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Tongans Overseas

Native American family finds Tongan roots

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Juliana Brown Eyes, from the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe has a Tongan grandfather. Pine-Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota, USA.

By Finau Fonua

When Native American woman Juliana Brown Eyes received a call from her father confirming that her grandfather was Tongan, she immediately began looking for her Tongan relatives on Facebook.

"About four months ago my father went and got a DNA test, it's able to pinpoint exactly where your DNA and blood comes from," Juliana told Matangi Tonga.

"When he got his test back, it pinpointed his blood straight from Polynesia, Tongan Islands, and it also gives a list of people you may be related to. He found that the spelling of his father's last name was Kaho."

"He called me up and told me 'Get on to Facebook and find all the Kaho's that you can find and message them and ask them if they can find a man named Richard Kaho."

South Dakota

Hailing from the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe in the Pine-Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Juliana's 43 year-old father Julian Brown Eyes had been searching for his Tongan father for many years after being told by his mother Vana Louise Brown Eyes that his father was Tongan.

Juliana's grandmother Vana Louise passed away in March 2016.

"Growing up my grandmother hiked all the way to San Francisco in the '70s. She was an only child and both her parents died when she was young. So she hitchhiked all by herself to San Francisco. And she came back with my dad!"

Horse Nation

Hidden away in the desolate landscape of America's Mid-West, Pine-Ridge Reservation is probably the most unlikely place to find a Pacific Islander.

"My dad is a big man compared to all the plains native people on the reservation. My dad has really big shoulders - like a Tongan."

The Pine-Ridge Reservation was set up over a century ago for exiled Ogalala Lakota Sioux Indians who had famously humiliated the United States military when they defeated Colonel Custer's cavalry.

"Were called the Horse Nation. Our tribe was one of the last tribes to resist the US government so we pretty much got the crappiest land out of all the Native Americans.  My tribe, the Lakota tribe, defeated Colonel Custer and that's why they put us in this small reservation."

"We didn't know any people in South Dakota who were islanders. South Dakota is in the middle of nowhere, there's no islander people in sight,"

"Every time I would see or meet an islander I would ask them if they knew the last name Kaho, if they knew that family."

Family reunion

Soon after her father's genetic discovery, the Brown Eyes family finally connected with their long lost Tongan family. They reunited in San Francisco, Julian meeting his father, Toluafe Richard Kaho, for the first time in late 2016. Richard, who comes from Ha'apai, lives in the United States.

"We finally got into contact with my grandfather. He had 12 uncles and aunties, and he had so many second and third cousins. It was a lot, and we could really feel the love."

"Before then, my father had no aunties or uncles or cousins or anything [on the father's side]. We felt alone, we felt like we didn't have any family. He basically searched for his father for 43 years and he always knew he was an islander, he always felt that connection."

The family now goes by the name Brown Eyes Kaho.

Juliana is a talented artist, photographer, musician and guitarist for a blues band called 'Scatter Their Own'.

Three generations reunited. Grandfather Toluafe Richard Kaho with his son Julian Brown Eyes, and granddaughter Juliana Brown Eyes Clifford (right). Photo: Juliana Brown Eyes

Standing Rock Protest

Talking to Matangi Tonga by telephone Juliana told us about the challenges of her life on the Pine-Ridge Reservation. Earlier last year she was arrested for taking part in a protest against a pipeline construction.

Juliana was among the first protesters to participate in the Standing Rock Protests, a protest against the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline in a neighbouring North Dakota Indian reservation because the Ogalala Lakota Sioux people believed it would disturb the reservation's water supply.

"I was among the first ten to be arrested...at that point there were was only 80 people there. It got all of our tribal members really angry".

The protest eventually gathered thousands of participants, and in December last year the building of the pipeline was stalled.

"That was a big victory for our people. They stopped working but they plan on continuing it. There still needs to be a movement."

Juliana described the problems faced with living a reservation and the injustices face by the Horse Nation.

"Our people right now are struggling with poverty. There's a lot of poverty, there's a lot of negative downsides to living on an Indian reservation."

"They basically put us on a reservation that kept getting smaller and smaller because they would find gold or because find oil. They kept finding things and they kept oppressing our people."

Unfortunately for the Standing Rock protestors, the Dakota Access Pipeline construction has now resumed after a recent executive order to continue construction by new U.S. president Donald J. Trump.

Comments

Juliana: I love your story. I love and miss the Rez. I am glad you hooked up with your father. I am from Kolomotu'a/Kolofo'ou in Tonga and am related to the Kaho's from there. I served my mission in the Dakota's from 1976 to 1978. Our mission covered North and South Dakota, part of Iowa, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska. I served in Pine Ridge and Oglala but my my heart and adopted family, the Charging Crows are in Wanbli. I am still in contact with my Lakota family from Wanbli. I have adopted family in Sisseton, the Gills, their daughter, who served with us in Pine Ridge, is married to a cousin of mine and are residing in Utah (her husband, Pona, is BYU's ncoach Kalani Sitake's uncle).  There were a number of Polynesians including Tongans serving in the area at the time; two Ikas, Isileli Lao, Alama 'Ulu'ave, Sifa Talakai, Vai Sikahema (who after his mission became the famous Tongan NFL player), Vai Sekona one Tongan sister Apina, I may have forgotten others.
We all knew a Maori King a missionary before us (Maori from NZ, married to a Pine Ridge girl and are now living in Pine Ridge).
May God bless you and your family ... 'ofa lahi atu, Kava, the Reservation Dog.

Hi Kava,

You are right it's a fantastic story with a happy ending.
Kava have you thought about doing a piece about your time whilst on your mission? I'm not sure about the other readers but I find the areas you've stated you covered fascinating. I never would have thought that Tongans would have ventured to that part of America.

Perhaps you can liaise with the editor of MT to see if it's possible it you are interested. Just a thought.