Ruthanne Lum McCunn re: Polly Bemis
Interview by Sara Kolbet
1 Disc, 44:42, 16 Tracks
TRACK 1 – 1:53
Ruthanne Lum McCunn re: Polly Bemis
Interview by Sara Kolbet
1 Disc, 44:42, 16 Tracks
TRACK 1 – 1:53
Interview with Rick Lebus
S: So do you mind saying “I’m” and your name and you were talking about Hawaiians and their pride.
R: I’m Richard Canejo Lebus, I am part Hawaiian. And what I find interesting about Janice Duncan is this is written in 1972 and she has the population estimated at 300,000 and one of the things that the houlees tried to do early on was try to diminish the Hawaiians, their population, their ability to navigate 6, 7 thousand miles across the ocean, to all these island groups. Particularly when Captain Cook showed up they just were absolutely stunned that this group of Polynesians had made it all the way this far north. And there are no stars when you cross the equator, there are no starts to read. You’re in the southern hemisphere. And they were just absolutely fascinated and they couldn’t believe that they could actually have gotten there. And of course there’s the Kontiki book about the Polynesians, this group of people might have come from South America, but the Hawaiians actually came from the Asian continent and navigated across something like 25,000 nautical miles. And probably, because there’s all kinds of records of their voyages to North America. There’s just similarities to the Macaw Indians. If you look at the Macaw Indians they use the same kind of nets that the Hawaiians use. They had dugout canoes that they fished out to sea with. Their petroglyphs are the same. and so it was just natural for the Hawaiians to travel on. If you sailed to Hawaii from the south Pacific you almost had to sail northeast and then tack back the other way with the trade winds and the Hawaiians also logs, throw a log out from Washington or Oregon, it’ll end up in Hawaii. Just washes up shore. And you see these trees coming. And when the Europeans showed up they actually had trees, had canoes, double hull canoes that were made from pine trees and things like that that had come from the Pacific Northwest, so you know the Hawaiians must have traveled there cuz they knew the trees came there. A lot of people said that wasn’t the case, but anyway. And the population was probably about half a million based on land divisions they had in Hawaii and the way they managed their lands. All I can say about Hawaiians in the Northwest is particularly this book, Kanakas, is the observation by people who are Americans and other Europeans who came to the Northwest and who observed these people in their diaries and usually with prejudice, they were prejudiced against any people that were brown. Or dark-skinned. And they really were impressed at the ability of these Hawaiian men and women. There are all kinds of unique stories. and if you look at the Hawaiian people and their land divisions and how they work. is everybody had an important role up and down the land division. From the person who worked up in the mountain to quarry the rocks to make the adze, the stone tools. And then the farmer who terraced the land and grow his tarot and everything else, and then down below you had the fishing village, and there everybody worked together as one group. And they competed amongst each other, each land division to see who could produce the most. And what they found, what Europeans found when they first encountered the Hawaiians was they are excellent navigators, which is why they took them on the ships. Within days they would learn how to sail even the largest ships, then when they were brought over to Fort Vancouver, it was their swimming abilities, particularly when the ships would come to shore, they had to come out in these rowboats and a lot of times they would get tossed in the surf and Hawaiians were there to basically save people out of the surf. There’s some amazing stories in that book Kanakas, the Untold Story. One of the stories is that there’s very little record of the old religion and how things were done. And there’s actually a diary, written in a diary of this one woman who was observing this Hawaiian who had died trying to save these people who had fallen in the ocean and had actually drug them out with his teeth, and he finally succumbed to exposure and she also noted in her diary how they had buried him, what they did. They salted him…and they turned a certain way. a priest came, somebody who was apparently a priest came, a Kahuna, and gave a Hawaiian ceremony, something you never see. That was all outlawed and was forgotten and that’s what I find interesting about that book. And that’s why I give it to Hawaiians who come here because they don’t know – a lot of them don’t know about Hawaiians who came to the Pacific Northwest. In the 1800s, 1805 or so, this land had to be, was forested all the way down to the rivers, to the Willamette, the Columbia, it was dense, it was wet. It was extremely hard to survive here. And these people were coming from an island where the temperatures were 70, 80 degrees and they managed and did very well. And that’s the thing about the Polynesians, Hawaiians is they were very adaptable people. When Cook showed up in 1778 they had no written language. By 1840 they had a constitutional monarchy. That’s quite a big jump from no written language to a constitutional monarchy with a right to vote. And they were adaptable. That’s what made them survive. And they took those skills of adapting and went to the Pacific Northwest and adapted to those conditions in Fort Vancouver. For me, as a Hawaiian, I take pride in that, because we’ve lost so much of our culture that there’s not a lot of examples to go by, for people to admire to see how they did it, so for me the Kanakas in the Northwest is an interesting story.
Larry Bell re: being a Hawaiian Descendant in the Pacific Northwest
Recording by Sara Kolbet
1 Disc – second half of Cathy Roland – 44:44 – 6 Tracks
TRACK 7 – 10:03
LARRY: I am Larry Bell and I am European, Cosalish and Hawaiian. On my Hawaiian side I am descendant of William Mahoi, Hawaiian laborer to the northwest Coast of North America, a man who came here, I’m going to say here to the northwest coast in the early 1800s. I would say the 1840s is the best guess estimate based on the information we have, and who was buried on Salt Spring Island around the year 1881. William Mahoi came here originally from my understanding to work at Fort Vancouver in what is now Washington, Oregon state area as a laborer, at the farm area there, and would have worked in other areas such as Fort Rupert, Fort Victoria, where again he worked there as a laborer for a short period of time – up until around the 1850s and that area of time. And then had at least one daughter, his daughter was named Maria Mahoi, and she would have been my great-grandmother. The information I’m providing now is really based on my research. And when I say my research, that really involves talking to other people, some of the other people you’ve already mentioned, Jean Barman and Tom Koppel.
Where I’m fortunate is that many people have done the research before I came along. I started doing my research before the whole subject of Hawaiians in the NW coast became popular, or more popular than it was. I don’t mind saying that these group of people in my estimation were a forgotten people and little was known about their history. I always knew that I was part Hawaiian. That name, Maria Mahoi, was always known to me and my family. It was known as a name Maria Mahoi Kamehele. That last part was really unknown how to spell it. And while that name, as she was my great-grandmother was known, there was a certain unknown-ness to it. A ghostlike image of who was she, what was this Hawaiian involvement about? And no one seemed to have an understanding of it. Certainly in my family’s history. I was fortunate one day to have my wife show me an article in the Vancouver Sun, a major newspaper in British Columbia, and there in black and white, on the pages of the Vancouver Sun, was my great-grandmother’s name, Maria Mahoi, with her relationship to an ancestor I didn’t know by the name of Mel Couvelier, who was a previous provincial minister of finance in the province of BC. So here I am in my 30s and seeing my great-grandmother’s name in the newspaper and that was, I don’t mind saying, quite shocking. Who was she to be involved in a newspaper article was quite a surprise to me. But it did say a few things that came as more of a surprise. That it mentioned the Hawaiian connection and it also mentioned that she was part First Nations. So before that I didn’t know I was part First Nations, or as you may call it in the states, North American Indian. I didn’t know that then, and it also explained the Hawaiian connection to William Mahoi, her father, and that he was an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company. So from that article there, I don’t mind saying that I became intrigued, my wife would say addicted, to finding out about my ancestry. And at the time it was a challenge because there was no books written on the subject and where did I start? And I had to start somewhere, and I did that by talking to people like Professor Jean Barman. I went to her house and she opened her doors and showed me pictures of my grandmother, Mary Jane Fisher, and told me some stories about her and told me stories about Maria Mahoi – things I had never known. And a little bit of information on the Hawaiian connection. But I still had to find out more for myself, and I started doing that by reading a thesis. I contacted and visited Mali Naughton, who is a University Professor at University of Western Washington, who wrote one of the earliest theses on the whole subject, which resulted in an article I think in the Honolulu press on the forgotten Hawaiians. Because these were indeed a group of people who were barely mentioned in history books. I say I had to find out who these people were. I would open a book and I would explore historical tracts or novels or books on Vancouver history, Vancouver Island history, British Columbia history, Oregon history, etc, and then you would read a sentence or two about a group of people who came here, and I don’t mind saying it was annoying. Here these people played such a major role on the early pioneer development of western North America and in some major books they deserve less than a word. So I had to find out more. So I did that, as I say, by talking to people, but I also became a bit of an activist in terms of promoting Hawaiian history. So going backwards I started talking to people. It was prior to Tom Koppel writing his book. But fortunately he did write his book and he was a great resource for me to find out about the Hawaiian connection. I was also able to talk to another lady by the name of Mali Alaine, who I think wrote maybe the first thesis on the Pacific Islanders or the Hawaiians coming to the NW coast, and it featured areas around Vancouver here. So again I did research, I found out who these Hawaiians were, what their connections were to me, when it came down to it, and I also became promoting Hawaiian history, because again I was angry that these people were forgotten. So I started doing that by trying to encourage ancestors of their Kanaka or Hawaiians around. We started having Hawaiian connections in the mainland area. The first one was in Langley. And then there was one in Balcava Park in North Burnaby, Deep Cove area in Vancouver, and there were a few other ones in North Vancouver. And that was a few years ago, and I don’t mind saying I’m kind of walked away from that. But the concept was to get these people together, find out who we’re related to and find our common histories and make a connection with each other and with our ancestors. One of the more positive aspects I’ve had with the promotion of Hawaiian history was that probably about twelve years ago or so I was successful in getting a few projects off the ground by forming partnerships between different levels of government. Sometimes including First Nations people, sometimes the Office of Hawaiian Affairs into I’ll call it signage to notate both a sign at Kanaka Creek, which is located outside of Maple Creek, which is in British Columbia, and signage to commemorate the Hawaiians also at Russell Island, Portland Island, and one also at Salt Spring Island I had some involvement with. As I say, partnerships. That involved expertise and money from the governments and involvement with the wording. I’ll stop there for a second.