Saying a final farewell to former OHA Trustee Moanikeꞌala Akaka

`Ano`ai kakou…  It is with sadness I say aloha to former OHA Trustee Moanikeʻala Akaka who passed away in Hilo on Saturday, April 15, 2017, at the age of 72.  I had the distinct honor of serving with Moani on the OHA Board from 1990 to 1996.

Trustee Akaka was a prominent figure in the early days of the Hawaiian Renaissance, and her outspoken and passionate activism on behalf of Native Hawaiians and the disenfranchised continued throughout her entire life.  Trustee Akaka strongly opposed the militarization of Hawaiʻi and the use of Kahaoʻolawe and Pōhakuloa as bombing and munitions training areas and she was also a passionate advocate for the protection of Mauna Kea.

In February, 2004, Trustee Akaka came to ask OHA if she qualified for state retirement for her past service as an OHA Trustee from November 28, 1984 to November 15, 1996.  The administration let her know that she did not qualify for state retirement under the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS).

From November 26, 1980 through 1993, OHA Trustees served without a salary.  Trustees received a stipend of $50.00 per day for each meeting they attended and travel expenses.  So back then, Trustees were considered part-time workers but we worked full-time.

In 1993, the OHA Trustee Salary Commission was established and Trustees started to receive an annual salary of $32,000, but we were not included in the ERS so we didn’t qualify for state retirement benefits.

In 2002, the law was changed to allow OHA Trustees, in service on or after July 1, 2002, to participate in the ERS.  Although we tried to grandfather in the past Trustees, the new law ended up excluding past Trustees that served before July 1, 2002.  The law only gave retirement benefits to Trustees elected after July 1, 2002.

In February of 2015, Trustee Akaka renewed her request for retirement benefits from OHA.  As Chair of the Budget Committee, I asked the Administration to draft an action item proposing to make a single, lump sum payment to former Trustee Akaka, which would equal a Trustees’ one year’s salary in 2015, excluding fringe benefits.  Although some Trustees had some concerns, this proposal passed with no objections on May 14, 2015.

For too many years, OHA Trustees were treated as “step children” of the State.  Yet we are elected statewide and serve all year long.  We are also fiduciaries which no other elected officials are.  Our responsibilities are much greater than a state legislator.  Yet it took 13 years to get a salary, which comes from Trust Funds, and 22 years to be allowed retirement benefits.  The legislature can give itself raises while OHA has to wait for the Governor to appoint a salary commission every four years to see if we deserve a raise.  It’s been eight years and two Commissions who have said no to raises.  What is wrong with this picture?  We are still being treated as second class citizens.

On May 25, 2017, the Trustees adopted a resolution honoring the life and contributions of Trustee Akaka and extended its deepest condolences to her ʻohana.  If you are interested in making a donation to the ‘ohana, checks can be made payable to Trustee Akaka’s daughter.  Here is her contact information:  Ho‘oululahui Erika Perry, 80 Alahelenui Street, Hilo, HI 96720.

Mahalo nui and Godspeed Moani.

Back to Normal: Ho Hum, Business as Usual

`Ano`ai kakou…  Nothing frustrates me more than issues falling through the cracks due to inaction by the Board.  While we are moving ahead with OHA’s Financial Audit and Management Review thanks to the leadership of Trustee Keliʻi Akina, other important issues have fallen off OHA’s radar.  For example:

  • REDUCING OHA’S SPENDING POLICY LIMIT: Reducing our spending policy limit to 4-½ percent of the Trust Fund would be a wise move in the current economy. It appears clear that the stock market will not be a place for OHA to look for great returns on our investment over the next few years.  The predictors are very gloomy; all the more reason to be cautious and prudent with spending.
  • ELIMINATING THE FISCAL RESERVE FUND: Two years ago, one of OHA’s money managers recommended that we get rid of the Fiscal Reserve slush fund. Trustees seemed supportive, but nothing has happened since.
  • PROTECTING KULEANA LANDS: OHA and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation need to form a partner as soon as possible to stop outsiders, or anyone, who try to “quiet title” Hawaiian lands. This problem is not going away.
  • PROTECTING MAUNA KEA: I believe that transferring responsibility over Mauna Kea lands to OHA would produce the best “win-win” situation for the State, the University of Hawaii and all of OHA’s Native Hawaiian beneficiaries. What better solution could there be than to put Hawaiian lands in Hawaiian hands?
  • SUNSHINE LAW: After two years of fruitless negotiations, the majority of Trustees want to go to trial rather than settle my legal complaint that the Board was not following Sunshine Law during closed-door executive sessions.
  • NATIVE HAWAIIAN CONSTITUTION: On February 26, 2016, the majority of the Na‘i Aupuni ‘Aha participants voted to adopt The Constitution of the Native Hawaiian Nation. The next step was to ratify the Constitution by taking it out to our people, but nothings has happened since.  OHA needs to follow-up on its current status.
  • OHA NEEDS TO REVISIT ITS POLICIES AND RULES: Many of our most recent rules were created to punish and control Trustees.  We just need to follow the law.  We have also tied our own hands with rules that hamper our efforts to help our beneficiaries.  We need to find a more efficient way to run our essential programs such as community grants.

The current Board leadership appears more concerned with keeping power in their hands rather than attacking tough issues.  If they don’t change their ways, all OHA will have to show in the next two years is a big, fat zero, because we are right back to where we were before I look the Chairmanship – Nowhere!  No progress with the University of Hawaii and the Thirty Meter Telescope, Kakaʻako, and other important issues.

Aloha till the next time.

Wrapping-up 2016

Congratulations to all of the candidates who were elected to office in 2016.  Campaigning is a grueling process but the real work is about to begin.  I look forward to working with all of you in the 2017 Legislative Session to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians.

The Constitution of the Native Hawaiian Nation

On February 26, 2016, the majority of the Na‘i Aupuni ‘aha participants voted to adopt The Constitution of the Native Hawaiian Nation.  As one of 154 individuals that participated in the ‘aha, it is very difficult to put into words what an awesome experience this was for me.  Not only was this an important historical turning point in our history, but it was moving to see people who were often on opposite sides of an issue come together for the good of the whole and finally draft the governing documents needed to restore our nation.

Forced Land Sales Bills

During the 2016 legislative session, Kamehameha Schools led the charge against legislation that would have forced Hawai‘i’s landowners to sell leasehold lands to their lessees.  If HB 1635 or HB 2173 had become law, private land developers could have moved in to condemn and redevelop historical lands that were passed down from generation to generation of Hawaiians.

Thankfully, on February 8th, KS announced that the House cancelled the hearing for HB 1635 and HB 2173, which effectively killed the bills.  However, 2017 brings a new legislative session with new legislators who are unfamiliar with the issue.  Let us all be makaꞌala (watchful).

Wishing our dear Princess a very happy 90th birthday

It was with great admiration and respect that I dedicated this column to honoring Her Royal Highness Princess Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa who celebrated her 90th birthday on April 26th.  Age has not slowed her efforts to help the Hawaiian people and to preserve and protect in perpetuity the legacy passed down to the present generation.

One Voice, One Message

On August 24th, the BAE Committee and OHA’s CEO proposed a new policy called “One Voice, One Message,” which required that all external communications be submitted to the CEO for review and approval prior to execution or engagement.

If this policy were to be approved, Trustees will no longer be able to publically voice their opposition to any board decision without facing severe sanctions for speaking out against the majority.  Thankfully, the proposal was deferred due to concerns about it being unconstitutional.  I will continue to strongly oppose this undemocratic policy if it returns to the board table.

The U.S. Department of the Interior announces a pathway to nationhood

On September 23, 2016, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced a “final rule to create a pathway for reestablishing a formal government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community.”  It is now time for all of us to work together for the cause of recognition.  While the board has NOT voted to accept the rules as written, let us begin to agree on the things that we can agree to and set aside the things we differ on and move forward together for the future generations of Hawaiians yet to come.

Merry Christmas

May each of you have a joyful and merry Christmas surrounded by family and friends.  Stay safe out there.  Aloha Ke Akua.

The U.S. Department of the Interior announces a pathway to nationhood

`Ano`ai kakou…  Let me begin by expressing my warmest aloha to all the candidates who had the courage and commitment to participate in this year’s election.  Campaigning can be a blood sport, but now it is time to put aside our differences and get back to bettering the lives of our constituents.

On Friday, September 23, 2016, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced a “final rule to create a pathway for reestablishing a formal government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community.”  “The final rule sets out an administrative procedure and criteria that the U.S. Secretary of the Interior would use if the Native Hawaiian community forms a unified government that then seeks a formal government-to-government relationship with the United States.”

According the DOI, “The final rule builds on more than 150 Federal statutes that Congress enacted over the last century to recognize and implement the special political and trust relationship between the United States and the Native Hawaiian community. It also considered and addressed extensive public comments during the rulemaking process, which included public meetings in Hawaii and the mainland United States.”

The time has come for all us to come together in spirit and put some meaningful effort into re-establishing the political relationship between Native Hawaiians and the Federal government to re-organize our Native Hawaiian Governing Entity.  Once done, we will be able to protect all of our Hawaiian trust assets from the constant threat of lawsuits.  This is why I have always supported state and federal recognition.

As I traveled around the state, I spoke to many people who were confused about the process towards nationhood.  I can only conclude that OHA has not done enough to educate the public.  This situation has to change.  Trustees are going to have to speak up about the many positive results that Hawaiian Nationhood would bring for both Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians.  I assure all of you that, after listening to your mana’o, I will do everything that is humanly possible to address your concerns.

What is also needed is your participation.  You must challenge EACH Trustee to be accountable to you.  It is unfortunate that you cannot assume that Trustees will do this on their own.  Like any organization, from time to time, especially when one faction has been in power for too long like it has been at OHA, “the people” need to become actively involved.  Otherwise we will risk having to deal with complacency and the abuse of power.

What we face today as Hawaiians is no different than what has occurred over the past 100 years.  We are still fighting off assaults on our culture, the deterioration of our rights to our lands, and attacks from racist organizations.

Let us begin to work together for the cause of recognition.  Let us begin to agree on the things that we can agree to and set aside the things we differ on and move forward together for the future generations of Hawaiians yet to come.

As we approach the close of 2016, I would like to wish each of you a very safe and happy holiday season, and may the Lord in his grace bless each of you and your families and take you safely into 2017.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Aloha pumehana.

The Road to Self-Governance is Rocky and Long

`Ano`ai kakou…  During the last of the President Bill Clinton’s years in the White House, I served as the Chair of the OHA Board of Trustees.  When Clinton first took office in 1993, many positive things happened for Hawaiians and Hawaii.  It was during Clinton’s his first term that he signed the Apology Resolution submitted by then-US Senator Dan Akaka in 1993.  There was also a great friendship that developed between President Clinton and then-Governor John Waihee III.

During those eight years, Hawaii’s Native people were treated as equals to the Native Americans and Native Alaskans.  We were included in the Native Education Act and Hawaiian health took on a new focus with lots of funding coming from Washington, D.C.  The Administration for Native Americans’ funding was also great for us and we still use money from that program today to fund our OHA loans.

Before President Clinton left office, his cabinet created the federal Office of Native Hawaiian Relations within the Department of the Interior so that Hawaiians did not have to go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs to seek monies or recognition the same way that American Indians do.

Also done was a study by the Departments of Interior and Justice on the overthrow and the taking of Hawaiian lands and how Hawaii became a territory and eventually a state.  Public hearings were held all over the 50th state and after all the information was gathered they came out with a book called “Mauka to Makai.”  Its final recommendation was for the federal government to begin a dialogue with Native Hawaiians to resolve Native claims and issues that were unresolved.

At the time, it was hoped that Democratic Vice-President Al Gore would succeed President Clinton and the work to resolve all of our issues would continue.  As we all know, this did not occur and for eight years during the Bush Administration all of our efforts were squashed.

During the Obama Administration, it has been very difficult as well with the Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate.  Before the current president leaves office, I believe he would like to see something done for our Native people.  That is why we are currently going through the federal “rules” process.

My point to all of this is that, as a Democrat, choosing the right candidate who I believe will help Native peoples the most is my highest priority.  To my knowledge, Bernie Sanders has no track record as a champion for Native people, let alone Native Hawaiians.  Throughout his campaign, he has not articulated a clear plan to help Native peoples nor has he received any strong endorsements from Native organizations that I am aware of.

Our road to sovereignty is very difficult.  I have been in this struggle since 1999.  Having people in Congress and certainly the White House that support our efforts is critical to our success.  Mahalo nui for your patience and for listening to my voice.  Aloha Ke Akua.

The Constitution of the Native Hawaiian Nation

`Ano`ai kakou…  On February 26, 2016, the majority of the Na‘i Aupuni ‘aha participants voted to adopt The Constitution of the Native Hawaiian Nation by a vote of 88 to 30 and one abstention.

There were 10 to 15 participants that were absent and a few sat outside when the vote took place.  All of them were given every opportunity to return and vote if they had missed their turn for whatever reason.

It is very difficult to put into words the awesome experience this was for me.  Not only was this an important historical turning point in our history, but it was also at times a very emotional for me to experience.

In the room sat kupuna, makua, and our young warriors.  Among them our leaders who have been at the forefront of the movement to reunify our people and restore our nation’s sovereignty.

They included Emmett Aluli, Lilikala Kameꞌeleihiwa, Poka Laenui, Aꞌo Pohaku, Keoni Agard, Melody MacKenzie, Devianna McGregor, Dr. Claire Hughes, Mahealani Cypher, Bumpy Kanahele, and, in spirit, Uncle Buzzy Agard, Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell, and Peggy Hao Ross.

Unfortunately missing from this auspicious occasion were two sisters who should be credited with helping to drive the sovereignty movement to where it is today.  They are, of course, the Trask sisters, Haunani K. and Mililani.

This constitution is in honor of all of those warriors who came before us and who could not be there.

It was moving to see people who were often on opposite sides of an issue come together for the good of the whole.  There were several participants that frequently came to OHA to protest our positions on nationhood and yet we were all able to put those differences aside and finally draft the governing documents needed to restore our nation.

I guess the most amazing aspect of the ‘Aha was to see our young people so energized and ready to take our efforts to the next level.  I have no doubt that they will make our dreams to form a new Hawaiian nation a reality.

The next step is to ratify the Constitution by taking it out to our people.  I encourage all of our ꞌohana to give the Constitution serious consideration.  While it is not a perfect document, it is a beginning.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any assistance in understand the document.  If you are would like a copy of the Constitution, please visit my website at www.rowenaakana.org or e-mail me at rowenaa@oha.org to request a copy.  Aloha Ke Akua.

We need nationhood to protect our lands

`Ano`ai kakou…  Throughout the month of February, I was privileged to participated in the Na‘i Aupuni ‘aha to discuss self-governance.  I believe that calling for an ‘aha is an excellent opportunity to provide an open and democratic forum to discuss possible governing documents of our new nation.  This is where the ultimate form of the Hawaiian government can be debated and considered.

I have always advocated that gaining federal recognition as a native people would finally allow Hawaiians to negotiate with the state and federal governments for the return of some of our ceded lands that the state holds in trust.  Federal recognition would also put us in a stronger position to protect our lands and trust assets.

The three key elements of nationhood are sovereignty, self-determination and self-sufficiency.  In order for Hawaiians to exercise control over their lands and lives, they must achieve self-determination by organizing a mechanism for self-governance.  Hawaiians must create a government which provides for democratic representation before they can begin to interrelate with the State and the Federal governments who control their lands and trust assets. The ultimate goal of nationhood is to become self-sufficient and self-supporting.

My hope is that, as a result of the ‘aha, we will be able to draft the articles or provisions of our constitution for the new Hawaiian nation, whatever form it ultimately takes.  It is important to remember these documents can be changed or annulled.  This is only the beginning.  Once these governing documents are ratified by the Hawaiian people, they can be implemented to protect our lands and trust resources.  We would then be able to care for our people without assistance from anyone.

The window of opportunity for us to act on controlling our lands is closing.  For those who think we have lots of time to talk about this, they only need to look at all of the laws that have been passed in the last ten years to realize time is running out.

A good example of why nationhood is so critical for our people is the recent attempt in the legislature to pass the “forced land sales bills.”  Kamehameha Schools (KS) recently led the charge against legislation that would have forced Hawai‘i’s landowners to sell leasehold lands to their lessees.

If HB 1635 and HB 2173 had become law, all commercial, agriculture, conservation and industrial lands would have been put under threat to be forcibly sold.  KS would have been hurt by these bills since nearly 80 percent of their commercial properties are ground leased.  Our ceded lands controlled by DLNR would also be threatened.

Private land developers could have moved in to condemn and remove historical lands that were passed from generation to generation of Hawaiians.  This would have also negatively impacted the ability of Native Hawaiian organizations and trusts to fulfill their missions.  HB 1635 and HB 2173 represent yet another example of the government’s shameful history of removing Native Hawaiians from their ancestral lands.

Thankfully, on February 8th, KS announced that the House cancelled the hearing for HB 1635 and HB 2173, which effectively killed the bills.  However, there are other land bills in the legislature we need to be concerned about such as DLNR selling off remnants and the transfer of land to the military.  Let us be makaꞌala (watchful).  Aloha Ke Akua.

February ‘aha to discuss self-governance

`Ano`ai kakou…  On January 6th, Na‘i Aupuni announced that a total of 154 individuals will participate in the February ‘aha to discuss self-governance.

The ‘aha participants were derived from a list of 196 former candidates of an election that would have resulted in 40 delegates attending a constitutional convention.  Na‘i Aupuni decided to terminate the election on December 15, 2015 because of pending federal litigation that would probably stall the vote count for years.  So instead, Na‘i Aupuni offered all of the then-registered candidates a chance to participate in a gathering to discuss a path to self-governance.

As one of the 154 participants, I have been receiving emails of conversations between other ‘aha participants and while I am enthused by their excitement and the wide varieties of topics being discussed, I would like to steer the conversation back to the essentials of forming a nation.

I believe that calling for an ‘aha is an excellent opportunity to provide an open and democratic forum to discuss possible governing documents of our new nation.  This is where the ultimate form of the Hawaiian government can be debated and considered.

The first step is for everyone attending the ‘aha to come with an open mind and clean slate.  We must all be willing to learn how other native peoples have drafted constitutions and formed governments that serve their people.  To do that, we must focus on questions such as:

  • What kinds of powers would we want our nation to have?
  • What will our new nation’s relationship with the State of Hawaii, the Federal Government and the International community, including other Pacific islanders entail?
  • What are the fundamental rules we would like to see written in our constitution?
  • Will our new nation have the power to tax?
  • Will our new nation be free from state and federal taxes?

These are the kinds of important issues that I would like the ‘aha to focus on.

Given the fact that there are so many participants and such a short amount of time, it is clear that it will be challenging to build a consensus by the close of the ‘aha.  However, I am hopeful that the more experienced participants will help to organize smaller working groups and also assist in steering the discussion towards constructive topics such as what it takes to form a government.

Hawaiians have a spirituality that is admired by the world – the Aloha spirit.  It’s a feeling in the heart that can’t be described.  It’s a feeling that we all feel when we come together as one and recognize that while we may have differing views, all views are welcomed and respected.

No matter what the outcome of the ‘aha may be, let us all remember to move forward, together as one people.  Aloha Ke Akua.

The Naʻi Aupuni Election Process

`Ano`ai kakou…  The ballots for the Naʻi Aupuni Election were mailed to certified voters on November 1, 2015 and voting ended on November 30, 2015.  So the Election results should be announced by the time this column is published.

This is an exciting time for Native Hawaiians.  We have not had this type of consensus-building opportunity since the overthrow of our kingdom and we should take hold of this opportunity to start the process of deciding how we want to move forward in unity.

While I am pleased that the Naʻi Aupuni Election was finally able to proceed, I was surprised to see that the candidates’ names were listed on the ballot in a “randomized” order and not in alphabetical order.

Naʻi Aupuni decided to list the all candidates in a random order to give everyone a chance to be at the top of the ballot.  While I can understand why they made this change, an argument could be made about whether the list was truly “random.”  For example, two of the top five names listed on the Oahu ballot were OHA employees.  I’m sure this was just a coincidence, but most voters would agree that it seems suspicious.

According to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser article dated November 3, 2015, Hawaiians’ election for constitutional convention begins, reported that the Naʻi Aupuni election suffered from a rash of candidates dropping out and one calling the election “fixed.”  There have been other complaints in the community that OHA is trying to control the process.  Having OHA employees at the top of the ballot doesn’t help to dispel this negative impression.

To make matters worse, both of the OHA Employees have also run for a seat in past OHA Board of Trustees elections, giving them more name recognition in the Hawaiian community than candidates who have never run in a Hawaiian election.

I believe that Naʻi Aupuni should have just done what the state election office has been doing all along – list the candidate names in alphabetical order.  Voters are used to seeing candidate names listed alphabetically and it would make it easier for them to find the candidates they support, especially since Oahu voters had to sort through an incredible 103 candidates!

They should have also made it easier for Oahu voters by breaking up the island into smaller sections (such as rural and urban Oahu) with fewer names.  Voters on Oahu needed a lot of time and stamina to search through all those names.

I am surprised that Naʻi Aupuni would turn to such a radically different voting process than what Hawaii voters are used to for such a historically important election.  There was already a high level of scrutiny regarding the integrity of the election and I believe they should have stuck with what works.  Instead, they just added to the confusion.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the voting process, please contact Elections America at naiaupuni@election-america.com or call Elections America toll-free at (844) 413-2929.  Aloha Ke Akua.

Consolidating committees is an attempt to control power – AGAIN!

`Ano`ai kakou…  On July 30, 2015, the Trustees voted to authorize the OHA Administration’s proposal to consolidate my committee, Asset & Resource Management (ARM) and the Land and Property (LAP) Committee into a new super-committee called the Committee on Resource Management.  The board needs to vote on it one more time before it becomes official but, by the time you read this, it probably already happened.

OHA’s administration feels that having three committees only wastes time and effort.  But this just part of the administration’s continuous efforts to strengthen their control over Trustees.  Over the past six months they have harassed Trustees by denying our travel and sponsorship requests; using vague rules that we never authorized.  Is the administration elected by the beneficiaries or hired by the Trustees?

Trustees are the policy makers, but with very weak leadership at the helm of the board, our powers have been minimized.  OHA’s administrators and attorneys run the show and the Trustees have been downgraded.  Despite pledging to take back power, this Chairman has not kept his promise to Trustees.

Consolidating committees will only centralize power under a few Trustees that are favored by the administration.  Despite early promises by this Chairman to stop this kind of shenanigans, he has failed.  So you can expect business as usual.

Over ten years ago, OHA had five committees covering everything from land to the legislature.  Trustees developed many successful programs, such as Aha ‘Opio and Aha Kupuna.  Then Trustee Haunani Apoliona and her faction took over and consolidated the five committees into two, giving her and her successor a tighter grip on power.

This was the start of a string of disasters as OHA could not get anything meaningful done.  With no Trustee Committees overseeing them, our successful programs were quietly discontinued.   But it’s the loss of land that was the most devastating consequence.

Maili Land

In 2002, a company leaving Hawaii offered to donate to OHA 198 acres of Maili land.  OHA waited too long to respond and the company sold the land, valued at $3,000,000, for $100,000.  The ARM chairman at the time said he didn’t see the urgency of the deal and failed to take it up in his committee in a timely manner.  It was unconscionable to let such a huge opportunity slip through the cracks.  Unfortunately, history tends to repeat itself.

Puna Land

On August 18, 2004, Joe Wedeman offered to donate 66.4 acres of Puna land to OHA.  The gift was a tremendous opportunity and could be an educational and cultural resource for students.

I immediately asked the ARM chairman to bring it to the committee for a vote and reminded him about the Maili debacle.  On September 1, 2004, he asked the administrator to do a study first.  Then, on September 29, 2004, they asked for three more weeks to visit the site.  When I checked on December 17, 2004, it still wasn’t done.

By the time the Administration finally presented the study to ARM on February 16, 2005, Mr. Wedeman had withdrawn his offer.

We need both the LAP & ARM committees

The Trustees seem to have forgotten all of the problems above that led to the creation of the LAP Committee.  Shouldn’t everyone be asking why leadership wants to combine it with ARM?  They are putting power again in the hands of a few Trustees and the Administrator.  Aloha Ke Akua.