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Hōkūle‘a Navigators Address Pandemic Fatigue in New PSA

By Tiffany DeMasters
May 28, 2021, 6:30 AM HST
* Updated May 28, 12:07 PM
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A Waimea couple and members of the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) partnered with the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) Collective to create a statewide public service announcement to address COVID-19 pandemic fatigue.

Hōkūle‘a and Makali‘i navigator Chadd ‘Ōnohi Paishon and canoe captain Pomai Bertelmann issued a call to action to Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders to remain resilient as the pandemic comes to an end by continuing safety protocols such as wearing a face mask and washing hands. In a 30-second and 60-second PSA, the couple draws connections between voyaging and the pandemic.

On day 15 at sea, Bertelmann explained to Big Island Now on Thursday, the crew doesn’t stop its work to return safely back to shore.

“When you’re on a canoe, resources are finite,” Bertelmann said. “It’s important that everyone be able to survive.”

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Paishon and Bertelmann are long-time members of Nā Kālai Waʻa, PVS, and the ʻOhana Waʻa and sailed on multiple voyages throughout the Pacific, including the recent Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage. the duo likened the pandemic to voyaging when crew members work together to maintain a steady course amid harsh conditions like a powerful storm.

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“Mental fatigue and a desire to return to our recent past weigh on us, and yet, we adjusted our sails and continued toward a destination of health,” said Paishon, who now serves as a senior captain for Nā Kālai Waʻa in Waimea. “Native Hawaiians and our Pacific Island brothers and sisters have been challenged before. We know the pathway to resiliency.”

Bertelmann said she believes the messaging in the PSAs will resonate with the Kanaka, adding this is an opportunity for people to come together.

“This is one way we support and kākou our community,” Bertelmann said of her involvement with the PSA. “This will rest in the minds and na‘au; we have to mālama ourselves.”

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Throughout the pandemic, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have been disproportionately impacted by the virus. Recent data from the Department of Health shows that Pacific Islanders, Native Hawaiians and Filipinos still represent the most cases at 20% each. However, Pacific Islanders make up just 4% of the state’s population.

The NHPI Collective COVID-19 Awareness and Prevention Campaign is a hui (group) of leading organizations taking a cultural approach to stop the spread of COVID-19 and promote the safety and wellness of their communities. The coalition is led by the steering committee of Kamehameha Schools, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Kau‘i Burgess, director of community and government relations for Kamehameha Schools, said the Collective got together to create a PSA that specifically communicates to native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders through their culture.

“Navigation is a traditional practice and reminder of who we are,” Burgess said. “It touches us and resonates with us.”

The hui has been producing and releasing COVID-19 educational messages tailored specifically for the NHPI community since Fall 2020 and most recently partnered with local media personalities Kamaka Pili, Mele Apana and Shannon Scott to curate social media content addressing pandemic fatigue for younger audiences.

the hui member organizations plan to take a grassroots approach to distribute the new PSAs by sharing it on their social media channels, through e-blasts and on their websites.

Bertelmann and Burgess recalled a simple phrase coined by Bertelmann’s father Clayton Bertelmann: “He wa‘a he moku, he moku he wa‘a,” meaning, “The canoe is our island, and the island is our canoe.”

Bertelmann compared each Hawaiian island to a canoe, adding canoes can only sail if the community supports them.

“Each captain in the canoe knows what it needs to do to holomua,” she said.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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