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The Art of Kūkākūkā

October 26, 2011

By Alison Freese
Senior Program Officer, Native American/Native Hawaiian Library Services, IMLS

Have you ever attended a keynote address where the speaker presents an idea and then says: “Now pair off with someone sitting near you and kūkākūkā about that for three minutes?” Excuse me?

That was the beginning of the joint conference of the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums, Western Museums Association, Hawaii Museums Association, and Pacific Islands Museums Association in Honolulu, HI, September 23 through 26, 2011. But by the time Dr. Manulani Aluli Meyer asked us to kūkākūkā, or “discuss.” one of her ideas again, all 600 audience members were ready to share their thoughts.   Soon we were engrossed in deep conversation about mind-opening concepts, such as holographic epistemology and the premise that “all nouns are verbs.” What a way to start a conference!

And the rest was just as special, infused with Hawaiian meaning and aloha spirit.

  • The welcoming ceremony of chant and hula that opened the conference on Saturday morning honored the deity Kāne, embodied in the form of ‘awa, or kava. Orchid leis adorned every member of the audience who observed in silence as the celebrants and distinguished guests participated in the ‘aha ‘awa ceremony to begin the conference in the right way.
  • The preconference workshop “Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike (Knowledge is Gained by Doing), where first time lei-makers learned that the intrinsic lesson of the lei was not only the impermanence of  the beautiful flowers, but indeed of life itself, and that both should be enjoyed for the moment. Did we learn from that? It’s doubtful, since most of us put our leis in the hotel fridge to make them last a little longer….

Amelia Flores, Library Director, Colorado River Indian Tribes, with the leis she created.

My focus was the tribal library track of presentations, including:

  • Poster sessions by 30 IMLS Native American/Native Hawaiian Library Services grantees who “kūkākūkā’d” about their library projects and the impact on their communities. Their photos, text, and personal stories introduced us to wonderful people and places we won’t ever have the chance to visit in person.

Poster session with Tamara Sandia and Maureen Wacondo of the Jemez Pueblo Community Library, New Mexico, and IMLS Advisory Board member, Lotsee Patterson


  • An update on “Mukurtu” by Kimberly Christen, who is leading a team to develop a digital archive tool for managing traditional knowledge. The project just received a $484,772 IMLS National Leadership Grant for further deployment and evaluation; and
  • Background on the National Broadband Plan and its importance for tribal libraries as anchor institutions by Traci Morris, a member of the Digital Inclusion Working Group that authored the IMLS-sponsored Framework for Building Digitally Inclusive Communities.

And there was so much more. Mahalo to everyone who made this unforgettable experience possible!