Native Hawaiians Are Taking Ownership of Indigenous Sites and Stories With a New Location-Based and Podcast App

Choose from a hundred free, ethically sourced guided tours thanks to Native Stories. The app’s gone global and adds Japanese-language programming this fall. (And did we mention that we love it?)
native stories app
Native Stories creator Nohealani Hirahara interviews author and activist Terrilee Keko‘olani-Raymond.
Photo: courtesy of don wallace


In the face of climbing tourist counts, schlocky novels and Hollywood duds like Aloha, Native Hawaiians are taking ownership of indigenous sites and stories. But when it comes to walking tours, short of hiring a human or taking a satchel of textbooks and reading aloud to yourself and friends, there haven’t been easy options—until Native Stories launched its app.


Now you can tap into a 10-minute in-depth account of Queen Lili‘uokalani’s experiences with imprisonment or one on her marriage (separate bedrooms! racist mother-in-law! husband John Dominis was her second choice!).


“We have 108 entries so far,” says Nohealani Hirahara, 38, a Hawaiian Electric engineer who felt driven to create the Native Stories app after reconnecting with her culture. “Although my parents were born in Hawai‘i, they moved to California as teens.” Born in Westminster, raised in San Clemente, she returned to attend McKinley High School as a freshman. “People would call me haole because I talked that way. I wasn’t offended. It made me rethink who I was; I took Hawaiian language.”


Hirahara earned her bachelor’s in electrical engineering at the University of Oregon and picked up a master’s while working at aerospace and defense company Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach. “Meanwhile, my brother married into a hula family,” she says. “They started a nonprofit to share history and culture: Papakū No Kāmeha‘ikana.” In 2005, her in-laws and brother “pulled me into doing the website,,” while she was still on the Mainland. Today she lives on a Waimānalo homestead.


Hirahara’s intent was to draw attention and attendance to Papakū workshops at specific cultural sites. “We’d go to the places in person, do the protocol with the uncle or whomever, then get their stories and understanding of their place and history. Then we’d reflect and write something.” Now it’s grown into a global platform that includes people from the Philippines, Tahiti and New Zealand telling their stories, too. (It’s not all history with a capital H: Dig the one on Imelda Marcos’ shoes.)


Native Stories isn’t full of bells and whistles. But it does entertain, inform and set the record straight with succinctly narrated, factually footnoted, crisply produced audio. It’s perfect for visitors—sparing you the need to restuff your memory banks with all the proper details—and, yes, perfect to refresh your own memories. Bonus: If you want your keiki to practice Hawaiian in the car, you can tap into a variety of tours for cities around the world in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i drawn from newspaper accounts going back to the 1800s. There’s even one on the Parthenon from 1843.


I’m hooked. Having finished Adam Keawe Manalo-Camp’s Lili‘uokalani trilogy, I was ready for his three-hour tour of ‘Iolani Palace—but realize I need to do it in person for the fullest immersion. See you there?


Download Native Stories in the app store of your choice and learn more at


Read more stories by Don Wallace