Meet Sean Keoni Craig
Ahau Ohana caretaker of Ulupo Heiau, Flight Attendant, connector
As part of his birthright, Sean Keoni Craig has carried forward his family’s kuleana (responsibility) to protect and care for Ulupo Heiau, a Hawaiian temple on the eastern edge of Kawainui Marsh in Kailua on Oahu. His ancestors tended and farmed taro here, and they were officially bequeathed the land surrounding Ulupo in the mid-19th century during the Great Mahele—King Kamehameha III’s land redistribution act that transferred common lands to private ownership.
When several nonprofits stepped in to help with the upkeep of Ulupo, Keoni’s family invited the community in and taught them to care for the heiau grounds according to their family tradition. “This is where Native Hawaiians, for centuries, have come to pay homage to their aumakua (ancestors),” Keoni says. “Here you can learn about what it takes to thrive as a Native Hawaiian and why these places are so important.”
In 2008, Keoni discovered a new way to share his love of Hawaiian culture with others when he joined Hawaiian Airlines as a flight attendant. Soon after he became an in-flight instructor. “This whole new world opened up for me—not only did I find people who became family, but I found this love for the culture again,” he says. “I found a love for why it’s important for us as Native Hawaiians to do what we do. It’s important to live the values we grew up with.”
When Keoni was diagnosed with a terminal lung disease in 2015, his extended family at Hawaiian Airlines helped him through a difficult time. During a trip to Disneyland in 2018, he experienced life-threatening symptoms and needed a double lung and kidney transplant. “This amazing village of support came to my side. My flight attendant family flew to L.A. and held my hand throughout my journey,” Keoni says. “They planned an amazing fundraiser to help me pay for medical bills, and they did it because that’s what family does.”
In the wake of his health challenges, Keoni feels blessed that the nonprofit group Kauluakalana has taken on the stewardship of Ulupo. The organization continues the heiau’s legacy of Hawaiian cultural practices, farming, and education, and it invites visitors and locals alike to partake in the hands-on experience of caring for the land. “They also honor my family’s legacy and values—and in turn, I share our history of the area and continue to practice my spiritual, familial kuleana at Ulupo,” he says.
Today Keoni is in good health, and although he’s grounded temporarily as a health precaution, he looks forward to bringing joy to Hawaiian Airlines passengers again soon—from extending a warm smile and greeting to sharing stories about Hawaiian culture. “I’m proud to be a Native Hawaiian working for a Hawaiian company,” he says. “We have our gut. It’s our naau. It’s who we are. When you can share your naau and connect in that emotional and spiritual way, that experience becomes way more unique. ‘Aloha’ is not just a word. It's what makes us who we are.”