`Ano`ai kakou… Although the Trustees were elected by the people of Hawaii and have the fiduciary responsibility to protect the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund, we are rarely allowed to represent OHA outside of the state. Instead, the Administration is by-passing the Trustees and sending its staff to represent OHA to the world.
In the month of August 2015 alone, eight OHA Administrative staff members traveled out-of-state to Washington, D.C., Portland, Seattle, Dallas, and Montana [Note: None of the Trustees or their personal staff traveled out-of-state in August]. Administrative staff represented OHA in high-profile events such as the National Indian Education Association Annual Conference and the Aloha Festivals in Seattle.
In the past, I have questioned why OHA’s Administrative Staff were sent to represent OHA at prominent or prestigious events at the United Nations and in Washington, D.C. It’s a no brainer that the Board Chair or at least the Committee Chairs should be going to these events instead. To make matters worse I have heard that, on many occasions, the Administrative Staff members that were sent seemed to be in way over their heads.
I keep asking the Board and the Administration to send seasoned Trustees to these important events, but my suggestions keep falling on deaf ears. No one would deny that it would be far more effective if we sent a Trustee to represent OHA at important out-of-state events. A Trustee carries more weight and legitimacy than any appointed staff member ever will.
So why aren’t Trustees being sent to represent OHA to the world? Perhaps it’s because of the rumored culture within the Administration that seems to look down on Trustees. Several staff members and Trustees have told me that they get a strong sense that the higher ranking Administrative officers actually look down on the Trustees.
OHA’s highly educated Administrative officers seem to question our competence, experience, and education. While I don’t have a Ph.D. or law degree I certainly don’t feel that my opinions on Hawaiian issues matter any less than theirs. It is this kind of elitist attitude that alienates many of our beneficiaries and they should know better.
Unfortunately, the current Board Chair seems unable or unwilling to stand up to the Administration. In fact, he seems to have taken a “if you can’t beat him, join him” attitude. On August 4, 2015, he traveled with OHA’s Administrator/CEO to the Cook Islands to celebrate their 50th Anniversary of self-governance, along with a large entourage of OHA Administrative Staff members. They seem to have had a wonderful time together and the Board Chair has gone on record as saying he supports the Administration’s international travel. So sadly, this ongoing problem won’t get resolved until there is a change in leadership either at the Board or Administrative level.
I will certainly continue to push for a bolder leadership style that is unafraid to stand up for what is right and never kowtows to the Administration. Aloha Ke Akua.