HomeAsian AmericansKaua'i community leader recieves national human and civil rights award

Kaua’i community leader recieves national human and civil rights award

Fred “Peleke” Flores has received the national Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Award from the National Education Association on Wednesday, for his work involving the preservation and education of an ancient fishpond near Lihue, Maui Now reports.

The award, named after the Japanese-American aerospace engineer, and first AAPI chosen by NASA for their astronaut program, is given out to those who improve the education, achievement, and equal opportunity for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Flores, the field operations and cultural resources manager with Mālama Hulē‘ia in Kaua’i, received the award in Philadelphia.

Flores’s work involved clearing the ʻAlakoko Fishpond of invasive species so that endangered, indigenous species essential to Native Hawaiian culture could repopulate and thrive. He also shared this knowledge passionately with other educators and students in the community.

In October 2023, Flores organized an event in which over 2,000 volunteers came to the ʻAlakoko Fishpond to help rebuild the 500-year-old rock wall. Flores helped train 100 leaders at the event and made sure it included cultural practitioners and experts.

In an interview with Maui Now, Flores said that he felt honored and humbled to be nominated, and that the goal of his work is to educate people, and create a learning experience that is more than just a simple visit to a fishpond.

“I started to notice like man, if I don’t get the teachers to invest in this stuff, they’re not going to back me up in the school. So I take my time,” said Flores. “I’ll visit a teacher and say, ‘Tell me your curriculum and I’ll find a way to get it connected.’ I want to understand the curriculum and say, ‘I’m checking this, this, this off for you.’ I don’t want this to just be a field trip. It should be an outside lab. I want to stack on their learning.”

Flores was nominated for the award by the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association (HSTA) Kauaʻi Chapter. HSTA member leaders encourage other HSTA members to submit nominations for the NEA Human and Civil Rights Awards program to pay tribute to Native Hawaiian leaders and boost their work in expanding educational opportunities for students of color.

Sheri Abigania, HSTA Kauaʻi Chapter treasurer and Kawaikini New Century Public Charter School teacher, told Maui Now, “Peleke and his team, they have a lot of knowledge about the ecosystem and the food chain and what’s going on there and engaging the students. And for me, it’s bigger than just the fishpond. It strengthens the whole lāhui (people).”

Keoni Pau, Hawaiian Culture and Language Teacher at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, told the National Education Association, “Flores’s ability to connect with learners of all levels is important in moving forward. Haumana (students) not only learn the logistics and science of the habitat, they also build a sense of pilina (belonging or connection) to the land that they live on.”

“They learn kuleana (responsibility) for caring for the land and sea that provide for them and their ‘ohana (family) which are core values of Hawaiian culture. He teaches aloha (love) for the land in his lessons but moreover by showing them with his work,” Pau continued.

There have been multiple recipients of the Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Award from Hawaii over the past few decades. Previous recipients include the The Polynesian Voyaging Society in 2020, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu in 2016, Senator Daniel K. Akala in 2014, and Blaine Kamalani Kai in 2013.

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