Canoe Building


Canoe Life

Polynesian Migrations

Education--the key to perpetuating values and culture and preparing ourselves to face the challenges of the future.

When I think back on my life, it's clear that I had no way of knowing that I would be here now doing what I am doing. When I began studying in school and gaining knowledge, I sometimes doubted the importance of that effort. But it's the knowledge that I gained with the help of so many teachers that has allowed me to contribute to what we have done over the last 25 years--to rediscover our culture and heritage.

So I hope that all our children will keep on pursuing knowledge. None of us knows where we are going, but at some point in our lives, that knowledge will allow us to jump off into the unknown, to take on new challenges, and that's what I consider before every one of these voyages-the challenge. Learning is all about taking on a challenge, no matter what the outcome may be. When we accept a challenge, we open ourselves to new insight and knowledge.

--Nainoa Thompson

One person who understood the challenges we face and the role of education in meeting the challenge was Colonel Lacy Veach, raised in Hawai'i. He joined the Air Force, flew with the Thunderbird pilots, flew in Vietnam, was shot down twice. A man of great passion. Lacy was Hawai'i's second astronaut with NASA after Ellison Onizuka, and he flew on two missions of the space shuttle Columbia. He loved Hawai'i and its voyaging canoes and saw immediately the connection between these canoes and Hawai'i's future. On one of his shuttle flights, Lacy was able to stow away an adze stone from his grandfather. The stone came from Keanakako'i, an adze quarry located 12,500 feet up on the slopes of Mauna Kea, a special place where ancient Hawaiians worked in sub-zero temperature to make adzes; Lacy took a photo of his adze floating in space with Mauna Kea behind it framed by the cockpit window, as he was flying 160 miles above earth.

Lacy passed away a year and a half ago from cancer. Before he died, he told me, "Nainoa, you can never believe the beauty of island Earth until you see it in its entirety from space." He was the world's greatest optimist, but he always felt a great concern over the imbalance between human needs and the limited resources of our small planet; over the danger of exponential population growth and depletion of natural resources to support that growth. He would talk about how the 21st century was going to be very different from the century we're leaving. There would be great challenges ahead; there would be places on this planet that are going to be, by our own defintion of quality of life, extremely substandard.

On one of his shuttle flights, a fellow crew member woke Lacey up and told him to look out the window--they were passing over the Hawaiian Islands. Lacey could see all the Islands, and he could see his whole spirit and soul here. He saw the entire planet in one vision. "The best place to think about the fate of our planet is right here in the islands. If we can create a model for well-being here in Hawai'i, we can make a contribution to the entire world." He wanted to come home. On his visits to the islands, he talked with schoolchildren. On one visit, a child went up to him and poked him. I heard him tell another child, "I'm just checking to see if he's real." And then another child asked him, "What does it take to be an astronaut?" And Lacey said, "You've got to believe in your dreams, and you've got to be hard-headed enough to never let them go."

One day he told me, "I'm going to fly two more times in the shuttle. Then I'm coming home." He'd been away from Hawai'i since high school. "I'm coming home to help children who want to learn."

--Nainoa Thompson