Selected as one of seven national grant program recipients through the Native Hawaiian Career and Technical Education Program (NHCTEP), in partnership with Alu Like Inc, the KIRC's Hui Kāpehe college internship program offers work-related experience, community service learning, and job shadowing opportunities related to career and technical education (CTE) focusing on sustainability and Hawaiian culture. Through the program, students of Native Hawaiian descent participate in intensive internships in each of the KIRC's core program areas: Operations, Ocean, Restoration, Culture and Administration.
In preparation for our most recent newsletter, we interviewed 25 Kāpehe participants. Here, Boysie "Boy-Z" Burdett shares his story.
Out of 20 Kāpehe that accessed the island this past winter break, I might appear to be one of the older ones of the group because of my age. But from a college standpoint, I am actually the youngest one being that I am in my first semester in school with the goal of accomplishing a degree in Hawaiian Studies.
Seven years ago, the organization that I was working for suggested that I go to Master Gardener’s School to get certified in Native Gardening. We had a 2.5 acre native garden on the grounds of the Waimanalo Health Center enveloped with trees such as Kukui Nut, Milo and Kou.Ti-leaf plants draped the subterranean shrubs and Kupukupu and Lawae Ferns blanketed the grounds. This cooled down the temperature and controlled erosion tremendously. We also had a vegetable garden and other medicinal plants used for dietary practices. However, my parents along with my wife’s aging parents started to get sick and old and needed a lot of attention. I was so sad to walk away from such a grand privilege but family comes first. On top of that, we just adopted four kids from Foster Parent’s Hawaii who also needed my care. So, I had to step down and step aside in my pursuits of Native Gardening.
Sixty days prior to the trip (to Kaho`olawe), my wife of 40 years fell asleep and didn’t wake up. She was my biggest supporter and advocate of me being a native gardener and a good father in raising our children because I raised our children in gardens. And to me, gardens are way better than a farm because it doesn’t only provide food, but provides everything else you need that are essential. So I didn’t think of gardening for a long time until this privilege came along. It is as if my wife is guiding me and saying to me “keep gardening” and “do your gardening in a bigger garden this time – KAHO`OLAWE!”
What are you doing to help Kaho`olawe?
I was so grateful for the privilege of going to Kaho`olawe that that event still ignites a fire within me. Since returning from the island, it has changed and exhilarated my life tremendously. How? After returning, I couldn’t stop talking, and sharing experiences of that honored privilege. I must’ve had hundreds of hours of conversational speaking with others about the trip because everybody asked: “How was your trip?”, so I tell them and show them my pictures that I proudly collected and documented about our journeys. And you would be proud to know that my fellow interns embraced that same sentiments as well, for a number of them has already given power-point presentations with pictures about our visit to the Reserve. And with great enthusiasm, we encourage others to get involved on our next trip if possible.
Personally, I couldn’t help but get in the hang of sharing weekly pictures and text messages of our trip through my smartphone with groups of fellow students that went with us so this reminds them what we need to do and about the time we spent on Kaho`olawe. The pictures really tell the story. And when you’re in the picture, it really proves it. Prior to the trip, I did not know how to use a cell phone. My wife used to be my secretary for a long time and now that I’ve learned how to use it, I feel the needed privilege to share.
How did you view Kaho`olawe prior to volunteering on-island?
Prior to visiting, I always thought that was a place for the elite group of Hawaiian people, and never felt that it would have been accessible for someone like us (students). It changed my life for the good and brought my natural creative inclinations out of me by allowing me to use a gift that was given me at birth; that is to live and to work on natural lands and to speak about it by living and practicing nativities. It also helps me to live up to my middle name, “ma pa`a e kaleo” which is also the last line of the entrance oli that is chanted prior to entering Kaho`olawe.
How did that perspective change upon accessing the Reserve? How did it affect you?
After accessing the Reserve, it changed my perspective each passing day. After touching base and seeing the island in person, you develop more feelings about it that help you to have empathy for the `aina. After letting Kaho`olawe talk to you personally, it moves one to take action and do something about being in collective association with other interns with similar interests about the island. This also helps one to react with contributions such as love by giving voluntarily for the recovery efforts. However, it will take more than love. It will also take time and more visits by people like us in order for it to progress.
Why should others get involved with this cause/ What's so important about preserving this place for current and future generations of Hawaii residents?
Others should get involved because it was humans who desecrated this beautiful place so it will also take humans, modern technology and more diligence in applying these methods and many hands to put it back together and making it even better than what it was, because of the collective efforts.
It is important because it is our heritage as native Hawaiian people. There is a lot of Hawaiian heritage that is already lost and forgotten. Why should we let even this beautiful island be lost? Would one put his grandmother out on the streets and allow her to get lost? Would one stop getting food for his family to get and allow them to get lost also? Same as Kaho`olawe…It is the last place where native people can practice their culture and be Hawaiian and educate the world while doing it.
10 years from now, how would you like to see Kaho`olawe function?
10 years from now, I see Kaho`olawe as the biggest classroom (halau) in the state. I also see it as a modern day heiau built with many hands to include many others. I also see it as the oldest rain forest that needs to be redeveloped out on Kanaloa.
Do you see this internship impacting your future in any way? If so, how?
As a student, collectively with colleagues, we may contribute to the accuracy of knowledge and mo`olelo as well as traditions to putting it back, almost like how it was. As researchers, we should continue because this process not only validates but vindicates the native people of the land. It’s proof of the people who once lived here and call this place home. For culture, who do you think got the island back to the people in the first place? Wasn’t it P.K.O who practiced their culture and got the balls rolling? Why not all of us work together in putting it back to a beautiful land. Hell yea, I am fully involved and immersed now. I planted a grove of 20 Hau saplings and nearly 20 saplings of Milo and want to go back and see their progress. Many things that I am learning in class presently can contribute to progress too. I am currently trying to encourage native plants to grow in inhospitable areas like the Kaho`olawe Island Reserve.