LIHUE — Councilmember Felicia Cowden was not in attendance for Wednesday’s Kauai County Council meeting. She is traveling to Volgada, Russia to be a delegate at a Russian-American peace conference.
Cowden, who said earlier in the month that she would not be attending the conference in Russia, has now stated that she is attending the conference as a citizen rather than a councilmember. Cowden was required to provide the council with a written disclosure regarding the possibility of a conflict of interest in accepting a donation from the Russian Center of New York in the amount of $2,000-$3,000 for “travel-related expenses.”
It is yet unclear if Cowden accepted the donation or if she’s paying for the trip personally.
The council entertained a Russian Center of New York invitation for Cowden to attend the conference and an offer to pay for travel costs, but didn’t approve the trip at a May 8 meeting. It was after that meeting, that Cowden said she took herself off the guest list and announced she wasn’t going to Russia.
That, however, has changed.
“Honoring Kauai history with Ka‘eo Bradford and Lana Anderson as we leave for Russia tomorrow as guests of the Russian-American community attending The Fort Ross Dialogues in Vologda June 2-4, which is a cultural understanding of positive shared history and current collaborative efforts in Education, Science, and Business,” Cowden wrote of the trip on social media. “This seventh year of this event was started by California Governors Arnold Schwartenager and Gerry Brown. Kaua`i is on the agenda regarding Pa’ulaula, where the Russian sailors were a part of the design of King Kamualii’s Fort Elizabeth around his home.
“The fort was built with pohaku in Hawaiian fashion, rather than with a typical Russian wooden design. Most of its cannons were from the Russian ship that crashed in Waimea, the Bearing, (the Russian Ship,”Bering”) and was shaped in the Russian design to support the use of cannons.
“The most fascinating part of the history lesson to me has been the learning that there were roughly 300 Hawaiian women participating in the build including Alii Nui. I am attending as a citizen rather than as a Councilmember,” she continued in her social media post.
“There will be historians from both the Russian view and the Oahu view. The difference in perspectives centers on the Russian focus on Kamualii’s role where Oahu looks at the larger relationship between Kamehameha and Bavarian George Schaefer’s role representing the Russia America Company. The Russian perspective is most focused on that the relationship of the Russians on Kauai was not empirical. They were ship-wrecked and King Kamualii was generous to them in their short stay on Kauai in sparing their lives and hosting them.
“A Russian event was held on Kauai in October 2017 and will happen again in October 2019, each time following the Fort Ross event in California. It was pointed out to the Russian and Russian-American community that proper protocol would have been to ask permission first. This invitation is their response. Aunty Aletha Kaohi was a central guest but has recommended Ka‘eo Bradford in her place as her health may not handle the trip. This trip manifested on short notice. Several others of key Hawaiian presence were invited but unable to attend. In light of that change, I am back on the delegate roster. This is all part of a State Parks discussion regarding signage in Waimea.
“We have gratitude to the generosity of spirit behind this invitation that seeks primarily to have a positive connection to the community with a shared past. It is not a demand about the name of the park.”
The invitation was extended to Cowden by the Russian Center of New York President Elena Branson.