Nā HALE: A home for Pacific Islander well-being

Story and slideshow by MARISSA SITTLER

In Hawaiian, nā hale means “the houses,” a word that embodies the sense of traditional Hawaiian community. This word is the driving force behind the newly formed umbrella organization for Pacific Islander wellness and resources. HALE is an acronym for Health, Advocacy, Leadership and Education.

Some of the strongest leaders of Utah’s Pacific Islander community came together to hatch the idea of Nā HALE. The idea was devised by members of the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition, the University of Utah Pacific Islander Studies Initiative, Margarita Satini from Utah Pacific Islander Civic Engagement Coalition and Charlene Lui from Hui Hawai’i O Utah Hawaiian Civic Club.

The first formal meeting took place in January 2016. During that meeting, an exploratory committee was formed “to research different collaboration models, bylaws and articles of incorporation, and membership structures of existing organizations in other states,” said Jake Fitisemanu Jr. in an email interview. He is the acting chair of the steering committee that is tasked with preparing Nā HALE to become a more formal entity. He is also the council member for District 4 in West Valley City, Utah. 

In April 2016, the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition unanimously supported the proposal to create a statewide umbrella group. It was one month later that the name Nā HALE was chosen.

Pacific Islanders have a strong sense of family and community, so it is only natural that many of the already formed Pacific Islander resource groups are some of the main collaborators for this project. In addition to the founding organizations, Fitisemanu said local groups including Queen Center, National Tongan American Society, Beyond Culture, Utah Pacific Islander Behavioral Health Association, Samoana Integrated Language Initiative, Southern Utah Pacific Islander Coalition, Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resource and PEAU Artists Collective are all main members of Nā HALE.

Charlene Lui, director of educational equity for Granite School Districts, is native Hawaiian and has lived in Utah since the 1970s. She and her husband, who is Tongan, have been very involved in the Pacific Islander community in Utah through various groups, such as Hui Hawaiʻi O Utah and the National Tongan American Society.

Lui said in a phone interview that collectively, they have always wanted to strengthen the Pacific Islander community by organizing a group somehow. She sees Nā HALE as “trying to bring everybody together under one umbrella and to strengthen and maximize what every group group does, to collectively share our resources.”

Dr. Kalani Raphael, who is a kidney, electrolytes and high blood pressure specialist at the University of Utah School of Medicine and one of the key members of Nā HALE’s formation, said in a phone interview that the importance of Nā HALE “boils down to recognizing that there’s a lot of disparities in health, economics and incarceration in the Pacific Islander community.” He adds, “We can and should be doing better.”

Fitisemanu sees Nā HALE as a way to strengthen each individual organization’s capacity and reach. “This kind of network can facilitate resource pooling as well as information sharing; for example, a program that has been successful in the Samoan community might be more readily adopted as a best practice among the Tongan community. It also creates opportunity for more impactful civic engagement, when communities can band together and promote policies that are in the best interest of underrepresented communities,” he said.

While Nā HALE is a solidified concept, it is still just that — a concept. The individuals who are working on this project also have full-time careers, which can make it difficult to dedicate extra time to Nā HALE’s formal creation. Despite this, the umbrella organization already has a strong presence in the Pacific Islander community. It was featured as a community-based initiative during the American Public Health Association conference in October 2016 in Denver and was introduced to national partners across the United States and the Pacific territories in May 2017 during a webinar hosted by the Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander National Network in Los Angeles.

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