The People’s Voice

Kanoe Ahuna with husband Dan and their three sons Kaikea, Kilikai and Kaiehu

Kanoe Ahuna is one resilient wahine, with the kind of tenacity most people only dream of. While running for Senate last year and enduring the trials and tribulations of campaigning, she also faced the unthinkable: Her son Kaikea “Rocket” (15) was diagnosed with bone cancer.

“It was a crazy roller coaster ride, especially not knowing what to expect,” says Ahuna.

Yet, she figured out a way to get through it all.

“Somehow women figure out a way to balance things,” says Ahuna. “Women as community advocates bring so much different character to the table than males do because we have that innate nurturing ability that helps keep balance.”

Ahuna chats with Sean Mahoney, a fellow County of Kauai Planning Committee member, during a short recess COCO ZICKOS PHOTO

She also found strength within her family. In fact, Kaikea was the one who encouraged her not to quit her campaign, and was often by his mother’s side going door-to-door and sign-waving along the side of the highway.

While she didn’t end up winning a seat, her life took a turn for the better. After undergoing surgeries at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in California, Kaikea was deemed in remission.

Kanoe Ahuna recently was appointed to the county Planning Commission

Now, besides making sure her family continues to be healthy and happy, Ahuna uses her “extra” time and energy on cultural and environmental conservation. That’s why she accepted a position on the County of Kauai Planning Commission last year, in order to be an advocate for the community and focus on preservation. Her role as a planning commissioner is voluntary but requires the kind of dedication that only someone like Ahuna can manage.

“Even just grocery shopping, people stop you, and you have to be open to that because it’s important to hear what they have to say,” says Ahuna, who, with Dan Ahuna, an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, has two other sons, Kilikai (17) and Kaiehu (8).

Even when she’s facing her own personal crises, she makes it a point to listen to everyone and bring their concerns to the table. “Just be that voice for them,” she says.

One recent example of speaking up for people involves the construction of a new water tank in Kalaheo. She wanted to know if there had been a budget created to decommission the old one (there hadn’t): “Or does it just sit there and rot and create an eyesore to the community?”

She’s also adamant about making sure cultural sites are acknowledged and that sensitivity takes priority over development.

Ahuna holds the Namahana ahupuaa sign, as other members of Kauai Nui Kuapapa, (from left) Soraia Jimenez, Randy Wichman and Canen Ho‘okano, prepare to install it along the highway

“Kanoe’s background helps bring a rounded perspective to commission discussions, leading toward balanced and clear decisions positively impacting the community,” says Kauai County planning director Mike Dahilig.

She’s involved in projects such as Kauai Nui Kuapapa, which designated moku and ahupuaa, placing signs along roadways so drivers could learn where the ancient land divisions are located.

“It makes us more culturally responsive to the land, to the ocean and to the environment,” she says. “And if we can understand the host culture of this place, we can understand how to take care of it better and then help youths have that consciousness, as well.”

Ahuna — who was a founding member of the Kauai roller derby team, Garden Island Renegade Rollerz — also has a connection to the cultural organization Na Hoku Welo, which implemented the moku signage project and focuses on historical work like heiau restoration and preservation. Clearly, she’s discovered her passion.

The Sacred Hearts Academy graduate got her career start, however, in education. She began as an elementary school teacher on Oahu. Ahuna eventually moved into administration and became involved with the development of Hawaiian charter schools, which is what sparked her political advocacy. She ended up working for Halau Ku Mana Public Charter School on Oahu during its inception in the late 1990s.

“The traditional school setting is not for everyone, and I saw that charter schools were valuable and a benefit to other types of learners that the traditional setting is not,” says Ahuna, who is still part of the movement and works part time at Kanuikapono Public Charter School as a student-services coordinator in special education.

Now, even though she may be more involved in the political realm, there’s still an element of education that she brings everywhere with her.

“Education is in everything; it’s integrated into everything we do,” she says.

The self-proclaimed ocean lover who once traveled the world competing as a professional body boarder isn’t sure yet if she’ll run for the Senate again. She still believes, however, that there needs to be more balance between the state and county, and wants to help ensure local issues like traffic and implementation of transient accommodation taxes do not fall by the wayside. “The state really needs to give our county relief,” says Ahuna, who has family on Kauai and moved to the island in 2003. “We need to get our fair share.”

In other words, even if you don’t see her name on the ballot, there’s little doubt she’ll continue serving as an advocate for the community and be a serious force to be reckoned with.