Malama 'Aina with Sanoe Keliinoi - Columbia Land Trust
Land Steward Sanoe Keliinoi in the field
Celebrate Women's History Month with Columbia Land Trust Land Steward Sanoe Keliinoi

When I was a high school sophomore I joined the club, Hui Malama ‘Aina, the “taking care of land” club. One could chalk it up to a conservation club; but as a Native Hawaiian, these practices were rooted in the indigenous mindset of “to take care of the land is to take care of your family and your people.” We interacted with land in the ways that our ancestors did before colonization by taking part in traditional protocols and practices that sharply highlighted this familial responsibility. To say that I learned a lot is a gross understatement.

And I kept learning. Working with the land and other people on the land shaped who I was, braiding layers of my identity into a spiritual lei: a Hawaiian, a woman, a descendant, and a friend, all woven tightly together. The mud on my hands was the same mud my ancestors planted in. The taro I grew was grown from its parent, by kupuna before me. I remember sitting amongst the girls and aunties in the Hale o Papa, the woman’s sacred space, and hearing stories of how malama ‘aina awoke their Hawaiianess, their motherhood, their professional endeavors, and their art. From this point, I could not separate stewardship work from this familial, cultural ethos. And because I wanted to have my cake (cheesecake, always cheesecake) and eat it too, I decided to make “taking care of the land” my job.

Since then, I have been lucky to work with a lot of people that I consider leaders and personal mentors in the conservation and stewardship fields. People to learn from, look up to, and navigate the many facets of the work. I consider myself even luckier to be amongst strong and determined women in conservation, who lead huge restoration projects, organize partners, and engage communities. Women who accomplish regional-scale conservation in confidence, knowledge, and innovation, and to whom I can relate and exemplify in my own journey. Lindsay Cornelius, a Natural Area Manager at Columbia Land Trust, is just one example of many. Lindsay’s story resonates strongly with me because her lei weaves her work and her family together, creating inter-generational stewardship and love of the places that we live in today.

One day, or maybe even today, I hope to be someone that helps others weave their own lei. As a person of indigenous ancestry, as a woman, at the intersection of these identities, I hope that by sharing my story others can be inspired and fueled to pursue stewardship of natural lands.

Sanoe Keliinoi, Land Steward