LAHAINA - Leadership is the kuleana of the Charles Robert Lindsey family of Lahaina. It flows in their blood through the 'ohana and from one generation to the next from Charles Robert to Edwin "Ned" Lindsey Sr. to Edwin "Ed" Lindsey Jr. and now to Edwin "Ekolu" Lindsey III.
Charles Robert was the deputy sheriff of Lahaina in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His son, Ned, was a police officer, master fisherman and valued kupuna; and Ed was a teacher, in all senses of the word, and treasured community leader.
Ekolu is an appraiser by trade, father of 12-year-old Ka'elo, Native Hawaiian and avid surfer.
In 2009, Ed Lindsey Jr. passed away, and Ekolu became the steward of the Lindsey legacy.
Although stunned by the loss of a parent, the immersion into his new role appeared effortless.
"He passed in June. They put me on the Maui Cultural Lands board in July," the 46-year-old told the Lahaina News.
"Where he sat, I sat," Ekolu continued, "Kaanapali 2020, the North Beach Advisory Group, Wailea 670 and the Makena Community Advisory Board."
He became an advocate for "those who can't speak," such as "remnant structures, plants, the ocean, the reef" and the like.
"He never even hesitated after his dad died to just pick it up and to carry on with the wishes of Ed, as well as to carry on with the history of grandma and grandpa," mom Puanani Lindsey recalled with pride.
Robin Newbold, chair of the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council (MNMRC), described Ekolu's transformation.
"Shortly after Ed passed, Puanani and Ekolu attended a MNMRC meeting; we presented them with a plaque to commemorate Ed. Ekolu stood to receive the plaque and speak. I couldn't believe what I saw; it looked like Ed speaking through Ekolu, or Ekolu speaking as Ed - I'm not sure which. But Ekolu looked like Ed in that moment and was clearly picking up the torch," she said.
And, in just three years, the powerhouse Hawaiian has earned and confirmed his position in the community tenfold.
Sol Kaho'ohalahala has watched Ekolu evolve since he was an "opio" (youngster).
"Ekolu has taken on the responsibilities for his 'ohana, he has taken on the role of leadership for his community, he has embraced others, their ideas, their strengths, their innovations and has harnessed them to the good of all. This I have witnessed, and he has done well at honing these qualities," the cultural spokesperson commented.
Ekolu is the cultural consultant for the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, president of Maui Cultural Lands, facilitator and cofounder of Polanui Hui, vice president of 'Uhane O Wa'a Kaulua and vice president of Maui Capoeira. He serves on the University of Hawaii Regents Scholarship Selection Committee and "collaborates with OluKai (Premium Footwear) on cultural matters," Ekolu said.
"Ekolu comes from a long line of people committed to making Maui in general, and Lahaina specifically, a better place," said Scott Fisher of the Maui Coastal Land Trust.
He was recently honored as one of the presenters at the TEDxMaui event held at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in January.
"This experience has allowed me to build bridges throughout the world with the amazing people I met at the event - the speakers, the audience and those online that I haven't met yet," Ekolu recounted.
"All of the positive feedback I received was humbling and made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
"I was able to deliver a message that was to the hearts of many people. I hope people were inspired to save and perpetuate their culture," he remarked.
Fisher admires the Lahaina man's leadership skills.
"Ekolu is involved in a number of different projects, including work to preserve the Hawaiian culture as well as work that heals our lands and water.
"Ekolu's work is important because he bridges both, bringing a Hawaiian world view into the practice of land conservation. He is an incredible inspiration," Fisher said.
Kaho'ohalahala values Ekolu's character and integrity.
"Ekolu is thoughtful as well as eloquent. His presence and his mannerisms are always mindful of those who are around him. He is genuine, and people are appreciative of that quality, that kind of leadership that brings comfort and respect to others," he said.
"He embodies the true essence of aloha," Kaho'ohalahala added.
Ekolu is serious about his commitment.
"I am held accountable by family and those you don't see," he explained, pointing to the ocean fronting the family home in Lahaina.
"All the ashes we have spread out here. Everyone is watching. My grandma and grandpa are out here all my uncles, aunties and then some more," he added in reflection.
When asked what motivates him, Ekolu is quick to respond with an anecdotal story about "his first day on the job, so to speak" with the Lahaina Sacred Hearts upper school kids in August 2009 at Honokowai Valley, the flagship restoration site of the Maui Cultural Lands nonprofit.
"That's when I realized the importance of my role," the full-time volunteer recalled.
"When they did their pule before we started to work," Ekolu continued, "they each stepped into the circle, one at a time, and read a little prayer.
"That's when I understood; the light went. It's for the future that our culture survives - for these kids to find it as a foundation for their growth."