Kupuna Eaton Given Kalani Ali‘i Award

Steve Murray
Wednesday - November 17, 2010
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Aunty Arlene Eaton (with lei) is joined by family members (from left) Calvin Eaton, Nainoa Eaton, Haweo Eaton, Kanani Eaton-Hao, Makana Eaton, Ku’uwainani Eaton and Mary Serrao at a surprise awards ceremony arranged by the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, Ahahui Ka’ahumanu, Hale O Ali’i O Hawaii and the Daughters and Sons of The Hawaiian Warriors. Photo courtesy of Hoakalei Cultural Foundation.

A group of Native Hawaiian organizations got together recently to honor a kupuna for her years of caring leadership in the cause of maintaining and promoting Hawaiian culture and traditions.

Aunty Arlene Wainaha Kuuleialoha Brede Eaton was honored Sept. 14 with the Kalani Ali’i Award by the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, the Ahahui Ka’ahumanu, Hale O Ali’i O Hawaii and the Daughters and Sons of The Hawaiian Warriors.

Now in her 80s, Eaton remains an inspiration for her students at Iroquois Point Elementary School and for the entire Ewa community, as she currently serves as board president of the Hoakalei Cultural Foundation.

“She is definitely the type of Native Hawaiian leader that we need and who I absolutely look up to,” said Alicia Maluafiti, board treasurer of the foundation. “I hope I can be one-10th as honorable as she is 45 years from now when I am her age.”

That won’t be an easy goal to achieve, as Eaton has made it her business to spread her culture and history, according to Maluafiti.

“Aunty Arlene has demonstrated her commitment to perpetuating the culture, and she has done that for years by helping teach at Kamehameha Schools and through the kupuna program at Iroquois Point Elementary,” she said.

“These awards are not given frivolously. There is a lot of discussion that goes about who to honor, who to show respect for, and that’s why I think Aunty Arlene not only is deserving of these types of awards ... they give her honor.”

But before the honor could be bestowed, secrecy had to be maintained. Eaton knew an award ceremony was being held but didn’t know she was to be the guest of honor. To say the least, she was surprised.

“It never dawned on me. I just laughed them off,” said the 83-year-old educator. “When they announced my name, I said, ‘I believe it now.’ I felt like I was on cloud nine.”

Eaton has served as a kupuna of the Hawaiian studies program at Iroquois Point for 24 years, and she has no plans to stop.

“You know, people my age when they retire, they retire. They sit down, watch the TV and soon they can’t walk, they can’t talk, they don’t do anything,” she said. “(But) I can walk and I can talk, and most of that comes from my children in school. I love them.”

Eaton added that the most important thing she teaches the students is the true meaning of aloha. “A lot of people just say the word, but it doesn’t mean anything, it only comes from the mouth.

“Aloha comes from inside of you, and that’s what I teach my children. When I ask them where is their aloha, they say, ‘It is in my heart, and nobody can take it away from me because kupuna says so.’”

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