By: OHA Trustee Rowena Akana
Source: Ka Wai Ola o OHA, December 2005
‘Ano’ai kakou… Another challenging year for OHA has comes to an end. As we look forward to the coming year, I’d like to take this time to reflect on issues and events from the past year.
Although OHA was able to help Na Pua Noeau, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, and Alu Like, Inc. boost their budgets, several of our most important bills ended up dying. For example, ever since 2001, we’ve tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation that would reestablish the continued funding of OHA from ceded land revenues. The Legislature needs to define, once and for all, the revenue stream from public trust lands that is to be given to OHA for the benefit of Hawaiians.
We must also do something to save our Kuleana Lands. For the past two years, I have submitted bills that would exempt Kuleana lands from real property taxes if the land has been continuously occupied by the descendants of the original titleholder. I am determined to give struggling Hawaiian families living on kuleana lands the tax relief they desperately need to hold on to their homes and legacy.
I brought up two concerns when Goldman Sachs and Frank Russell were hired to serve as OHA’s two financial managers on January 16, 2003. First, I felt that their fees were too high. Secondly, I argued that we should hire an independent consultant to make sure they were doing their jobs. Unfortunately, OHA’s leadership at the time didn’t agree with me and the contracts were approved. I finally got some vindication when State Auditor Marion Higa came out with her April 2005 audit of OHA and found that our money managers’ fees were too high and that we should have hired an independent consultant to help us evaluate them (which still has not occurred).
For years now, I have been calling for OHA to create a Land Division to be headed by a “Land Konohiki,” an expert specializing in land acquisition, management, and investment and ceded land claims. The Land Konohiki would be able to quickly consider private lands for acquisition. The Administration is now beginning to look at addressing this concern.
Also, back in April, I strongly opposed a proposal to establish two censors to control what trustees could print in their Ka Wai Ola columns. Thankfully, this threat to free-speech was quickly dropped after I brought up my concerns in an editorial to the Honolulu Advertiser and in my Ka Wai Ola Column. While the Chairman has publicly stated that there was no attempt to implement the censors, I have a copy of the written recommendation that was given to the trustees.
We made some progress in the Arakaki Lawsuit. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ denied the Arakaki plaintiffs any standing regarding the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and ceded land revenues. That just leaves OHA’s matching funds from the state, which I feel is pretty ridiculous since we are a state agency.
I was most disappointed by the October lawsuit filed by Virgil Day, Mel Hoomanawanui, Josiah Hoohuli, Patrick Kahawaiolaa, and Samuel Kealoha, Jr. against OHA. They want OHA to stop serving Hawaiians with less than 50% blood through programs such as Na Pua No’eau and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation. They also want us to stop supporting the Akaka bill. When will we learn that a people divided cannot stand? The only people that will gain from our bickering are those who do not want to see Hawaiians prosper in their own homeland.
We learned in late July that the previously unheard of Grassroot Institute of Hawai’i, led by Richard Rowland, had joined Thurston Twigg-Smith and H. William Burgess in opposing the Akaka bill. These people fed Congress false and misleading information in an effort to confuse the issue. They say that they are fighting for equality, but I believe they are really motivated by racism.
Urgent matters, such as Hurricane Katrina, ended up postponing the Akaka Bill. As of this writing, OHA is planning to lobby the Senate in the week before Thanksgiving. I believe it will be our last chance to get the bill passed this year.
On a positive note, I was very pleased that on June 23, 2005, the Board of Trustees approved a grant of $300,000 to help fund the Kupuna Continuing Care Assurance Program which will be administered by Lunalilo Home over the next two years. The program is designed to help make residential care, respite care, adult day care, and outreach nutritional services more affordable for Native Hawaiian kupuna.
Your prayers and guidance, for those of us in hardship in 2006, will help to make our journey successful. May the Lord bless and keep you all safe this holiday season. Aloha pumehana.