Mark Kawika McKeague
Director of Cultural Planning, G70
Mark Kawika McKeague has been working for more than 20 years toward a vision of the Native Hawaiian experience and turning that vision into a reality.
“That is my kuleana, to ensure that the ideas and values that make Hawai‘i our unique home are not lost,” he says.
McKeague does that at G70, one of the state’s largest architectural firms. He ensures a Hawaiian culture sensibility and a connection to the community in buildings designed by the firm.
For instance, he remembers people talking during the planning phase of the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Walk about tiki torches, heliconia and plumeria – a typical depiction of a Hawaiian sensibility. He instead advocated for an exploration of Waikīkī’s rich history and a recognition of the families who lived there for centuries.
“We need to bring to the table the voices of the cultural descendants of the people connected to this land,” he told the people he was working with, and together they met with those Native Hawaiian families over a 10-year period. Iwi found there were reburied in a special area where a native Hawaiian garden was created. The result: There was no public outcry, no upheaval, just a positive working relationship that satisfied the developer and the families, McKeague says.
“It’s an expression of sovereignty, to allow us as kānaka to have a sense of authority in managing our ancestral beings. For that to happen required trust, building our relationship with the families, and the client rethinking how to do business in Hawai‘i. At the end of the day the project manager became one of our staunch advocates for the preservation of iwi kūpuna.”
McKeague’s cultural awareness began in his youth but was strengthened by the influence of his brother, Melvin “Mel” McKeague, and then, beginning in 1998, by kumu hula Vicky Holt Takamine, who has mentored him in cultural ways ever since. Takamine told him: “Choose a career where you can make a difference.”
“I think those principles and values that we’ve instilled in our students of understanding the language, the culture, the principles and values provide them a foundation for decision-making,” she says.
McKeague is at work on several projects, including a Kalaupapa memorial, and efforts at Anahola and Waimea, Kaua‘i, involving sustainable agricultural homesteads and off-the-grid living. “The concept is for people to come together to determine their own sovereignty over what this place should look like,” he says.