Infinite ʻĀina: Introducing the 2892 Hawaiʻi Storytellers

So often, education is centered on a narrative of personalization and individualized student learning. As teachers, much of the way we are encouraged to design learning experiences for students is to center and craft around the learner. We place students in a classroom and build the world around them. This posits humans as central and superior to the environment around them. However, our world and the ways we engage with the world should not place humans at the center. We believe students should take in the world as it exists and, in doing so, become transformed by that experience.

As part of 2892 Miles to Go, a social justice geo-inquiry program supported by the National Geographic Society, we are taking a different approach. We are three Hawaiʻi educators—Dr. Jace Saplan, tia north, and Whitney Aragaki—who aim to resist the colonial structures that frame humans as the focal point of knowledge and understanding. In embarking on an exploration of unlearning and reorientation through 2892 Hawaiʻi, we are refocusing our learning through a lens of ʻāina. ʻĀina, in the Hawaiian language, refers to land and Earth and all that thrive on them. (Un)learning through a lens of Infinite ʻĀina situates humans as stewards and subjects of ʻāina. We plan to create a StoryMap that will take educators on a journey to learn on, with, and from ʻāina in a way that honors our places and stories. Infinite ʻĀina pushes back on the notion of individuality to invite a lens of inclusivity that is infinite.

Whitney and tia previously wrote for the Education Blog about how land acknowledgements can support educators and students in recognizing ʻāina.

Dr. Jace Kaholokula Saplan (they/them) serves as the Director of Choral Activities and Associate Professor of Music at Arizona State University, where they conduct the ASU Concert Choir and oversee the graduate choral conducting program. Known for their work in celebrating Pasifika choral traditions, they are the artistic director of Nā Wai Chamber Choir and Nā Mamo Vocal Ensemble, Hawaiʻi-based vocal ensembles dedicated to the preservation and propagation of Native communal music. A 2022 Obama Asia-Pacific Leaders Fellow, their research focuses on decolonial approaches to music education, queering choral conducting pedagogy, and trauma-informed rehearsal practices. As a 2892 storyteller, Saplan enters the conversation as a Kanaka Maoli from Waiākea who works to embody ‘āina in their teaching and musicking.

In an August 2021 post on the Education Blog, tia discussed the “custodians of education” who had been part of her life and asked, “What kind of custodian of education do I want to be? Is it one that tends to the classroom or offers sustenance to students? One that believes knowledge is delight? One who serves with endless devotion? Or is it one that can carry her people forward but this time to a future where gratitude and joy can co-exist?”

tia north (they/she) serves ʻāina through poetry and writing. They are the Associate Director of Composition at the University of Oregon, an A.J. Ersted Distinguished Teacher of the Year, and the inaugural Culturally Responsive Teaching Fellow for the Department of English. Their teaching focuses on developing student awareness of language, power, inter-being, and identity. As a 2892 storyteller, north enters the conversation as an ʻŌiwi poet and educator from the ahupuaʻa of Waiākea.

Whitney reflected on identity in a May 2021 post on the Education Blog, writing, “My articulation of a gosei identity can only thrive with my dual appreciation and problematization of the Japanese experience in Hawai‘i.”

Whitney Aragaki (she/her) supports students to learn through a lens of abundance that honors place, people, and cultures. Her teaching focuses on conversations, practices, and systems that sustain the intimate interrelationship of public education, community, and environment. Returning to serve her high school alma mater, Aragaki teaches biology and environmental science at Waiākea High School in Hilo, Hawai‘i. Aragaki is the 2022 Hawaiʻi State Teacher of the Year and National Teacher of the Year Finalist. As a 2892 storyteller, Aragaki enters the conversation as a K-12 classroom teacher and a biologist who explores the tensions that arise when science research aims to correct rather than appreciate.

Dr. Jace Kaholokula Saplan, tia north, and Whitney Aragaki are the newest storytellers to join 2892 Miles to Go Geographic Walk for Justice, a program supported by the National Geographic Society. They are part of a collective of many storytellers, community leaders, and changemakers whose storytelling journeys will help create a more informed, empathic, and united community. Follow along @2892MilestoGo.

The featured image shows the coastline of Keaukaha (literally “passing current”), land significant to the histories and bonds shared by the contributors (Whitney Aragaki)

Headshots courtesy of subjects. Headshot of Whitney Aragaki by Mathieu Williams

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