Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell ( — Kuhio Lewis, CEO of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, posed with products at the Pop-Up Makeke warehouse in Kalaeloa.

Story originally posted by Star Advertiser, Island Voices Editorial.

Like many in Hawaii, Waianae native Gabriel Naone, 33, was forced to reevaluate the financial security of his ohana during the pandemic. How solid was their financial foundation? Would they be OK? Yes, he had a solid job as a carpenter. But, as COVID-19 flipped the world upside down, the father of four did not want to take anything for granted. Gabriel had driven water trucks at work sites, so he thought the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s (CNHA) new commercial driver license (CDL) program might be a good fit.

Two Fridays ago, Naone joined 20 others from CNHA’s first CDL program to celebrate their graduation. All earned their CDL permits; Naone was one of 12 to also earn their CDL-A licenses, requiring more training.

“(The experience) was a rollercoaster, plenty ups and downs,” Naone said in the parking lot where he had practiced operating a tractor trailer for the last 17 weeks. “I thought I was going fail, honestly.”

He said that he succeeded because of the program’s family atmosphere, the expertise and aloha of the instructors, and good old fashion perseverance.

CNHA’s goal at the start of the pandemic was to lift up our Native Hawaiian people. We wanted to demonstrate that while Native Hawaiians face unique challenges — due in large part to the injustices of our past — we could still rely on ourselves to pull us through our darkest hour.

So we listened to the community and got to work. CNHA supported local businesses through the online Pop-Up Makeke, as well as through its administration of $500,000 in federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. In addition, $400,000 in subgrants were provided to partner organizations to ensure that they could continue to serve Native Hawaiians during the pandemic. Further, its Hawaiian Trades Academy, which includes the CDL program, was transitioned to help those whose careers were impacted by COVID-19 to develop new vocational skills. Last week, the trades academy graduated 27 individuals on Maui and Kauai from its Police Program.

What we are most proud of, however, is the assistance that we have provided to all of Hawaii. CNHA provided more than $70 million, which helped more than 10,000 households with rental and utility assistance, supported with federal funds through the state, City and County of Honolulu, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) and private entities. These sorely needed funds helped keep ohana off the streets during the pandemic.

Our efforts were among those recognized by the U.S. Department of Treasury recently, when it identified the city and DHHL as two of the highest-performing governmental entities in the nation in disbursing these emergency federal funds. CNHA’s modest contribution to the city and DHHL’s successful emergency financial assistance (EFA) programs will ensure that additional federal funds will flow not just to our people, but to the entire state.

This highlights an important point. All the programs CNHA pursued during the pandemic were first intended to specifically help Native Hawaiians. But many of these programs – Pop-Up Makeke, PPP loans, EFA funds, the CDL program, vaccination events – were ultimately not only limited to Native Hawaiians. They helped thousands of non-Hawaiians, as well.

What the pandemic has proven is that Native Hawaiian solutions do not just address Native Hawaiian challenges.

Native Hawaiians can take the lead on finding answers to issues affecting all Hawaii residents.