Native Hawaiians were remarkably healthy prior to Western contact. Their natural diet, their active lifestyle, their physical and spiritual methods of healing, and their geographical isolation enabled them to thrive. However, with the introduction of foreign diseases to which they had no immunity and the subsequent assaults on their culture and values, Native Hawaiians declined drastically in numbers. By the late nineteenth century, it was even feared that they might be headed for extinction.
This chapter describes numerous efforts to address the special health problems of Native Hawaiians. It offers past and present assessments of the main issues and describes state and federal measures that have been taken to promote wellness. The chapter pays particular attention to the ways in which traditional healing practices have been, and increasingly are, incorporated into current health systems serving Native Hawaiians.
Unfortunately, the future of several Native Hawaiian programs is uncertain, as recent legal challenges have threatened their continued existence. Although these challenges have not been specifically directed at Native Hawaiian health services, they could nonetheless affect them adversely. This chapter strongly urges the support and improvement of all undertakings to improve the health of Hawai‘i’s indigenous people.
“Native Hawaiian Health” is Chapter 21 of Native Hawaiian Law: A Treatise, a volume that updates and expands on the seminal work of the 1991 Native Hawaiian Rights Handbook. The publication is a collaborative effort of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law at the William S. Richardson School of Law – University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and Kamehameha Publishing.