Vale Dr Peter Hanohano

Vale Dr Peter Hanohano


In late October I received the news of the sad passing of Native Hawaiian educator and philosopher Dr Peter Hanohano. Peter lost his battle with cancer and passed leaving a profound legacy of inspired leadership and an advocacy for culturally grounded education.

My first memory of meeting Peter was during WIPCE 1993 and I was immediately struck by his soft gentle presence. Peter was a gifted educator with a heart the size of his beloved Hawaii. Peter’s education philosophy is captured in his doctoral dissertation: “Restoring the Sacred Circle – Education for Culturally Responsive Native Families” which focused on lessons for schools and how Indigenous families could incorporate these lessons into their lives thereby enriching sites of knowledge with culturally resilient and grounded pedagogical and life lessons.

The last time I saw Peter was in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 2017 when we were attending the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPCE), a triennial world gathering of delegates dedicated to the notion that culturally responsive and academically enriching education is a powerful tool for positive change and transformation.

Peter was a true warrior and he embraced a passion for learning that is best captured in the bio he shared for the 2017 WIPCE inaugural master classes. Peter’s bio includes a statement from his mother who was once asked why he had such a keen interest for learning. Peter’s mother attributed his curiosity for learning to a time when still in diapers, his grandfather would sit him on the kitchen counter to thumb through his medical encyclopedia looking at transparencies of the human skeletal structure, and the blood and muscular systems. He was fascinated by these images, and that prompted his desire to read and to learn.

Peter was a regular at WIPCE events and he worked hard behind the scenes to promote the ideals of WIPCE and the principles and values upon which it was created. Peter was one of the people I most looked forward to reconnecting with because his wisdom and grace made the most challenging of times so much more bearable. Peter was one of those rare souls whose presence, insights and smile could both disarm and empower.

In 2016 the WIPCE Council decided to prepare its draft Handbook to guide the hosting of WIPCE events and I reached out to Peter for advice about where a small group of writers could meet in Hawaii to work on the draft. Peter suggested a host venue and also attended the writing workshop to help guide the preparation of the handbook. This is the type of man and thinker Peter was, generous and accommodating to a fault with a vision that made dreams possible and hope a reality.

I had turned to Peter previously when we were finalising the draft of the Coolangatta Statement in the run up to WIPCE 1999. Peter helped to guide the finalisation of the document during a special 2-day workshop for this purpose held prior to the 1999 WIPCE which was held in Hawaii on the big island of Hilo.

When the WIPCE Council decided to devote a sharing and learning circle to review and upgrade the Coolangatta Statement during the WIPCE 2020, now 2022, conference, Peter was one of the first people I invited to co-host the sharing and learning circle. I share Peter’s response to my email because it’s an example of how noble and magnanimous, he truly was:

Yaama-Aloha dear brother, thank you for thinking of me, and it is my honour to assist in this very important update to the Coolangatta Statement for the next generations of Native, Indigenous and Aboriginal peoples worldwide. So, yes, please count me in, and so looking forward to our gathering in Adelaide for WIPCE 2020. Take care my brother and Mahalo Nui (many thanks) for this wonderful opportunity, your Hawaiian brother, Peter.

The global struggle for Indigenous people’s rights and freedoms is at times tortuous and ever demanding taking people to places of despair and questioning our resolve but then people like Peter bring intellect, vision and hope to our journey and everything seems possible again. The proverbial light at the end of a dark tunnel.

No doubt there will be other statements attesting to Peter’s contribution to Indigenous and Hawaiian education and whilst the tenor of this statement is a mainly a personal reflection, the statement is also made on behalf of the WIPCE Council and WIPCE founder and patron, Verna J. Kirkness because Peter was such a valued and respected stalwart of the WIPCE family. We offer our condolences to Peter’s family and his countless friends, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, scattered throughout the world.

The world was enriched by Peter’s presence and his passing is a void that will be hard to fill. We will say a prayer and cherish his memory always.

RIP Brother, your work here has been done.