What is Nā Koʻokoʻo?

Nā Koʻokoʻo is a Hawaiian leadership program for Kānaka Maoli and other students with strong commitments to Native Hawaiian communities. A primary goal is to help participants clarify their kuleana and to see their education in the context of uplifting the lāhui Kanaka and ʻāina. We look at how social science approaches can help us address pressing issues for Hawaiʻi, and we connect with community leaders who are aloha ʻāina and who are restoring kuleana relationships with specific ʻāina. Two courses are integrated over spring and summer

Summer & Spring 2020

We are excited to announce the opening of applications for the 2020 cohort of Nā Koʻokoʻo Hawaiian leadership program. This yearʻs cohort will be led by Prof. Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio.

Consisting of two courses in Hawaiian and Indigenous politics, this program prepares Hawaiian students to help their communities tackle pressing issues such as social movement building, aloha ʻāina and governance. Participants will earn six upper-division credits and three focus designations in this community-engaged course series.

Spring '17 - Nā Koʻokoʻo: Educate. Support. Lead. Ea.

Consisting of two courses in Ethnic Studies supported by Native Hawaiian Student Services Eia Mānoa and the College of Social Sciences, this program prepares Hawaiian students and allies to help their communities address such issues as sacred site protection, 'āina (land and water) restoration, and ea (sovereignty) regeneration. Participants will earn six upper division credits and several focus designations in this community-engaged series, which will include a trip to Kanaloa Kaho'olawe in April and a koʻokoʻo (wooden staff) carving and training workshop.


ES 455c: Hawaiian Sovereignty in Pacific Context, Spring 2017

  • Native Hawaiian and Pacific struggles over land, water, and government
  • Hawaiian, Asian & Pacific issues (HAP), Ethics (E), and Writing-Intensive (WI) foci
  • Emphasis on application and engagement in Hawaiian issues
  • Tues/Thurs, 10:30-11:45
  • Sakamaki Innovation Zone Room D103

ES 496: Special Topics-Hawaiian Leadership, Summer 2017

  • Leadership and oratory skill development
  • An Oral (O) focus (expected)
  • 3 week intensive: 5/22-6/9; M-F, 9-12
  • Free tuition

To apply, contact Prof. Ty Kāwika Tengan at ttengan@hawaii.edu

Freshmen welcome to apply

Nā Koʻokoʻo Promo Video


Nā Koʻokoʻo

Summer '16 - Nā Koʻokoʻo: A Hawaiian Leadership Program

In June 2016, the inaugural cohort of undergraduate students successfully completed Nā Koʻokoʻo, a leadership program that is part of the College of Social Sciences' Native Hawaiian Initiative. The program is rooted in Kanaka Maoli perspectives and led by Native Hawaiian faculty in the college. Through a series of two courses and two immersive community-engaged experiences with Hawaiian organizations, students learned how to meaningfully take their academic work beyond the university campus and to see themselves as emerging leaders who carry responsibilities to the 'āina (land/water) and kānaka (people) of Hawaiʻi. By taking students outside of the classroom to work the land in partnership with communities who are already doing this work, they were introduced to ʻŌiwi frameworks of governance and diplomacy.

The inaugural cohort of undergraduate students successfully completed Nā Koʻokoʻo

This year's Nā Koʻokoʻo cohort focused on issues of governance amidst climate change. The program began with a course in "Contemporary Native Hawaiian Politics," coupled with a waʻa-training camp in partnership with the Kānehūnāmoku Voyaging Academy. While planning for their preferred futures in times when sea-levels will be rising, precipitation patterns changing and fossil fuels becoming more scarce and dangerous, students got to learn firsthand about how ancestral Hawaiian ways of traversing and relating to the ocean can be important pathways forward. They also critically examined the constitutional-drafting process that was taking place within the ʻAha 2016, held this past spring.

During summer session, Nā Koʻokoʻo participants spent a week at Keawanui fishpond on Molokaʻi as part of their "Introduction to Indigenous Politics" course. This partnership with Hui o Kuapā, a Molokaʻi-based non-profit focused on revitalizing traditional Hawaiian fishponds, allowed students to think about constituting Indigenous governance in expansive ways. They drafted written, visual and musical constitutions, reflecting shared values and innovative government designs, inspired by what they learned while in residence on Molokaʻi.

"I learned that I am integral in the ecosystem and my awareness of this system makes me a participant rather than just a leech. Too often I feel like I am not fully participating in my environment when I am living in the city. When I was living on the fishpond I could see how I was a part of the ecosystem because I was eating what I was growing and catching," one student explained.

Another exclaimed, "In the five days we spent there [on Moloka'i], I felt so connected to the land and aloha ʻāina as a whole. Although this type of work and experience may not be for everyone, it is for every Hawaiian. This type of living and this type of mindset CAN CHANGE THE WORLD."

Through the Nā Koʻokoʻo program, Native Hawaiian students were provided with skills and abilities that allowed them to help their communities tackle pressing issues, while also, earning six upper division credits and covering four general education focus designations as part of this community-engaged program. The 2016 inaugural cohort was led by Professor Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, and next year's 2017 cohort will be led by Professor Ty Kāwika Tengan.

The name of this new program comes from the word, "koʻokoʻo," which can refer to a walking stick or staff that one uses to lean on as they walk. The program aims to build a support system for Native Hawaiian students and others who have commitments to Native Hawaiian communities, and it also aims to train them to become a new generation of koʻokoʻo, supporting their communities and supporting change.  Reflecting on the program, one student stated, "there is so much that I can do to help my community and lāhui with the knowledge that am gaining in school and through these types of experiences."

Through Nā Koʻokoʻo, students develop the skills and confidence to become community leaders. A koʻokoʻo can only provide such support by being planting firmly on the ground. Just like the koʻokoʻo, student participants learn that to be a pillar of community support, one needs to be firmly rooted in ʻāina and lāhui.

For more information, or if you want to refer a potential student to this program, contact Professor Goodyear-Kaʻōpua at goodyear@hawaii.edu or Professor Tengan at ttengan@hawaii.edu.