Job opportunities continued to decline on the island of Ni‘ihau. More and more families were leaving the island, with most moving to Kaua‘i. To help the community deal with this situation, a grant was obtained from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) in 2005 to assist the people of Ni‘ihau in retaining their culture and language as well as in developing economic self-sufficiency.
At a series of community meetings held on Kaua‘i, 21 extended-family groups were identified as being involved to at least some extent in making Ni‘ihau shell lei. Of these groups, 18 families selected representatives to be involved in the process of setting up a nonprofit support organization.
In January 2006, Ni‘ihau Cultural Heritage Foundation (NCHF) was granted tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization by the Internal Revenue Service.
As a newly-formed nonprofit organization, NCHF was able to apply directly for another OHA grant, and partial funding from this grant was used to set up this website. One purpose of the website is to help build the brand name of the Ni‘ihau shell lei by educating the public on the history and true value of this fine folk art which has been a part of the unique Ni‘ihau culture for at least two centuries, probably much longer.
Part of the mission of NCHF is to assist lei makers in the process of marketing their product and to provide a venue for sale of Ni‘ihau shell jewelry that will benefit the artisans more directly. There are already a number of retail outlets on Kaua‘i and throughout Hawai‘i that sell Ni‘ihau shell jewelry, and there are also websites, including eBay, where this jewelry can be found.
All of these retail outlets benefit the shell lei makers because they make their artwork available to the general public. The only disadvantage is that a large percentage of the purchase price goes to someone other than the artisans themselves. A few families are regular participants in craft fairs on different islands, but most have not tapped into this means of more direct sale to the public.
Because of this, a primary goal of NCHF is to provide an outlet for all of the families where most of the profit will go directly to the artisan while also providing the consumer an assurance that the product is genuine, of top quality, and is being offered at a fair price.
Classes are also being planned to assist families in developing their own marketing expertise as another way of profiting more directly from their hard work and skill.
Purchasing Ni‘ihau shell jewelry from NCHF as described elsewhere in this website directly supports the families of these skilled artisans. For anyone who would like to financially assist NCHF in meeting these goals, donations may be made to:
Ni‘ihau Cultural Heritage Foundation
P. O. Box 348,
Kalāheo, HI 96741-0348.
All donations are tax deductible.