One University of New Mexico Ph.D. student is embracing the Hawaiian term ‘ikaika;. Leilani DeLude is dedicating her educational mission, with immense determination, to the island she was born and raised on. 

DeLude just received a $2,000 Diversity and Inclusion Advancing Research grant from the American Political Science Association (ASPA.) This money goes towards researchers like her who are striving to bring light to underrepresented groups through the lens of political science.  

She found her calling in O’ahu, when coming face to face with the Hawaiian National Archive. While earning her bachelor’s degree, DeLude worked with Hawaiian kūpuna Lynette Cruz, Hawaiian activist Emilia Kandagawa, and HPU Political Scientist Professor Dr. Ngoc T. Phan in organizing and digitizing this key archive.  

DeLude works with Hawaiian Archive

“It helps students understand how people have thought about the Hawaiian identity,” DeLude said. “Really working in these archives helps you feel part of it.”  

With centuries of documents, photos, and personal items, the Hawaiian National Archive contains a trove of history which is critical for Hawaiian sovereignty. 

“It's part of reclaiming stories of Indigenous peoples,” DeLude said. “A lot of Hawaiian health really puts an emphasis on identity and land, so the contemporary stuff and sovereignty is all interconnected.” 

 DeLude left much to be uncovered when she chose UNM as the next step in her academic career.  

 “The UNM program has very great teachers in Race, Ethnicity, and Politics (REP). The professors here were doing the thing I wanted to do,” she said. 

Although she was in the Land of Enchantment, DeLude knew she had to focus her research on back home. Specifically, that ever-growing archive had much left to provide. 

“As people who work and were civically engaged for 30 years, the work is still not done,” she said. “My dream and goal is to stay in it, and just adding to that data people can take from. I don't need to make a million dollars. I just want to help people in general by being there and contributing.”  

The archive itself represents the Hawaiian Identity. That’s something DeLude does not take lightly. For her, it’s not just about earning her Ph.D., but returning to the Oʻahu community with a wealth of knowledge and tools to make a difference.  

“It’s expected that you help your family,” DeLude said. “You go away, you learn something and you come back and put it into the community. That's also how I view this Ph.D. process. I am learning at UNM to bring back to my community.” 

Hawai’i has at times experienced backlash for its culture. In 1896, teaching and learning through the Hawaiian medium was banned. DeLude’s own father would speak what he knew of the language and was unable to fully learn the language for many years, as those who raised him (his mother and grandmother) were punishment, if caught speaking or learning the language. That law did not change until 1978. 

Now, in a time where Hawai’i is overrun by tourists, hurt by climate change, and kūpunas grow older, DeLude knows it’s critical to bring the past and contemporary elements of sovereignty and pride to the present, and eventually, the future. 

“In the end I'm helping the community in any way I can,” she said. “With that collective identity, and ideas we share together, we win. I'm just the first step so other people can keep up the work. These are like baby steps to be healthy, be happy, be stable once again.”