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Hawaiian elders, Dalai Lama find common challenge 4-26-07

WAILUKU, Hawaii (AP) - Sensing a growing anger and discontent among Native Hawaiians, a group of their elders gathered with the Dalai Lama, asking his advice on how to live with compassion while their land and culture are under threat.

The group welcomed the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet on Wednesday by presenting him with a lei while chanting a Hawaiian song at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

Knowing the Dalai Lama was forced to leave his country after China invaded and has since met with indigenous groups ranging from Incas to Laplanders, the Hawaiian elders said they wanted to hear from him during a crucial time in their history.

“This has been building for a long time,” said Raylene Kawaiaea, 56, a local teacher. “We're looking for a solution and one with compassion.”

Educators and business and cultural leaders from the community said Wednesday they feel Hawaiians have been welcoming to others, but have been taken advantage of as their language is spoken less and their land has been “stolen”.

The 71-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner told the elders not to confuse compassion for others with tolerance, meaning they do not have to give in to injustice. He said that there is a certain amount of anger that comes from the frustration of trying to show compassion, but they need first to understand the people who are angering them and their background.

The Dalai Lama told Hawaiians not to isolate themselves and instead to open their culture to others while keeping their identities and seeking an education.

“Isolation can be suicide,” he said.

The Tibetan and Hawaiian people come from sharply contrasting lands, but both have a history of detachment from the rest of the world - Tibetans in a land now claimed by China in the high mountains of Central Asia and Hawaiians on volcanic islands absorbed by the United States in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean.

Both are trying to regain land and culture after a half century under governments that took them over.

The United States overthrew the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893 and the islands became a state in 1959 while China invaded Tibet in 1949 and then took full control the same year Hawaii joined the union.

Tibet has nearly 3 million people, while fewer than 200,000 Native Hawaiians remain in the islands, a minority in their own land, with another 200,000 who claim Hawaiian ancestry living elsewhere. Only a small fraction of the mostly Christian island population practices Buddhism.

Both groups are spiritual people and believe that all things, including the people and the land, are interconnected, the elders said.

The Dalai Lama told the Hawaiians to try to form a unified message, but he said they must find compassion, respect and love inside themselves first.

“The work must start with yourself, by education or training,” he said. “To help yourself is most important. You must be able to raise yourself to a level of equal standards.”

The Dalai Lama, whose worldly name is Tenzin Gyatso, was on his first trip to Maui but his third visit to the islands and his first since 1994.