The Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Advisory Board
HLRI is fortunate to enjoy the expert guidance of world-class advisors. Get to know some of the remarkable individuals helping us restore the Hawaiian Forest.
Click on an advisor to learn more
Native Species Advisor
Some of my first memories are of walking through the New England woods, in the spring, with my parents. My dad pointed out plants, bugs, and small wild animals. Although he didn’t know what they were, I felt his excitement in seeing them. Not long after, an Aunt and Uncle gave me several of the “Golden Book” guides to birds and bugs. Thus my interest in nature started early in life. I was the kid down the block to whom everyone brought baby, or injured wild birds and animals. I doubt any survived my crude doctoring. My next life changing event was moving to Guam with my family, in the mid 1960’s. I was in my late teens, second year in college, and I had never been in the tropics. Island ecosystems, the rain forests, the coral reefs, the biological diversity! This move set my career, as a biologist, in motion. I graduated in 1969 with a BA in Biology and Botany from the University of Guam (who knew there was such a place), and began graduate school there. Because of the pressures of a new family, and the need for an income, I started work as a wildlife biologist for Guam Fish and Game. I learned lots about tropical island ecosystems, biodiversity, and how humans can be the planet’s worse enemy. I also lived in the tropics long enough to know that there was no going back to cold winters of the north east US, so I moved to Hawaii in 1974. On the Big Island, at that time, jobs in the field of wildlife biology were all but non-existent. I was able to get work as a field supervisor with a Hawaii sugar plantation, helping to develop methods to remove cane harvested topsoil from waste water. Then in 1977, a chance encounter with an endangered seabird led me to a US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist supervising the Hawaii Forest Bird Survey. With my interest in birds, he hired me, and this started my career with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The work took me to remote forest areas on all of the Hawaiian Islands. Places where few people, or maybe no one, had ever been. We spent months searching each island for rare and endangered Hawaiian Forest birds. Sadly, since that time, 8 native bird species have become extinct in Hawaii. Not good! This set the stage for my next life changing event; Saving Hawaii’s endangered forest birds. On the Big Island, the bird survey showed that a large area of rain forest on the eastern slopes of Mauna Kea was important habitat for native endangered forest birds and plants. In 1985, all the hard work of the survey paid off. This area was purchased from a private land owner and designated as “Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge”. The first endangered species National Wildlife Refuge in the USA. In 1990, I was hired as the Senior Wildlife Biologist at Hakalau Forest NWR (a dream come true) and spent the next 20 years working together with managers, staff, and volunteers, removing habitat modifying invasive plants and feral animals, planting hundreds of thousands of native trees and understory plants, and improving the forest habitat for native birds. We saved several endangered plants from the edge of extinction, including one species that had only two individuals in existence! Today, Hakalau Forest NWR is one of the only places in the Hawaiian Islands where native forest bird populations are stable and increasing.
I feel it’s my responsibility to assist, not only the refuge, but other organizations such as Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods, The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, and Hawaii’s Watershed Partnerships in protecting Hawaii’s native forest habitat through reforestation and habitat protection. It’s vitally important to all generations to be socially responsible for the welfare of our planet and all the other species that share our home. Our only home.
I retired from USFWS in 2008, and still volunteer for the refuge as often as I can. I also visit the refuge several times a week leading birding tours for birders from around the world, telling them the story of Hakalau Forest. Retirement also allows me more time for world travel and pursuing my other career; Wildlife photography.
Hawaiian Cultural Advisor
HUMILITY AND HONOR
Earl Kamakaonaona Regidor, 59, born and raised in the quaint sugar plantation village of Pa‘auilo, Hāmākua, Island of Hawai‘i is the youngest in a family of 12 children. His dad, John Juan Regidor, emigrated from the Philippines to Hawai‘i in 1919, to work on the sugar plantation. In 1926, John married Mary Keai Mahauna. To his mom, Earl credits his love for the culture, Hawaiian music, Hawaiian language, and most importantly, Hawaiian values of laulima (cooperation, working together), hanalima (work, working with your hands), lōkahi (unity, harmony), aloha (love), kōkua (to help unconditionally), to name a few.
Earl fondly recalls family life in a small community. "Music was always a part of our family," says Earl, "I can't remember one day there wasn't music present - whether it was live or played on a record player." But the real music came when the family got together, with other relatives and friends - someone would bring a guitar, an ‘ukulele or two … and after a nice meal, they gathered, played, and sang. There were no boundaries here - anyone who wanted to participate was welcomed. While music was shared openly, certain aspects of the culture were not - language as just one example, was kept almost secret, going "underground," used between those who were native speakers. It wasn't until 1978 that the State of Hawai‘i declared Hawaiian language as one of the official languages of Hawai‘i, one of the pivotal moments in the Hawaiian cultural renaissance.
Being "young and carefree" lasted only about 18 years for Earl. Only six months after graduating high school, Earl enlisted in the military. Never having left Hawai‘i before, Earl now found himself with other Hawai‘i-born men, living on the mainland, frightened, and not knowing what the immediate future held. Looking back, he credits the military for transforming him from a young boy to a man; and later for allowing him to continue his education.
Aside from being stationed in Vietnam, Earl has visited Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Singapore. In the United States, he has been to California, Washington State, Nevada, Texas, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, and Alaska. He found a connection on the mainland to the Native Americans who he feels have a similar set of beliefs as the Hawaiians. "Native Americans considered themselves as mere stewards of the land; they have respect for all living things - prayed to the spirit of the animal after taking it for food, thanking it for providing sustenance." The people of Asia, he found, "had two things they held very sacred - their religious beliefs and family unity."
In 1996, Earl joined Hualālai Resort as one of the mea ho‘okipa - or hospitality ambassador - at Ka‘ūpūlehu Cultural Center. This he considers one of his greatest achievements as the center allows him the opportunity to share the history and culture of the Hawaiian people to all who want to learn. In 1991, Earl represented an ancient king or mō‘ī for Hawai‘i Island for the annual Aloha Festivals program - a series of cultural events statewide that celebrate Hawaiian culture. To do this, Earl had to be selected by a committee based on his background and go through protocol training. Playing this role gave him an appreciation for his ancestors and the ali‘i (royalty, chieftains) of old Hawai‘i. In 2006, he became manager of the center and was ordained by Universal Ministries. He now performs weddings and blessings, which adds another fulfilling facet to his colorful life.
If Earl could bring one of his dreams to fruition it would be to create a small-scale facsimile of a functioning ahupua‘a. An ahupua‘a was a land division that ran from mountain to the sea - enabling a sustainable environment - a symbiotic relationship of those within the community - each contributing his/her responsibility/expertise - whether it be a farmer, fisherman, adze maker, healer, etc. The word ahupua‘a is derived from 'ahu' or heap (as in stones), as a heap of stones often marked the boundaries; and 'pua‘a' or pig as this animal was often laid on the altar as tax to the chief of the area. While chances of a real life ahupua‘a may be distant, Earl is already working on bringing components of an ahupua‘a to the cultural center. Plans are in progress to replant only native fauna and foliage in the lawn area near the center; and beautiful, original oil paintings by noted native Hawaiian artist Herb Kawainui Kane grace the center's wall, each telling its own story about life in an ancient ahupua‘a.
Earl's humble upbringing, life experiences, and love for the culture make him the perfect ambassador to share Hualālai's and Hawai‘i's values and culture with those from here and beyond.
Environmental Management Advisor
In the annals of regrettable job titles, “kitchen skivvy” is most certainly a standout. Yet, for Robert Whitfield, general manager of Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, the weekend dishwashing gig was a start. “I needed to make money during high school, and the matron of the local retirement home was hiring,” he recalls, with a hearty laugh. “It was the first step on the path to working in Michelin-starred restaurants.”
There were many more steps in between, of course. The son of a Baptist minister, Whitfield grew up in the tourist town of Brighton on the south coast of England. Family road trips across the Continent and through the United States fired an early affinity for travel. When a turn at a local bed and breakfast lit a spark for hospitality, a perceptive school counselor encouraged him to pursue education in hotel administration.
There followed a series of “lucky breaks” from luxury hotel groups before a friend encouraged Whitfield to check out Four Seasons. “I instantly identified with their values,” he recalls of the job interview. “Simple things, like believing that every employee comes to work to do the best they can, and approaching problems differently. We’re a culture of self-correction.” With the company expanding in the Caribbean, Whitfield signed on as resort manager of Four Seasons Resort Nevis, West Indies.
After 26 years in the hotel business, the job still fascinates Whitfield, as do the challenges. He has coordinated the “million moving parts” of the renovation of Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, overseeing a new restaurant, new suites and a newly remodeled spa. He has also set a goal of making the property “greener” in ways that change staff perceptions – and guest appreciation – while actually reducing the hotel’s carbon footprint.
In the meantime, when not busy at work, Whitfield is likely out cruising Big Island’s coast in the outrigger canoe he owns with his wife. “I’m lucky that I’ve been able to live in some amazing parts of the world,” he says. “Paddling is the way to experience this one.”
Gordon Umialiloalahanauokalakaua King Kai
Hawaiian Cultural and Artwork Advisor
Born and raised in Kaimuki, Oahu, his father is Douglas AW. Kai of Waiahinu, Hawaii and mother, Lahela K. King of Waimea, Hawaii.
Umi learned to craft Hawaiian items out of curiosity and desire to know his culture starting in high school. Today Umi is known as a Hawaiian Implement Maker. He fashions implements for fishing, tapa making, poi pounding, hula, farming and is best known for making traditional style weapons. Umi shares his knowledge and experiences with many across the state and aboard and is regularly asked to hold classes at the different schools, hotels and many organizations. He has worked in the Visitor Industry for over 43 years and is currently the Sales and Marketing Manager of a worldwide rental car company.
Hawaiian Cultural Advisor
Kumu Hula Leilani Kahoʻāno has been teaching hula since 1985. Decades of teaching have included teaching keiki to kūpuna, with a special passion for all children and adults requiring more loving attention toward learning. Professional experiences have included: Experience Aloha 10-month US Tour, Snoopy on Ice, 49er Halftime performance, Slack Key Masters National Tour, Celebration of Aloha, Hawaiʻi Stars Extraordinary Abilities, Tihati Productions, and award-winning Aloha Festivals floats. As a past competitive dancer, she prepares her dancers for the intense level of execution, however, perpetuates the non-competitive commitment of her Hula Masters. These experiences lead her to an elevated level of knowledge through the cultural wisdom and intimate relationships of treasured Hawaiian cultural practitioners. She is the Kumu Hula of Hālau Hula o Nāmamaokeakua, an active Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse at Tripler Army Medical Center, and Adjunct Professor (Native Hawaiian Nurse Consultant) at Chaminade University School of Nursing. She has also become recognized for the unique combination of cultural and professional skills that have led to pioneering efforts in the early childhood health, education, and advocacy for Keiki to Kūpuna.
Susie Chun Oakland
Retired State Senator Susie Chun Oakland served 26 years in the Hawaii State Legislature. Born and raised in Hawaii, daughter of Philip and Mei-Chih Chun, attended Lanakila Elementary, Kawananakoa Middle and McKinley High Schools, and earned a double major in Communications and Psychology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She currently is the Program Coordinator for Lanakila Multi-Purpose Senior Center, a program of Catholic Charities Hawaii. She dedicated her career to helping our children, youth, kupuna and families; affordable housing; environmental stewardship; public education; and energy and food sustainability. She is married to Mike Oakland; is mother to Mailene, Christopher and Lauren; and grandmother of 6.