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Utahn keeping Polynesian culture alive through service, art

By Carole Mikita | Posted - Sep. 19, 2011 at 10:31 p.m.

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PLEASANT GROVE — The Tiatia family of Pleasant Grove has roots in Samoa, Hawaii and New Zealand. Val Tiatia is preserving that heritage through his work with the youth in his neighborhood and his talent for creating fine art.

Tiatia was born in Samoa but spent most of his youth living in what he describes as a housing project in Hawaii. When he was in high school his family moved to the states hoping to create a better life.

"It was mainly for me," TiaTia said. "I wanted to explore."

He says the greatest culture shock he faced was discrimination. "Even with my Polynesian friends I didn't feel like there was some sort of connection," Tiatia said.

He believes the greatest thing lost from the island culture is respect. It is the best part of the culture he and his wife hope to preserve for their children.

Their son Nivah performs traditional island dance with other youth from his LDS ward. Nivah has Maori roots.

"It's now affecting his other roots, as far as learning about his other roots," Tiatia said.

Tiatia has worked closely with the Polynesian youth as a stake Young Men's president. "We've had to bridge the gap," he said. "You've got kids raised in Polynesian homes, and they go to school and it's different."

He says his art has reunited him with his roots. One of his pieces represents the banyan tree. "On the branches is our culture," Tiatia says.

Like the picture, Tiatia hopes the Polynesian youth will learn the importance of their ancestral past in order to live and grow in the future. "I truly believe once we are deeply rooted and understand who we are a people, we will be able to understand the greater purpose of why we are here," he said.

The Tiatia family will be participating in a Pacific Islander conference Wednesday, Sept. 21, at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City. The event is free and open to the public. CLICK HERE for more information.



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