Today, more Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders live in Washington than anywhere in the US outside of Hawaii.

The Pacific Islander Community Association in Washington (PICAWA) is a grassroots organisation led by Joseph Seia which seeks to iterate the mana of their communities. Alongside local Coast Salish tribes, PICAWA work to ensure that they are co-stewarding the resources with our sisters and brothers who are indigenous to the lands they live and work on whilst supporting and nurturing their NHPI communities.


Talanoa’s associate educator, Brandon Tacadena, has left his home in Hawai’i to join PICAWA’s incredible team as their new Leadership and Spirituality Program Manager and to steward the Oceania Leadership Institute.

In their words “The Oceania Leadership Institute (OLI) is a culturally rooted leadership development program designed for Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (NHPI) young adults and community organizers. The OLI curriculum forefronts Pasifika values, community, and history as the foundation of our holistic leadership praxis. We are committed to the development of critical consciousness through embodied practice and the integration of post-colonial and decolonial theory, anti-racist curriculum, liberation theologies, and social justice advocacy.”.

According to a report released by WHIAAPI, 8 out of 10 Pacific Islanders in the United States are Indigenous to US colonial territories that were ceded through statehood and through Pacific territories.  

This work feels crucial, now more than ever, as NHPI communities wade through the affects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brandon took some time to share with us the geneaology and foundations of this exciting new virtual program!

How did the OLI program come about?

Brandon: OLI was really birthed out of a communal desire for a culturally rooted leadership program. Prior to helping build the program, I sat with different elders, leaders, and community members to really lean in and listen and receive direction. I didnʻt want to be the person to come in and establish my own vision–I knew it was important to exegete this space and respect the work that folxs were already doing. Though the program is being launched this coming July, OLI has definitely been on the hearts, minds, and prayers of folxs for quite some time now and I want to honor and elevate that genealogy.

What do you personally bring to OLI that is unique?

I donʻt know if I bring anything unique per say. Like any other human being, I think I struggle/d with this tension of identity and belonging. I grew up as this mixed diasporic Pasifika male in Hawaiʻi trying to navigate the world and make sense of my reality. My family and I didnʻt have the language or the categories to name systems of domination and oppression (e.g., white supremacy, poverty, racism, ableism, colonization, etc.,)  but we knew it very well because it was embedded in our bodies and our lived experience. Now that I think of it, it was this fracture–this knowing that the world wasnʻt as it should be and in that knowing, there was also room to conceptualize that another world was possible–that propelled me into higher education.

In a professional sense, I have a graduate degree in theology and ethics and have worked as a hospital chaplain.

I have been deeply informed and shaped by Liberation theologies which really at the heart of that is a commitment to the liberation of the poor, the marginalized, and the dispossessed. My experience as a chaplain has also enhanced my cultural practice of cultivating vā and learning how to hold space especially for folxs experiencing trauma and grief.

In terms of our leadership institute, these myriad of cultural, experiential, and educational training has shaped the curriculum and how we’re navigating space. Yes, we will work with theory and engage in intellectual discourse but we’re also honoring our bodies, our emotional wellbeing, and our spirit. In this fashion, OLI aligns with our umbrella organization–Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington–in so much as we’re really thinking holistically about how we can continue the mission of advancing the wellness of Pacfiic Islanders culturally, physically, and spiritually.

Tell us about the curriculum you’re building. What types of discourse should participants expect?

The curriculum is dynamic and fluid. During the early phases it was impressed upon me by elders and leaders of the community that Pacific Islander leadership development should be rooted in our unique cultures. Thatʻs not to say that western theory has no place–in fact some of the work produced in the west is woven into the curriculum–but the intention was that participants ground themselves in culture and allow their cultural identity to be the locus of their leadership development. The obstacle, and really exciting challenge, is that the content varies with the different populations who choose to participate. Pasifika is not a monolith and so the OLI curriculum is designed with the intention to reflect folxs who attend.

In terms of the space, it is really designed to be a holistic, reflective, and engaged space. Participants can expect to be in conversations about identity, culture, race, etc., Some of these conversations will be facilitated through guest speakers which I’m really excited about!
Why is not just a local program, but a virtual and international initiative?
OLI was initially set to be a Washington State based program but with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic and the devastation it had on the Pacific Islander community (not just locally but nationally as well), it became apparent that our community was in desperate need of folxs who were willing to do the work of advocating and healing. The issue was that there were few to no spaces where Pacific Islanders could be equipped, empowered, and commissioned to go out and do the work–and that’s really the need that OLI serves for our community. With the advancement of online learning and the digital space, we decided to open the institute up and make it accessible to folxs who are genuinely interested in leadership development.
What are the desireable outcomes for the OLI?
In terms of a technical aspect, conscientization (or conscientización as Freire originally stated) seemed to be a common thread when we initially vision casted outcomes of leadership development.
In order to navigate these waters we have to be conscious of who we are and our positionality within these spaces and institutions that have been structurally built to serve white cisgender heterosexual men (i.e., not us). We also have to be aware of how these structures systematically target, disenfranchise, and oppress our communities.
The difficulty with this type of curriculum is that we are not objective robots detached from the content we’re learning.
We are still flesh and sinew and we’re all carrying our own experiences of oppression, pain, trauma, etc., into the space. So within the program there’s space for folxs to pause, to reflect, to be conscious of their bodies, and to bring that to the space.
We want folxs to leave OLI feeling whole, feeling empowered, feeling equipped, and lastly commissioned by OLI and PICA-WA to go out and do the liberative work our community desperately needs.
Submissions for the Oceania Institute of Leadership close on the 26th June (Washington time). You can apply to be an OLI participant here.
Learn more about the important work that PICAWA are doing and follow them here.