Advocating for Environmental Justice through Dance

Advocating for Environmental Justice Through Dance

DEL Facilitators Megan Minturn and John-Mario Sevilla discuss ways that dance educators and learners can expand their perceptions and create curriculum in response to environmental injustices.


Megan Minturn: John-Mario, Could you talk a little bit about how hula, which you’ll be sharing, connects to the beautiful world and environmental justice?

John-Mario Sevilla: One of the things I thought I would do is to say greetings from a hula practitioner’s perspective. As many of you know, I am not just a dance educator but I am a particular dance practitioner in the form of hula. I’m not a kumu hula or a hula master, I am a hula haumana, a hula student, and so through this workshop we’re going to model how one particular form of Indigenous dance practice responds to this idea of social justice. So, I’d like to greet you all from a hula dancer’s perspective! It’s with a song that goes like this…


‘Ano‘ai ko kākou mau mea ho‘okipa la ea a me nā mea hanohano

Ke ho‘ohiwahiwa ‘ia nei mākou la ea e hui pū i ka waiwai.

‘O ko kākou mau kūpuna la ea ‘ia hipu‘u iā kākou i ka lōkahi

Ka nalu ‘imi iā kākou mai Kahiki mai la ea, me ke aloha no kākou apau.


Greetings to our hosts and dignitaries

We are honored to join the tradition.

Of our kūpuna that binds us in unity

We are the waves that come from a far off place

But we come with love for all.



Composed by Edith McKinzie


Megan: Thank you for sharing that! I would feel welcomed and greeted. Can you share a little bit about some of the words?

John-Mario: Yes, so a little bit of the genealogy of this song — or what they call the moʻokūʻauhau in Hawaiian… Ōlelo Hawaiʻi (this song) was written by Edith McKinzie and Haunani-Apoliona who are these wonderful kūpunas or Hawaiian practitioners, culture bearers. The song was written in 1985 when a cohort of native Hawaiians went to Tahiti for a festival of the arts. In typical Pacific Island practice, one never just arrives, one has to first be invited. 

Megan, you were very kind to invite me to join this workshop. I feel like a guest (even though I have been a part of DEL since 2007!) but now I’m in California, the land of the Ramaytush, and I feel like a guest suddenly, so I felt like I should respond to your invitation in a typical hula Hawaiian form. One of the ways we do that is to say:

Thank you for inviting me. I come with my elders to be with all of you very important people. I come with my community to join with your community. I come with love, respect, and care.

This is what Edith McKinzie and Haunani-Apoliona wrote as a form of entering the space of another. Tahiti is one of the places Hawaiians come from, so it was kind of like going back to their original people, their kūpunas, their elders. You don’t just arrive to land, you say I’m coming as you are approaching, then when you arrive you arrive with a certain formality which in hula we call a protocol. It’s a tradition, a ritual, a way of acknowledgement, and for hula practitioners it’s a way to ensure we’re entering into relationship with care. 

So that’s one of the themes we’re going to explore [in this workshop about the beautiful Earth and our environment]!

Photo: Julie Lemberger

Megan: Yes! I think about the idea of being visitors on the land… We’ve talked a lot about what it means to take care of the land and to visit one another with care. Can you talk a little bit about mālama for hula dancers?

John-Mario: One of the models we’re going to talk about is mālama honua which means to take care of our planet Earth. Mālama itself means to care or to take care. Hawaiians always say mālama pono, take care, as a goodbye. Mālamalama means enlightenment or inspiration. 

One of the essential practices or principles of the hula dancer is to mālama. Mālama is a relationship word, so how do we relate to one another? We relate to each other with mālama, with care. How do we relate to our environment? We mālama because when we mālama the environment, the environment mālama us. So how do we relate to all of the natural elements in our environment? The living creatures, the landmarks, all of the things that are vital to our existence, we mālama

So that’s one of the themes we’re going to explore: How do we cultivate mālama in the classroom?

Megan: I think that’s something you do so beautifully with your presence at all times is inviting people into the physical space but also the held shared space. So I’m excited to share space with you at DEL over the weekend. 

Because it’s virtual, we can consider caring for multiple parts of our planet and for people from multiple areas because they are Zooming in, which I think is exciting.

John-Mario: That is exciting! And Megan, I am mahalo for you! You were very welcoming to me, not only inviting me to this workshop but also inviting me to your school, The Brooklyn International High School with your beautiful students. 

It’s really fun that people will be coming from all parts of the world on Zoom, because one of the things we will recognize and acknowledge is the fact that despite our distance from each other, we share the same planet, same water, we breathe the same air, so we are connected.

Megan: This reminds me of another theme we’ve been discussing — mutual symbiotic relationship. It’s within our beautiful diversity that we share this planet. 

You’ve taught me a lot about the natural environment of Hawaii and some of the symbiosis that happens naturally and how that can be a lesson for us and how we act with one another, hold one another, and care for one another.

Join us for The Beautiful Earth: Environmental Justice Through Dance on April 2 & 3, 2022.