Honors for keeping it local

The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority is once again seeking nominations for individuals, businesses and organizations that “Keep It Hawai‘i.”

The awards program, now in its 16th year, recognizes leaders who foster and preserve Hawaiian culture through programs, events or activities for visitors and residents.

Keliihoalani Wilson, cultural coordinator for Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, said she has received 25 nominations to date and expects that number to double.

“(The nominees) are really making a difference and setting an example for other businesses, organizations and individuals,” Wilson said. “A lot of people really put their heart into what they do.”

On the importance of highlighting cultural programs, Wilson said it’s impossible to separate the Hawaiian experience — as a visitor or resident — from the Hawaiian culture.

“The host culture is really the backbone of all the experiences and the lives of people who live here,” Wilson said. “The reason people keep coming here more and more to visit … is because they’re interested in learning about Hawaiian culture.”

The state authority fosters local programs that are authentically and uniquely Hawaiian, as they often serve the primary forum for cultural exchange.

“That’s really the connection that visitors have with the residents and vice versa,” she said of the tourism sector.

The “Keep It Hawai‘i” program was passed to the authority from the Hawai‘i Visitors and Convention Bureau in 2005 to give it a chance to grow. Because the authority is concurrently working on cultivating its Hawaiian culture initiative, the switch proved to be a good match.

Awards fall into three categories (individual, organization and business) for each of the six major islands, as well as an out-of-state category.

In addition, the Koa Award goes to one recipient who has demonstrated a “long-term and exemplary commitment to perpetuating and preserving Hawai‘i’s host culture,” according to a prepared statement from its administrators.

Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens was Kaua‘i’s organization recipient last year. CEO Joyce Doty said the nonprofit garden’s Ahupua‘a sculptural project — nominated anonymously for the award — was created to provide a place of beauty and learning.

As such, the garden features bronzed sculptures and native plants that tell the story of early Hawaiian life from the mountains to the ocean.

According to Doty, Hawaiian artist Holly Young created the sculptures, which were modeled after Hawaiians and depict activities that were part of life during that time.

In addition to regular tours of the other gardens on-site, a special tour of Ahupua‘a has been created for fourth-grade students to complement their Hawaiian history curriculum

“We love Kaua‘i,” Doty said. “This is one of those things that we wanted to preserve.”

Nominations are judged on authenticity, usage, uniqueness, educational value, longevity and commitment to the future. According to the tourism authority, when selecting award recipients, judges are looking for:

• A demonstrated commitment to honor and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture and community by strengthening the relationship between the visitor industry and the Hawaiian community.

• Creative and responsible efforts to showcase the Native Hawaiian culture, presenting or providing visitors and residents with opportunities to experience the authentic culture.

The authority’s Hawaiian Cultural Program Advisory Council, comprised of members of the Hawaiian community and the visitor industry, will review the nominations and select the winners.

Applications will be accepted through 4:30 p.m. on July 25. Recipients will be announced at a ceremony Aug. 28 at the Hawai‘i Convention Center on O‘ahu.

There is no charge to submit nominations or entries. For more information or an application, visit www.hawaiitourismauthority.org.

Those interested can send completed entries or nominations to:

HTA, Hawai‘i Convention Center, Floor 1, 1801 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, HI 96815, or call Program Administrator Martin Schiller at 227-6002 or 531-1800, or via e-mail at mschiller@tsg-hawaii.com.

• Blake Jones, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com.

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