HONOLULU (May 20, 2014) —
William S. Richardson School of Law student Janna Wehilani “Wehi” Ahu, who grew up in the tiny fishing village of Miloli‘i on Hawai‘i Island, has been named the 2014 Patsy T. Mink Legislative Fellow. She receives a $5,000 stipend from the Law School to pay for a summer internship in Washington D.C., working in the office of U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono for 10 weeks.
Ahu is completing her first year at Richardson Law School on the UH Mānoa campus, and was inspired to study law to help her village of 400 people that has no school, no store and no means of livelihood other than fishing and hunting.
“It’s the last traditional Hawaiian fishing village, and 100 percent of the people subsist by fishing, and a little hunting,” said Ahu. “There are no stores in the area.”
This is the 12th anniversary of the landmark fellowship launched by UH law students in 2002, the year of Mink’s death, to honor her legacy and to provide an extraordinary educational experience. The Mink Fellowship, which has helped chart the careers of past recipients, provides an extraordinary opportunity to participate in leadership at the national level. Awardees are encouraged to research areas in which they are particularly interested.
“I want to focus on fisheries management, and I came to law school to learn how to keep our fisheries healthy,” said Ahu. “We actually have our three different opelu koa schools of fish that we feed throughout the year. Fishermen have gone out and ‘fed’ these fish for generations to keep them there so we can continue to fish. One of the spots where we feed the fish is directly in front of my family’s property.”
Ahu, who learned to speak Hawaiian from her grandmother and then studied the language at Kamehameha Schools and also at UH, hopes to spend some of her time in Washington researching fisheries management as well as education issues in small, remote rural areas. Her own family moved into Hilo so she could attend Kamehameha, and she explains that many other Miloli’i families face the same kinds of choices of leaving. There are more than 100 young people in the village.
Said Ahu, “The nearest school is 60 miles away. There is a bus, but a lot of my friends were home-schooled. My family moved into town so I could go to school. And a lot of my friends have moved closer to Kona or into the Captain Cook area.”
One of Congresswoman Mink’s crowning achievements in her 24 years in the U.S. House of Representatives was the co-authorship and passage of Title IX, a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 that provided women equal access to opportunities in education. Mink was a force for gender and racial equality, partly fueled by discrimination she suffered as a young professional woman. “I can’t change the past,” Mink often said, “but I can certainly help somebody else in the future so they don’t have to go through what I did.”