Gifts from the Heart

Forming medicine through unity at fundraiser for Lahaina

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

On Saturday, September 23, Nakani Native Program hosted a heartwarming, cross-cultural fundraiser at the Tulalip Amphitheatre to support recovery efforts for the Lahaina community devastated by wildfires on the island of Maui. 

For those readers unaware, Lahaina, the former capital of the Hawaiian kingdom, made national headlines in August after being destroyed by wildfires. The rural island town known for its cultural vibrancy has 13,000 community residents now reeling in the tragic aftermath. Many organizations and nonprofits are working to support recovery efforts, from medical supplies and financial aid to clothing, hygiene products, and basic household items. 

As a Native American sovereign, Tulalip intrinsically holds a strong connection with Native Hawaiian communities located across the islands. Our cultures, separated by the Pacific Ocean, are geographically distant but spiritually linked. For Tulalip tribal members like Martin Napeahi, this connection is deepened through kinship ties and family relations. His mother is Tulalip elder Annette Napeahi and his father is a military veteran originally from Hilo, Hawaii. 

“Our organization strives to serve all our Native people, which includes Native Americans, First Nations, Polynesians, Hawaiians, Samoans, Tongans, and more,” explained Martin, who holds the prestigious title of Nakani Program Director. “We are the same people. We share the same blood. We share the same trials and tribulations. And why we are here today is because we also share the same deep connection and love for our land.

“This fundraiser for the people of Lahaina is to try and do something truly impactful for our brothers and sisters who lost so much,” he continued. “I’m thankful for Tulalip hosting and beyond grateful for all those who traveled here today to take part in this healing for Lahaina.”

Cultural performances from across the islander spectrum were received with great joy by fundraiser attendees as they sat under the amphitheater tarps to avoid the gusting winds and torrential downpours. While physically cold in the frigid fall temperature, their hearts were warmed by weather-proof performances that went on undeterred.

Tulalip culture bearer Andy William, flanked by Martin, offered songs accompanied by traditional hand drum beats. Samoan youth from Auburn-based Faatasi Performing Arts sang and danced with a rhythm all their own, overcoming their pre-performance shivering and exposed, cold feet, that overwhelmed the crowd to give generously. 

“We are so honored to be a part of this event and offer our support for the families in Mauri,” said Fia Taito, youth group coordinator. “These amazing children, ranging from age 5 to 10 years old, practiced so hard to memorize the actions and words of each song presentation. And look. We’ve been blessed as the rain has paused just for us.”

Fia then asked her youth-led Faatasi group to state their mission. To which the kids yelled in unison, “Our mission is to bring community together through arts of love! Serving one family at a time! Hooah hooah!” 

Over the course of the 6-hour long fundraising event, attendees were encouraged to buy raffle tickets, lunch and dinner plates loaded with local cuisine, or simply donate funds via a QR code on their phones. It was stated repeatedly that 100% of all proceeds are going to the Kako’o Maui Fund to support those affected by the western Maui wildfires.

In the weeks preceding the fundraiser, Nakani staff worked tirelessly to garner support among local tribes and Native artisans to create culture-filled gifts and donation baskets that were used as further incentives to purchase raffle tickets. Raffle prizes included a hand-carved and painted paddle by Martin, an original print by Monie Ordonia, Devil’s Club drum earrings by Kiera Blum, a wool skirt and earring set by Krislyn Parks, an assortment of 8th Generation blankets, and much more.

“It took a ton of coordination to collect these wonderful donations from Native artists and Native-owned businesses across the Coast Salish territories. It was a four-week labor of love that was only possible because of the team we have,” shared Linzie Crofoot, NaKani’s traditional medicine director.

“The foundation of our medicine is love,” she added. “So when we are doing anything and we’re doing it with love, whether it’s within our community or for those outside of our community, then we are practicing medicine and doing healing work. In essence, we are using our love as a means to heal, and that’s what gifts from the heart are truly about. This is us sending our love to our relatives in Lahaina, who we feel deeply for, in the best way we know how, and in keeping with our traditions as Native people.”