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The Department of Native Hawaiian Health’s Mele Look to retire at the end of December

Date: December 29th, 2021 in JABSOM News, Native Hawaiian Health, staff, UH Manoa    Print or PDF

Mele Look

For the past 45 years, Mele Look has dedicated most of her life to Native Hawaiian health disparities as a researcher, health program developer, and community advocate. She has worked with Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities to develop, implement, and evaluate health education and intervention programs, all of which include elders. When Look joined the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine (UH JABSOM), she was only the third employee for the Department of Native Hawaiian Health (DNHH) and has been essential in building the foundation of the department.

“At that time, the DNHH was just a center with great vision and commitment to health equity,” Look said.

Today, the DNHH has grown to house two divisions related to Native Hawaiian health and welfare – the Imi Ho‘ōla Program and the Native Hawaiian Center of Excellence. The JABSOM DNHH was also the first, and for a long time the only, clinical department within a U.S. medical school dedicated to the health and well-being of an indigenous population.

At the farewell celebration for Look and Dr. Stephen “Kalani” Brady at the JABSOM Medical Education Building on December 15, 2021, Dr. Marjorie Mau, DNHH professor, called Look their “genius of ideas” who institutionalized the department to what it is today.

For the past 21 years, Look has served as the director of community engagement, for both the DNHH and the Center for Native and Pacific Health Research. In this capacity, she established and facilitated a community health coalition, the Ulu Network, which has grown to include 38 organizations, with 80+ sites across Hawai’i including all 19 federally qualified health clinics (FQHC) and all 5 federally established Native Hawaiian Healthcare Systems.

Look says that the ongoing studies with hula as a health intervention has been the culmination of her work on Hawaiian Health for the past 40+ years that was built from the seeds and support of great mentors such as Kenny Brown, Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell and Dr. Emmett Aluli.

“My kupuna told me ‘it is in the culture that the answers for health and well-being will be found,’” Look said. “And it took many decades to build the foundational work that supported the internationally recognized innovation of bringing together indigenous knowledge with western biomedical science that established how the cultural dance of hula can be instrumental in heart health and other chronic conditions.”

Look, herself, has been a cultural practitioner of hula for nearly 50 years, with 20+ years of formal traditional training. She graduated in hula achievement as ‘olapa (accomplished dancer) through the rarely performed ceremonies of hu‘elepo and ‘ailolo.

Although Look has been involved in so many projects at the medical school, she says that out of all the many accomplishments, her greatest legacy has been mentoring her students.

“My research assistants, my graduate assistants, to have them going forward– they’re the flowers that are now blossoming for the next generation,” Look said.

– By Deborah Manog Dimaya, Interim Communications Director

See photos from the Farewell Event
Dr. Kalani Brady and Mele Look Retirement

Mele Look

Mele Look holding the paddle she received as a parting gift from the DNHH. Deborah Dimaya photo.

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