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Law Student From Miloli`i Named Mink Fellow

May 15, 2014, 5:09 PM HST
* Updated May 16, 1:45 PM
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A Hawaii law student who grew up in the South Kona fishing village of Miloli`i will be spending her summer working in Washington, DC.

Janna Wehilani “Wehi” Ahu has been named the 2014 Patsy T. Mink Legislative Fellow.

With the honor comes a $5,000 stipend from the William S. Richardson School of Law to pay for a 10-week summer internship working in the office of US Sen. Mazie Hirono.

Ahu, who is completing her first year at the University of Hawaii law school, was inspired to study law to help her village.

“It’s the last traditional Hawaiian fishing village, and 100 percent of the people subsist by fishing, and a little hunting,” said Ahu in a statement from the law school. “There are no stores in the area.”

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This year marks the 12th anniversary of the landmark fellowship launched by UH law students in 2002, the year of Mink’s death, to honor her legacy and to provide an extraordinary educational experience.

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Winners of the Mink Fellowship are encouraged to research areas in which they are particularly interested.

Ahu said she went to law school to learn how to keep fisheries healthy.

“We actually have our three different opelu koa schools of fish that we feed throughout the year,” she said. “Fishermen have gone out and ‘fed’ these fish for generations to keep them there so we can continue to fish. One of the spots where we feed the fish is directly in front of my family’s property.”

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Ahu, who learned to speak Hawaiian from her grandmother, and then studied the language at Kamehameha Schools and at UH, is also looking to study education issues affecting small, remote rural areas.

Ahu said her family moved into Hilo so she could attend Kamehameha, and many other families in Miloli’i – where one-quarter of the 400 residents are young people — face the same kinds of choices about leaving.

The nearest high school in Kona is more than 30 miles away.

“There is a bus, but a lot of my friends were home-schooled,” she said. “My family moved into town so I could go to school. And a lot of my friends have moved closer to Kona or into the Captain Cook area.”

Patsy Mink. US government photo.

Rep. Patsy Mink. US government photo.

Expanding education was one of the primary goals for Mink, the first Asian-American woman in the US House of Representatives.

One of her crowning achievements was co-authorship and passage of Title IX, a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 that provided women equal access to opportunities in education.

Mink, who was born on a Maui sugar plantation, had faced discrimination as a young woman and went on to law school, eventually serving 24 years in the House.

“I can’t change the past,” Mink often said, “but I can certainly help somebody else in the future so they don’t have to go through what I did.”

The Ahu family in Miloli`i. Courtesy photo.

The Ahu family in Miloli`i. Courtesy photo.

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