Honorees reflect on the Community Spirit Awards in Hawaii

Vicky Takamine recalled how humbling the Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Awards ceremony in Hawaii was for her--and how special it was to be surrounded by artists she has worked with for so many years. Cyril Lani Pahinui called it "incredibly moving." And Denise Lajimodiere, who traveled to the ceremony from her home in Fargo, North Dakota, called it a "life changing experience" full of memories to "last me a lifetime."

In fact, Lajimodiere said that she couldn’t help but weep as First Peoples Fund President Lori Pourier described the work she has done to revitalize her tribe’s Native traditions.

“I have never heard my own words read to an audience with such passion,” she said. “It was one of the most extraordinary experiences. I have never seen my life through the perspective of someone else.”

The three artists celebrated with family, friends and First Peoples staff at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa Campus Theater in Honolulu, Hawaii, earlier this month. The ceremony honored Takamine, of Honolulu, Hawaii; Pahinui, of Waipahu, Hawaii; and Lajimodiere, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota, for the exceptional passion, wisdom and purpose the recipients bring to their art and the communities they serve.

“I was very moved,” said Pahinui, who performed during the ceremony on a slack-key guitar, a Native Hawaiian instrument he has spent most of his life playing, mastering and sharing with others in an effort to preserve Native Hawaiian music.

Takamine, who owns and directs the Pua Ali'i 'Ilima dance studio in Hawaii to celebrate and pass on the traditional hula dance, was honored that her students helped organize the event. Takamine, who performed a dance solo at the event, said it was a humbling experience to be in the spotlight for the evening.

“We don’t like to take the limelight,” she said.

Her work, which includes advocating for the continuation of hula and the perpetuation of language, history, culture and values of the Hawaiian people, was celebrated with the gift of a star quilt.

“When they unfolded the star quilts, it was so unexpected,” Takamine said. “We understand the time it takes to make a quilt.”

Pahinui and Lajimodiere were also draped in star quilts and said it was one of the most memorable highlights of the evening.

“I thought it was just for them,” Lajimodiere said, of her fellow honorees. “When I got one too, I was just weeping. To receive an award for something I love and have dedicated my life to is extremely meaningful.”

Takamine said the gathering of like-minded women from other cultures and tribes from around the world was unifying and refreshing.

“There were these very powerful, strong, culturally-grounded women in the audience,” she said. “And to be part of that was very moving.”

Pahinui agreed. “All of these cultures coming together in one evening… it was beautiful,” he said.

Lajimodiere was happy to share her life’s work and Native culture with the staff and Native Hawaiians who gathered for the event, and spent several days during the week of the ceremony soaking in Hawaiian culture.

“It was well organized and I felt very taken care of,” she said.

Guests were invited to a Native Hawaiian luau, and Lajimodiere enjoyed seeing Takamine and her dancers perform.

“It was fun to see her in her element, in her culture and Native song and dance,” Lajimodiere said. “I reveled in it.”

She also fell in love with an early morning, traditional Native Hawaiian ceremony that involves chanting and clapping as the sun rises for the day.

“We got up at 3 a.m.,” she said. “It was an emotional, beautiful ceremony. I never wanted to leave.”

It ended with a dip in the ocean, which Native Hawaiian people believe will bring blessings.

Lajimodiere, who has since returned to her work in Minnesota, said she made some new friends in Hawaii and hopes to return for a visit. One of the best aspects of the ceremony, she added, was the effort made by First Peoples Fund to bring together people who have made it their life’s work to save and rejuvenate different cultures around the world.

“They did an incredibly beautiful job,” she said. “There were a lot of tears at the honoring.”