’s correspondent-at-large Nik Charov Zoomed to Hawai’i to talk with Dr. Kawika Winter, manager at the new He’eia Reserve, about being a botanist in a marine biology world and what it means to be a Hawaiian Renaissance Man. Photo credit above: Hawai’i Public Radio.

Nik – What do us mainlanders not get about Hawaiʻi?

Kawika – A lot of the images about what Hawaiian culture is have been twisted by the tourism industry. It’s really quite different when you live here.

Nik – Have you ever left for any long period of time?

Kawika – I’ve never lived anywhere else. I didn’t want to sacrifice learning about my own place and culture in pursuit of higher education. So I had quite a nontraditional track to higher education. I have all three degrees from the same university, which is usually frowned upon.

Nik – What, nobody else wanted you?

Kawika – <laughs> We’ll never know now—I never applied anywhere else! But it’s allowed me to be a more effective advocate for the things that I’m passionate about. I’m an outdoor person and I want to be working with the land and with communities. 

Nik – You grew up on the island of Oʻahu?

Kawika – Yes. And then started my career as director of a botanical garden and nature preserve on Kaua’i. I was there for 13 years and was mostly a resource manager with purview over a 1,000-acre valley. It’s a biodiversity hotspot, and we had dozens of critically endangered plants and birds.

Nik – Biodiversity in Hawaiʻi—that’s, like, [mimes explosion gestures]?

Kawika – The biodiversity we have here is literally found nowhere else. Hawaiʻi is the endangered species capital of the world, and also the extinction capital of the world. So the sense of urgency is very real. Happily, in that valley, we rediscovered a few species that we thought had been extinct and found new populations of things that were functionally extinct. For a botanist that’s pretty exciting stuff!

Nik – Why botany?

Kawika – I actually describe myself as an ecologist, but I definitely have a passion for plants, and that’s my academic background. I’m now a faculty member at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology because they administer the Reserve. I’m the only botanist they’ve ever hired!

Nik – The Heʻeia Reserve is really leading on “traditional ecological knowledge” and “Indigenous science.” Does your work intersect with the field of ethnobotany?

Kawika – When I was getting my degree in botany, I was in the ethnobotany track. That’s basically endeavoring to understand the relationship between people and plants. I really consider myself a conservationist, but there’s different perspectives on conservation. A lot of the racist roots of conservation in America—some of the writings of John Muir, for example—have been coming to light in the past year. The biggest difference is that there’s a view of a seperation of people and nature. That’s not how every culture in the world thinks. Certainly Hawaiians don’t. 

Part of the problem I have with the typical environmental message is that humans are the problem. You teach kids ‘you are the problem.’ So from a young age, they don’t see themselves as the solution. When I was in undergraduate school, the things they taught in my conservation and biology classes just did not comport with how my elders taught me to think about the world. I went from sitting in the front of the room, excited to learn, to the back of the room, totally discouraged, thinking ‘wow, I must be wrong about all this.’ Because these highly intelligent people told me that my way of thinking is wrong. 

But I had this amazing professor, Dr. Tamara Ticktin, who was teaching a class called Ecological Ethnobotany, looking at how Indigenous people manage resources all over the world. That class really helped me to find my voice about the work that we do in the Reserve and in the System to this day. I don’t want to convey that there’s a right way and wrong way to approach conservation. As conservationists we have all kinds of tools. As the saying goes, you can’t build a house with just a hammer.

Nik – How were you raised?

Kawika – Literally in the forest and in the ocean. As a kid, I would try to tag along with my older brother and his friends and they’d always ditch me. One time they threw me on top of a six-foot hedge and left me there! So I was often alone, but I would go into the forest, and the trees were my friends.

When I got into my later teens, I had the great blessing to become very close to several highly esteemed elders who basically became my adoptive grandparents. They’ve all now passed on. Here you have your blood family but you also have family you take on. There’s different words for these different relationships, but one is hoʻokama

Nik – Which means ‘boy you found on top of a hedge’?

Kawika – Ha! It literally means ‘to make your child.’ So I was hoʻokama to a couple elders. In particular, Eddie Kaanaana. He was a native speaker born in 1925, living in the old style wearing only a loincloth and living in a grass-thatched house. He was one of the last who lived like that. I became very close to him and learned the things that he learned from his elders. 

Nik – Many of us in the System already know the basics of the Heʻeia Reserve, its establishment, the fishpond restoration work… there’s this great enthusiasm and interest in this traditional ecological system and Indigenous knowledge. Does it go the other way as well? How does modern science add to traditional knowledge?

Kawika – When I was an undergraduate, the notion of Indigenous science was literally laughable. These were the days when I was sitting in the back of the classroom. People would say, ‘You mean those savages? Of course they’re not intelligent enough to have this thing we call science. You superstitious people, you believe the cycles of the moon have influence on the cycles of life. You guys are crazy.’ Of course now we know the spawning cycles of coral and fish are related to the cycles of the moon. 

Nik – It’s long-term monitoring. A culture that’s been in one place for hundreds or thousands of years has an edge.

Kawika – The evolution has been from Indigenous science being laughable to being ‘ok, maybe Indigenous science is a thing, but it’s definitely inferior to our science.’ Now, because of a lot of work, at least in my circles, these things are on even footing. Two sides of the same coin. Two different methodological approaches to understanding what’s going on in the world. 

Nik – The Heʻeia Reserve was established in 2017. What are you most proud of from that process?

Kawika – The work that’s happening within the Reserve now has been happening for decades. We’re in what we call the Hawaiian Renaissance. After 100 years of colonization, in the 1970s, there was this huge resurgence and rebirth of Hawaiian language, culture, art, navigation. That’s when the community of He’eia stopped the construction of a nuclear power plant. It was the first time that the Native Hawaiian community beat the U.S. military in court. 

My generation is the second generation of leaders in the Hawaiian Renaissance. I have all these friends who got involved with restoring Indigenous agro-ecology and aquaculture on a landscape scale around the turn of the century, but it was recognized that we needed some place to make sure we were all collaborating. That’s really when the community called the Reserve into place in He’eia. 

We’ve had quite a bit of success in collaborating already. We talk in Hawaiian metaphors a lot. In Hawai’i, we have traditions of celestial navigation across 2,000+ miles of ocean to find tiny islands, and they’re being revived. So we talk about everybody being in a fleet of canoes. We need them all navigating towards the same star. Everybody’s going to be managing their own canoe, but we need to keep the fleet together and we need to get to our common destination together. 

This pandemic has been a crisis but it’s also been our chance to coalesce around many issues of food security and environmental degradation. People realize we need to take care of our islands so that they can take care of us. That’s what our ancestors did. We just need to scale it up.

Photo Credit: Kauaʻi Museum

Photo Credit: Midweek Kauaʻi

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Restoring land, food, and people at Heʻeia

Restoring land, food, and people at Heʻeia

Freshly-harvested taro (Kalo, Colocasia esculenta) being cut in preparation for cooking. Cultivation of taro is a keystone element of Hawaiian social-ecological systems. Photo Credit – Sean Marrs

250 years ago in the Hawaiian islands, Indigenous resource management practices sustainably supported a population of more than a million people. Within this context, native habitats and biodiversity co-prospered with a thriving human community. Today, to feed roughly the same number of people, Hawai’i imports 90% of its food and has experienced significant loss of native species, habitat, and coral. The Heʻeia Reserve is combining Indigenous and conventional science to restore lands to help solve these problems.

The Reserve works with its community-based co-management partners to restore and manage  Indigenous wetland agro-ecology systems (loʻi kalo) and associated aquaculture systems (loko iʻa). The systems are cultivated by lineal descendants and other local families, which builds cultural identity, connection to place, and food self-sufficiency. Early findings show this approach is successfully restoring habitat for native plants and animals. It also contributes to Hawaiʻi’s sustainability goals, which include doubling food production in 20 years, protecting watersheds and ecosystems, and facilitating community-based management. 

“Ancient Hawaiians figured out how to manage wetlands to increase their ecosystem services—specifically food production, water filtration, and aquifer recharge,” says Dr. Kawika Winter, manager of the He’eia Reserve. “They did this through a resource management approach we call ‘ecomimicry,’ whereby ecosystem processes were managed to support human populations within them.”

An endangered Hawaiian Stilt (ʻAeʻo, Himantopus mexicanus knudseni) foraging in a wetland agro-ecosystem (loʻi) within the Reserve. Photo credit – Sean Marrs.

Just as the Hawaiians of old, contemporary communities use ecomimicry to restore habitats for native fish, insects, plants, and birds, including the endangered Hawaiian stilt, while restoring Indigenous food systems. Food security has become a big issue during the pandemic, and the approaches at Heʻeia are addressing that issue as well. In addition, current estimates suggest that if the family volunteer farming program goes to scale, it could increase returns to the state’s economy by $2 million. 

“The place that we’re working at becomes more abundant and healthier and restored,” says a participant in the program. “The thriving factor increases as we work not only for my own family, but for the place.”

The partnerships that support this work extend beyond the Hawai’i throughout the Reserve System and NOAA, according to Winter.

“Standardized water-quality monitoring is foundational to the NERRS entire research program, and that’s what our community wants us to do,” says Winter. “Beyond that, we are trying to develop a career pipeline for local students.  The various fellowship and internship opportunities within NOAA allow us to open the door to local students for some of the best professional development opportunities around.”

“I’ve been involved in conservation my entire life, and professionally for the last 15 years. I’ve never witnessed such strong community support for conservation work,” he adds. “The level of support we have is the envy of conservation efforts elsewhere, and I’m really proud that our community truly appreciates the work we’re doing.”

Building Hawaiʻi’s COVID-19 Testing Capacity

Building Hawaiʻi’s COVID-19 Testing Capacity

“Reserves are a public resource,” says Katy Hintzen, coastral training program coordinator at Heʻeia Reserve. “If a hurricane hit, you wouldn’t go on as usual. You would marshall the resources you have to help the public in what they need.”

As part of the University of Hawaiʻi COVID-19 Working Group, the Heʻeia Reserve is working to expand local COVID-19 testing capacity in partnership with the City and County of Honolulu. 

Aided by $3.9 million in federal funding, the partnership’s goal is to perform up to 100,000 tests—potentially reaching up to one-tenth of the island’s residents. To do this, the University has established a diagnostic and research laboratory, the Tropical Medicine Clinical (TMC) Laboratory, with support from Reserve Coastal Training Program (CTP) coordinator, Katy Hintzen.

“The TMC Lab will augment existing local COVID-19 testing capacity and provide surge capacity to effectively respond to dynamic changes in testing needs,” says Hintzen.  “The lab will also marry diagnostic testing with ongoing, university-level research.” 

Hintzen provided administrative support, including grant writing andcommunications products, for the partnership. She also contributed to outreach and engagement coordinating across the University, the community, philanthropic organizations, government agencies, and Oʻahu’s seven community health centers.

“A lot of what CTP does is build connections across different stakeholders with different worldviews,” she says “And a lot of it is translating science for decision makers. Virology was a different science than I’m used to, but the skillset from CTP and Reserve work translated well.”

The close ties between the University and the Reserve helped make the connection with CTP. Dr. Rosie Alegado, community liaison lead for the new TMC Lab and associate professor of Oceanography at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, had worked with Hintzen on Heʻeia Fishpond restoration efforts. She is enthusiastic about the TMC Lab’s capacity to support the needs of the Hawaiian Islands as they reopen.

“Hawaiʻi may see an increase of infections as restrictions relax. We believe it is important that the University provides supplemental capacity in case there is a surge of cases,” said Dr. Alegado. “We want to be able to serve our islands as needed.”

Dr. Alegado (left) and Katy Hintzen (right) lead a workshop on long-term community-researcher partnerships at He’eia Fishpond.

While the focus remains on COVID-19 for now, once the pandemic has passed, the TMC Lab will be a resource to study other pathogens that affect the communities of the Hawaiian Islands.

“Hawaiʻi has contagious diseases that are different from the continental U.S. because of our climate, such as dengue fever, Zika virus, and others,” says Hintzen. “There’s a need for additional diagnostic testing and diagnostic testing that’s linked to research. From a resilience standpoint, these things will be worse with climate change in the future.”


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Coastal Resilience Proposals Due April 8

Coastal Resilience Proposals Due April 8

He’eia Reserve was a previous grant receipient through the National Coastal Resilience Fund, which supported them in a major marsh restoration project.

Calling all NERRds: The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is seeking proposals to its National Coastal Resilience Fund. Pre-proposals are due by Wednesday, April 8

This year the fund will award $31 million to support projects that restore, increase, and strengthen natural infrastructure that protects coastal communities and enhances fish and wildlife habitat. This year the RFP includes a new Community Capacity Building and Planning category to support development of prioritized coastal resilience plans and projects through an inclusive process. 

(Talk about a good fit for Reserves!)

You can browse the 2019 grantees, who are working on restoration and expansion of coastal marshes and wetlands, dune and beach systems, oyster and coral reefs, mangroves, coastal forests, coastal rivers, and barrier islands. 

We know it’s high RFP season and everyone is working hard—maybe there’s an unfunded idea from a past RFP or another funding program that could be the springboard to success?

Hurray for He’eia!

Hurray for He’eia!

From left to right: Lisa Auermuller, President of NERRA; Nicole Le Boeuf, Acting Director National Ocean Service; Kristina Kekuewa, Office for Coastal Management; Kawika Winter, PhD, Manager, Heeia Reserve; Leo Asuncion, State of Hawai’i; Rebecca Roth, NERRA Executive Director; James Chang, Senator Schatz’s office (front).

NERRA joined our partners at NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management to offer a special thanks to Senator Brian Schatz (HI), James Chang, staff to Senator Schatz, Kolo Rathburn from the Department of Commerce, and Leo Asuncion, State of Hawaii. Their collective work was key to establishing the He’eia Reserve in Hawaii—the newest Reserve in our system and already a respected convener of projects and programs that integrate the latest science with ancestral wisdom.

“Our national program is stronger today because of the He’eia Reserve designation, and we have heroes like you to thank for it. Welcome to the family!” said NERRA President Lisa Auermuller speaking to the honorees.

Both Mr. Chang and  Mr. Rathburn understood the national benefit of the NERRS. They  were committed to furthering the successes of the program by not only calling for a Blue Ribbon Panel study of the system, but by also working to secure additional funding for program and its newly designated 29th Reserve.

ReservesHe‘eia, Hawai'i