October 10, 2023: Kanaka Maoli poet and scholar Jamaica Osorio draws on Native Hawaiian relationships to construct more inclusive ways of activism and being with the land.

In the world of poetry and activism, there are voices that need to be heard, speaking truth to power and reinvigorating cultures with their words. Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio is one such voice—a queer Kanaka Maoli wahine artist, scholar, and activist whose words transcend boundaries and inspire socio-political transformation. Osorio’s life trajectory changed when she was introduced to slam poetry at 17 and rose to critical acclaim in the poetry world after performing at the White House for then-President Obama in 2009. This week in the mentoring circle, we feature Jamaica Osorio’s work toward justice for Hawaii’s Indigenous population with five digital resources that invoke memory, resistance, and pilina (Hawaiian for connection, among other meanings) through poetry. To begin let’s watch Dr. Jamaica Osorio perform “Kumulipo” at the White House Poetry Jam.

Jamaica Osorio’s poetry is a powerful tool for cultural revival. She uses Hawaiian language, a language once nearly forced to extinction, to tell stories, express emotions, and ignite a sense of pride and identity among her people. Her words are a celebration of the resistance and strength of the Hawaiian culture. A beautiful example of the power of poetry as a light that shines awareness on the injustices and inequalities that make it impossible for people who experience systemic marginalization to survive let alone thrive. Words are so powerful that can make oppressive structures tremble and Dr. Osorio’s artistic experience from poetry writing/ performance to fiction/ essay writing and music proves exactly that. At a TEDx event in Mānoa in 2013, Dr. Jamaica Osorio used poetry to alert about global warming and its relation with capitalism. Listen to her words in the following TEDx Talk title: Poetry as translation…

Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio weaves the rich tapestry of Hawaiian culture into her work. Using her poetry, Osorio is a fierce advocate for social and environmental justice. She uses her platform to address issues related to Indigenous rights, land sovereignty, and climate change. Her activism inspires others to take action and stand up for the land. In 2020, her poetry and activism were the subject of an award-winning film, “This is the Way We Rise,” featured at the Sundance Film Festival. In the film, Ososrio speaks about poetry’s true power, saying, “If it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, conjure a memory, or give you chicken skin, the poem’s useless to me. A poem is as good as it resonates.” Watch below the short documentary: This Is the Way We Rise by American Masters from PBS.

In 2021, SOGI UBC’s Transformative Education Speaker Series presented a talk with Dr. Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, titled Kū Kiaʻi Aloha: Protecting Maunakea and Birthing Decolonial intimacy in an Emerging Generation of Aloha ʻĀina Activists. Dr. Osorio spoke about Native Hawaiians’ multi-generational battle to protect sacred sites and practice self-determination. The recent iterations of the fight to protect Mauna a Wākea from further white supremacist and capitalist encroachment by the state have transformed modern Hawaiian (and Indigenous) resistance and resurgence. In the following video, Dr. Osorio focuses directly on how these emerging movements are born out of and strengthened by an intimate return to Indigenous moʻolelo (histories) and ʻike (knowledges) which is transforming the very nature of what is possible in the building of decolonial futures.

Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio’s latest project, “On the Morning You Wake (To the End of the World),” is a one-of-kind virtual reality documentary exploring the imminent threat of nuclear weapons to Native Hawaiians. The documentary premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and follows the 2018 ballistic missile alert in Hawai’i. On January 13th, 2018, 1.4m people across Hawai’i received an SMS from the state’s Emergency Management Agency: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. By the time FEMA managed to retract the incorrect warning message, it was too late to pretend that normality would resume. Their collective experience had laid bare the growing threat that nuclear weapons pose to the world. In the words of Kauai resident Cynthia Lazaroff, ‘Nothing happened, but everything changed’.