November is American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Heritage Month

November 10, 2021

NativeAmerican.jpegNovember is American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Heritage Month, and in celebration, please meet member Mary Watai-Navas, a Patient Access Representative at Capital Region Medical Center in Largo, Maryland.

Mary grew up in Hawai’i and moved to Pennsylvania 5 years ago, and Maryland 3 years ago. She most strongly identifies as native Hawaiian, and she also has Japanese and Cherokee heritage.

“Growing up in Hawaii, everyone seems to think it’s paradise, but we have our hardships as well,” Mary explained. “There’s a lot of cultural repression that happened when the first pioneers came over, a lot of our culture was lost because it was banned. But now it’s being brought back.”

For Mary, living in Hawai’i means eating lots of seafood, boar, and fresh fruits and vegetables. “I probably don’t eat as many fruits and vegetables as I used to just because it’s harder to get,” she said. “I can’t just get it free anymore. I have to go to the grocery story, but living in Hawaii, a lot of our resources are either grown there, foraged, or we go hunting or fishing.”

Mary described what Hawai’i locals call the “Aloha spirit,” saying, “it just means that you’re kind to others, you treat everyone like you’re family. It’s just a feeling, like I’m welcome, I’m loved there – even if it’s a stranger – and you don’t typically find that everywhere.” One aspect of Hawaiian life that Mary tries to bring to her life in Maryland is urging people “to recycle and to care for our land.”

Mary explained that native Hawaiian have a complicated relationship with being part of America because of colonization. “Hawaii was illegally annexed. It was a monarchy before, it was its own kingdom, and it was run in its own way. Our last monarch Queen LiliÊ»uokalani was presented with either being annexed by gunpoint or she was going to have to deal with bloodshed for her people. So that’s why many Hawaiians have a problem with it.”

If you visit Hawai’i, Mary urges you to be a “traveler, not a tourist.” She explained, “If you’re a tourist, you may not be as respectful of the places you visit. But if you’re a traveler, you’re curious, you respect where you’re going, and pick up after yourself. There is a lot of sacred land in Hawai’i, and some tourists aren’t educated before they come, and they cross the lines and go into the sacred land.”