Future Search The Method

Hawaiian Community Uses FS to Reconnect with Traditional Values
By Sandra Janoff, Co-Director, FSN.

Ko'olau Loa District, Oahu, Hawaii, 1996: On the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii is a strip of rural land lying between the lush, green Ko'olau Loa mountains and the beautiful,blue Pacific. Seven coastal villages string together to make up the Ko'olau Loa district. The villages share a 1000-year-old culture based on family, community, spirituality and oneness with the earth, but the clash between Western ways and traditional values has upset the health, economy and lifestyle of the local people.

Ko'olau Loa has the largest proportion of native Hawaiians and is one of the few rural communities left in the state. Residents suffer from diabetes, obesity, hypertension, low employment, high rates of crime, drug and alcohol use, and teen-age births. Increasingly, young people are leaving the area to find work elsewhere. In early 1995, the Queen Emma Foundation, a trust that supports quality health care for Hawaiian communities, went into the Ko'olau Loa District looking to provide medical services.

Queen Emma held a town meeting in each of the seven towns. They were surprised to hear residents talking more about holistic health needs than about wanting a new clinic. People wanted to reclaim their traditional values, restore pride and safety in their community, regain a sense of unity of spirit, mind and body, and take care of their own. Queen Emma decided the next step would be a future search where people could shape their future together. It was held in February, 1996. And called "Ho'opono Ko'oloa Loa: A Community Effort to Restore Community Values." Queen Emma Foundation provided the resources.

Using Traditional Values in Planning

The planning committee was made up of residents from every walk of life, many from local families that went back generations. One of their first acts was to appoint a wise elder in the community as 'Conference Kapuna.' She was introduced as Auntie Malia Craver (a title of respect). Everyone understood her special role in the conference; the Kapuna embodies the story of the Hawaiian people and their spiritual belief system. Auntie Malia's function was to be present at each session, open the meeting with a Hawaiian language prayer, and share her wisdom and spirit when needed. She was the calm at the storm center of questions, excitement and skepticism about future search - a methodology from the mainland.

To start, we talked about the meaning and practice of future search. Immediately, planning committee members resonated with the notions of learning, building together and acting for common good. The Hawaiian language uses single words to capture complex notions of community -- words that have been passed on through generations. The word "laulima," for example, means, "it takes many hands to complete a task." "Ho'opono" means "bringing a community together to set things right." "Lokahi" means " unity of spirit, mind and body, of God, man and the universe." The planners saw in future search the characteristics of ancient practice - story telling, honoring the whole person, both head and heart, involving everyone in making things right and building a safe world for their children.

The planners also talked about other pressing community issues: They were fighting a proposal of a new sewage treatment plant to be built next to a hallowed burial site. Because of rising health care costs, the only hospital in the district was going to close its OB-GYN department. The drive to the nearest hospital, for women in labor, was additional 50 minutes. With a scattered population stretched along a 24-mile road, people in the villages had to travel long distances to go to schools, clinics, day care, shopping and other services. Moreover, residents of different towns were wary of each other. There was little communal spirit among them.

In this context, the planning committee made two critical decisions. They decided to bring together people on opposing sides of the most conflicting issues--people whose only contact had been through lawyers (business people, developers and community activists, for example). They also decided that this event had to be an expression of their culture and heritage as well as a search for their future.

The Future Search Conference

The conference opened and closed with a series of traditional Hawaiian rituals. At the start a procession of community people dressed in traditional clothes brought gifts to the conference benefactors, Queen Emma and Queen Lili'uokalani. A chant and a hula translated the meaning of their coming together into song and dance. Everyone in the conference received a lei made by local residents and the Auntie Malia blessed the work of the conference in a Hawaiian prayer. An event called "talk-story" took place during the evening of the first day. About 25 residents, from many Asian-Pacific cultures-- Tongan, Samoan, Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Caucasian--told personal stories connecting their lives to the life of the community. The second night people got together for a music night, singing Hawaiian songs and dancing the hula.

On the third day, participants discovered shared goals in conversation around future themes. Community residents said they wanted to be more actively involved in solving problems like drugs, alcohol, youth involvement and healthy living. When we asked who was ready to take responsibility for what, there was a defining moment that produced a shift in thinking from "what can I get?" to "what can I do?" Instead of looking to Queen Emma to provide the solutions, a respected community resident stood up: "We must organize ourselves first. We have to know what we can do for ourselves and then we can see what help we need. We cannot keep relying on everything from outside the community." Many heads nodded and then many people spoke up, acknowledging the need to reshape their relationship with outside organizations.

Through the three days of work, people focused their energies on healing, building, learning, sharing and taking responsibility with a spirit of aloha-the generous caring expression of openness that is the Hawaiians' gift to our society.

The task forces they formed focused on these issues: more youth involvement in community planning processes, creating a network to link together existing community organizations, initiating a health and wellness program that incorporates the practices of traditional and western medicine, creation of a master plan to address social, economic, and environmental structures for the ko'olau Loa district, and builing a pu'uhonua (a place of refuge) in each sector. Two months after the conference, there was a community-wide luau. Twenty-three hundred people came together, met each other, ate, sang, talked and recommitted to more community wide experiences together.

The Urge for Meaning and Purpose

In all of our conference experience (and most profoundly in this experience), people seek shared meaning in their lives and communities. The Hawaiians have a long history of living more in tune with their environment and preserving their culture through their rites, rituals and language. In society today there seems to be increasing urgency to find meaning and purpose, but no one knows how to do it in a world as diverse and complex as the one we live in. In future search conferences, we are beginning to create a greater capacity to deal with our complex world through a simple, affirming way. One unique capacity of successful societies is the ability to adapt new technologies for ancient purposes. In Hawaii we learned how easy and natural this can be.


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