Bring back the Land Committee

`Ano`ai kakou…  By the time you read this article you will have voted in the Primary Election.  I hope you took my advice and voted for new people.  Let me tell you why this is important, especially in the OHA races.

About a year ago, at the urging of the current Board Chair, two committees were collapsed into one.  The Budget Committee and the Land Committee became the Committee on Resource Management chaired by Trustee Colette Machado.   The excuse was to save time and effort, but the real reason was to consolidate power.

Since that time very little, if anything, has happened in the new combined committee.  Trustees have received little or no information on our land negotiations.  For instance:

  • MAUNA KEA: On May 26, 2015, Governor David Ige announced that he asked UH, which subleases the Mauna Kea summit area from the state, to make ten changes to improve its stewardship of Mauna Kea.  One of the changes included UH voluntarily returning to the state more than 10,000 acres that are not specifically needed for astronomy.  I believe UH should turn the lands over to OHA, since all 11,300 acres of land within the Mauna Kea Science Reserve are public land trust lands classified under section 5(b) of the Admissions Act.  What better solution could there be than to put Hawaiian lands in Hawaiian hands?  OHA has now put the State and UH on notice that we are considering legal action against both.
  • KAKAAKO MAKAI: In 2012, when OHA received Kakaako lands in our settlement with the State over past-due ceded land revenues, none of us knew that the Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA), which has jurisdiction over development in the area, planned to lease the harbor in Kakaako.  OHA has been negotiating with the HCDA to get them to compromise on their plans to put “finger piers” in front of our Fisherman’s Wharf property.
  • LEGISLATIVE THREATS: Earlier in the year, the legislature tried to pass a “forced land sales” bills.  If HB 1635 and HB 2173 had become law, developers could use it to forced Hawai‘i’s landowners to sell leasehold lands to their lessees.  Kamehameha Schools led the charge against the legislation since nearly 80 percent of their commercial properties are leased.  Also, our ceded lands controlled by DLNR could have been threatened and it would have also hurt the ability of Native Hawaiian organizations and trusts to fulfill their missions.

No matter what explanation is given for all of the missed opportunities that OHA has had this past year to fulfill its mission, it all comes down to leadership and the lack of it.  To top all of this off, a five to four vote is hardly a vote of confidence to hire back an OHA Administrator who many Trustees feel lacks the business and economic development experience to move OHA forward in the black column instead of the steady red.

These are the reasons OHA needs a breath of fresh air.  VOTE FOR CHANGE.  IMUA!

Help OHA reach its full potential: Look for Change

`Ano`ai kakou…  As the longest serving Trustee, it saddens me that OHA is no longer the proactive advocate for our beneficiaries that it once was.  When I was first elected to the board in 1990, OHA was at the forefront of many issues involving native rights, housing, education, and health.

Past Trustees were actively involved, spearheading major projects, and holding OHA’s Administration accountable.  Now everything seems, for want of a better term, “stagnant.”  While I’m sure the Board Chair can produce a long list of “great” things happening at OHA, to me it’s just all public relations fluff.  Make no mistake – This is not the OHA of old that used to get results.  I’m sure that every Trustee would agree that OHA could do more for our beneficiaries.  Much more.

So what’s the solution?  It’s simple: Restore the Board’s oversight over the Administration.  Right now, there are only THREE Trustees that are holding the Administration accountable:

  • The Asset & Resource Management Committee Chair, who oversees all of OHA’s fiscal, policy, economic development, land, and administrative matters;
  • The Beneficiary Advocacy & Empowerment Committee Chair, who has responsibility over federal and state legislation, on-going programs in health, housing, and education; and
  • Last, but not least, the Board Chair, who basically just acts as the liaison between the Administration and the Board instead of providing oversight and direction. In fact, the CEO has BANNED Trustees without committees from having direct contact with Administrative staff. All requests for information must go through the Chair’s office.

So basically, the rest of the Trustees have to depend on the three Trustees above for updates and reports at the board table – There are no other opportunities for us to get information.

We could easily increase the amount of Trustees providing oversight over the Administration by going back the five committee system.  Subject matters included (1) Land, (2) Policy & Planning, (3) Program Management, (4) Legislative & Government Affairs, and (5) Budget & Finance.  Bringing back these five committees would instantly double the amount of Trustees overseeing the Administration from three to six.

The increased oversight over the Administration would finally put an end to the frequent complaints by Trustees that they are not being kept in the loop or getting regular updates on important issues.

As many of my long time readers know, this is not a new proposal.  I pushed for this change last year but the current Board Chair decided to go in the opposite direction.  He actually got rid of the Land and Property committee!

OHA is simply too big for three Trustees to control the organization.  And, as a result, crucial information is able to stay hidden.  For example, under the old five committee structure, the Budget & Finance committee chair actually had the time to take our budget out to the community for comments and suggestions.  Every line litem of the budget was presented and none were hidden in “cost centers.”  Nothing could stay hidden in the budget with that much scrutiny.

So this election, seek change and elect new blood!  Ask OHA candidates what they think about how OHA is run.  Question them on their ideas to improve the office and the services we provide.  Vote wisely or we’ll continue to be stuck in the same stagnation for years to come.  Our beneficiaries deserve better!  Aloha Ke Akua.

Wrapping-up 2005

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.

OHA needs a Land Konohiki

By: OHA Trustee Rowena Akana

Source: Ka Wai Ola o OHA, April 2005

‘Ano’ai kakou… On August 19, 2004, The Honolulu Advertiser ran an article titled “OHA gets offer of free Puna land.” Six months later, the offer was withdrawn because OHA took too long to finalize the deal. Sound familiar? It should.

The same thing happened in late-2002 when a mainland company named PH Industries offered to donate 198 acres of land in Maili to OHA, 80 to 90 acres of which were developable. The company was leaving Hawaii and wanted to donate its land. OHA waited too long to respond and the company sold it to someone else for almost nothing. Trustee Oswald Stender, the budget chair at the time, said he did not see the urgency of the deal and failed to take it up in his committee in a timely manner.

There were so many possibilities for the Maili property. It was cleared of environmental hazards and zoned for agriculture and conservation use. At the very least, OHA could have sold it to a developer. The land was valued at $3,000,000 and it was sold for a measly $100,000. It was unconscionable to let such a huge opportunity slip through the cracks. Unfortunately, history tends to repeat itself.

On August 18, 2004, Joe Wedeman made an offer to donate 66.4 acres of Puna land to OHA on behalf of his wife, Harriet, who had inherited the land from her mother. About 35 acres contained no archaeological sites and could be developed. Trustee Boyd Mossman said the gift was a “tremendous opportunity” and could be an educational and cultural resource for students.

Trustee Carpenter and I immediately sent a memo to Trustee Stender after the offer was made, and asked him to bring it to the Board of Trustees for a vote as soon as possible. Trustee Carpenter wrote that “time is of the essence.” I specifically reminded Trustee Stender about the Maili debacle.

On September 1, 2004, Trustee Stender responded that he asked the OHA Administrator and his staff to ensure that a “due diligence” study is done before the issue could be presented to his committee. On September 29, 2004, the Administration reported to the Board that the consultants they hired, MN Capital Partners, LLC, needed three-weeks since they needed to visit the site.

Ten-weeks later, on December 17, 2004, my staff checked with the ARM committee to see whether the due diligence study was done or not. It was not. The Administration finally presented the due diligence study to the Board of Trustees on February 16, 2005. Unfortunately, it was too late. Mr. Wedeman had already sent a fax to OHA two days earlier, withdrawing the offer (the entire fax was just one sentence).

All this could have been avoided if OHA followed a May 2002 recommendation from the Land Committee’s (back when OHA had five subject-matter committees) to create an OHA 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 could quickly look at and consider private lands for acquisition or even partner with other Hawaiian agencies to acquire land.

The first step in the Land Konohiki plan was to hire a land consultant to review prior land studies and make recommendations to the Board. The plan was passed by the Board on October 30, 2002.

Unfortunately, despite my numerous inquiries, nothing was done about the issue for months. On April 4, 2003, the Administration reported that they were still looking for a consultant. The Administration’s slow pace can only be blamed on the lack of direct Trustee oversight. When the current leadership took over in late-2002, they got rid of the Land Committee and there was no one to keep their feet to the fire.

It is sad to think of all the lost possibilities. If we had a Land Konohiki in place, our beneficiaries would now be in control of 264.4 acres of land. It is a supreme irony that OHA spends millions to lobby for federal recognition and yet continues to refuse free land. What good is a sovereign nation without a homeland?

Land and Sovereignty

By: Trustee Rowena Akana
February 3, 1999

No two words have so captured the attention of this archipelago’s residents as “land” and “sovereignty”. Despite developments since the 100-year anniversary of the 1893 illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy, as well as the United States’ apology and admission of the illegality of the overthrow, many people do not grasp what either word means or will mean for their future.

The general goal of sovereignty advocates is the transfer of control of Hawaiian Home Lands and ceded lands directly to a native Hawaiian government. Currently, the state and federal government hold in trust about 1.2 million acres of land for the benefit of Hawaiians. Yet, the first people to these lands have seen very few benefits.

Hawaiian Home Lands are scattered tracts comprising about 197,075 acres, which Congress set aside in 1920 for native Hawaiian homesteaders. Ceded lands are the remains of an estimated 1.8 million acres of public, private and crown land illegally annexed by resolution from a provisional government to the United States in 1898.

Hawaiian land, once farmed communally, is now some of the most expensive real estate on Earth. Housing prices, driven up by mainland retirees and foreign speculators, are out of reach for Hawaiians living, working and raising families in the islands.

Hawaiian waters, once kept in ecological balance with humans through a complex kapu system, are now oversold to the highest bidder, or treated as a toilet for raw sewage.

Hawaiian culture, once a living history of genealogy, geography, and spirituality, was nearly obliterated by Calvinist missionaries and is usually obscured with tourist-pleasing luaus.

Today, 70-80,000 people (depending on the source) – of Hawaii’s more than one million residents are full-blooded Hawaiians. One fifth, or about 225,000 people claim some Hawaiian blood. Yet Hawaiians remain the poorest, sickest, least educated, worst housed, and most frequently imprisoned segment of Hawaii’s population.

Since Kamehameha the Great, foreigners have enjoyed some measure of control over Hawaiian land. The concept of land ownership was foreign to Hawaiians. How can you own what belongs to God? The king and his chief provided land grants to the people–some of them outsiders, who chose to grow large tracts of crops to be sold overseas, rather than to be eaten at home.

In 1825, when 12-year-old Kamehameha III ascended to the throne, the Council of Chiefs adopted the western practice of inheritance after the death of a king. However, foreigners, protective of their agricultural interest, sought more secure forms of land tenure. They and their governments applied considerable pressure on the young king.

In 1840, the year he drew up Hawaii’s first constitution, Kamehameha III granted the right to property by declaring that all land belonged to the chiefs and the people, with the king as trustee. In 1848, true ownership of land came to Hawaii, when the king accepted a land apportionment plan, called the Great Mahele, or division.

The Mahele completed the transition from a feudal redistribution land system to a fee simple land ownership system, by dividing the land among the king, government, chiefs and the people. The land was split into three parts: about 1 million acres of crown lands to which the king held title; 1.5 million acres of government lands for public use; and, the remaining 1.5 million of Konohiki lands set aside for individual ownership by the chiefs and the people.

The Mahele was an unmitigated disaster for the maka’ainana, the people of the land, or commoners. While the king intended to make available one-third of Hawaii’s lands to maka’ainana, they received much less than one percent of the total land. The maka’ainana’s land holdings and rights were further diluted in 1850, with the passage of additional legislation which authorized ownership and conveyance of the land, regardless of citizenship.

The stage was set for a massive land grab by Westerners. In the next half century, with a population no larger than 2,000, Westerners took control of most of Hawaii’s land, and manipulated the economy for their own profit.

Many Native Hawaiians pleaded with their last elected monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani, to protect the sovereignty of Hawaii. At the urging of her people, the queen attempted to regain some of the monarchy’s power, which had been lost during the reign of her predecessor and brother, King Kalakaua through the Bayonet Constitution.

Her efforts to change Hawaii’s Constitution and cabinet unnerved a group of the wealthiest American merchants and sugar planters. These men wanted to be part of the United States to avoid high import tariffs. So, backed by a contingent of 162 U.S. Marines, the businessmen imprisoned the queen, and took over the islands, including the acreage that was supposed to be available to the maka’ainana.

Despite Lili’uokalani’s steadfast belief that the United States government would honor its treaties with the Kingdom and reject the provisional government, Hawaii went from a sovereign nation to an American colony in five years. In 1898, under President William McKinley, Hawaii was annexed to the United States constellation, along with Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.

President Grover Cleveland, who had opposed the coup, but failed to reverse it, wrote after leaving office: Hawaii is ours. But as look back upon the first steps in this miserable business, and as I contemplate the means to complete this outrage, I am ashamed of the whole affair.”

Meanwhile, the provisional government sold chunks of crown and Konohiki lands to fellow merchants and planters. When the islands were annexed illegally to the United States, Hawaii’s government acknowledged that this acreage (now 1.8 million acres) belonged to Native Hawaiians, and ceded it with the stipulation that it be held in trust for Native Hawaiians. The federal government summarily lopped off about 20 percent of the land for its own use, mostly for military bases and parks.

By 1920, the plight of the true inhabitants, Native Hawaiians, had become desperate. The population had dropped as much as 96 percent. Some scholars estimate that a one-time population of 1 million Hawaiians in pre-contact Hawaii had plummeted to 40,000.

However, a bill was being prepared that would allow Native Hawaiians to lease a small sliver of their former land. The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act began as a well meaning effort by Prince Jonah Kuhio, the Hawaiian territorial delegate to Congress, who saw urban slums and disease rapidly killing off Hawaiians, and hoped that returning Hawaiians to their aina, their agricultural land, could save them. In 1920, he said: “The Hawaiian race is passing, and if conditions continue to exist as they do today, this splendid race of people, my race, will pass from the face of this earth.”

No sooner did Prince Kuhio float his plan in Congress than it was co-opted by pineapple and sugar planters, who saw it as a way to secure their own uncertain futures. Their leases on 26,000 fertile acres were about to expire, and a general homestead law threatened to transfer their lucrative holdings to other hands.

So the planters struck a deal with territorial politicians: Get rid of general homesteading, allow us to keep our lands, and in exchange, you may allot 200,000 acres of “fourth class” lands to native Hawaiians for homestead. This land was arid, inaccessible, soilpoor, without infrastructure, and otherwise unfit for cultivation. Before long, Hawaiians abandoned agrarianism, and the bulk of homestead awards became simple house lots.
The sugar planters ensured that the Hawaiian Home Lands’ first executive was an ally. Its executive secretary was George Cooke, of Castle & Cooke, one of the Big Five plantation powers. The planters even pushed the 50 percent Hawaiian blood requirement, believing that interracial marriages would dilute the native population to extinction.

After statehood in 1959, responsibility for managing the homestead program was transferred from the federal government to the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL). Because the state failed to appropriate sufficient funding, until recently, the DHHL’s main source of revenue to manage and improve the land was income from general use leases granted non-Hawaiians on land “not immediately needed” for homestead. As a result, DHHL leased more land to non-Hawaiians than to Hawaiians.

For decades, the administration of the Hawaiian Home Lands trust went unquestioned. Subsequent investigations revealed mismanagement of the trust by both the federal and state governments. DHHL estimates that territorial and state governors issued between forty and sixty executive orders, which set aside Hawaiian Home Lands for military use. In 1978, a federal district court ruled that all governors’ executive orders were illegal.

In 1984, Governor Ariyoshi rescinded nearly thirty of these illegal acts, covering 30,000 acres. The Hawaii Attorney General also decreed that the U.S. Navy’s occupation of 1,400 acres of prime homelands near Honolulu was a “fundamental breach of trust”.

Rather than evicting the offending land users, which included state and federal agencies, the DHHL opted for monetary settlements totaling less than $10 million.

As of June 30,1997, only 6,428 homestead leases were awarded statewide, representing a mere 20.5 percent of the total Hawaiian Home Lands property. Meanwhile there are an estimated 29,162 qualified applicants on the Hawaiian Homes waiting list, many of whom have been waiting for forty years or more. Many have died waiting.

In 1959, when the Admissions Act turned responsibility for the remaining 1.5 million acres of ceded lands over to the new State of Hawaii, the federal government “retained” several hundred thousand acres for its national parks and military installations. Today, more than 100 facilities crowd the eight Hawaiian Islands, a land area approximately the size of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined. All the military bases occupy some ceded lands, and at least six occupy Hawaiian Home Lands, without consent or compensation.

Responsibility for these ceded lands rests with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). For the state’s first twenty years, DLNR managed ceded lands without scrutiny. Among other abuses, it allowed use of ceded lands by other state departments without compensation. It also executed a slew of summary land swaps.

State and federal laws already mandate that Hawaiians receive priority for water, to support development, traditional agriculture, and gathering rights over subdivisions, hotels and golf courses — promises seemingly forgotten. The state’s Commission on Water Resources has ignored the “Hawaiian Rights” clause of the water code, the clause that guarantees adequate reserves of water for current and foreseeable development of Hawaiian Home Lands.

At the 1978 Constitutional Convention, the state admitted that it was derelict in its duty to provide for the Hawaiian community. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) was created to receive 20 percent of all revenue generated by ceded lands for use for the benefit of Hawaiians.

Between 1980 and 1990, instead of 20 percent, OHA only received about $12.5 million in such proceeds. In 1993, OHA received $129 million from the state in settlement of those claims, including interest for back payment of monies owed by the state from 1980 – 1990, during the Waihee Administration.

In 1994, OHA initiated litigation to require the state to pay OHA past due amounts owed to Hawaiians that were not included in the $129 million settlement. In October 1996, Judge Heely granted OHA’s motion for partial summary judgment. The State filed an appeal. In December 1998, the Hawaii Supreme Court directed the parties to try to resolve the matter expeditiously. Negotiations continue.

As indigenous and first people to these islands, Hawaiians have essentially been under siege since foreign contact. In November 1993, President Clinton signed a Joint Resolution, which recognized the illegal procedure by which Hawaii was annexed to the United States, and apologized to Native Hawaiians on Behalf of the United States for the Overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. This legal recognition has offered Hawaiians a unique opportunity to lead a renewed battle for the resurrection of the powerful principle of sovereignty. Sovereignty is not a foreign concept to Hawaiians, to Native Americans, or to states in general.

To the great nineteenth century orator, Stephen Douglas, states incorporated legally into the Union were co-equal and sovereign unto themselves. In his celebrated debates with Lincoln (echoing the Declaration of Independence, which states that “these United States are, and of right ought to be Free and Independent States”), Douglas said:


Native governments have formed under the federal government through the Department of the Interior. There are hundreds of recognized nations within the territorial United States, in which the United States is but one. The others consist of American Indians. If it is OK for American Indians to form sovereign nations, why not Hawaiians? Failure to do so would, in fact, be discrimination against Hawaiians.

As indigenous people, Hawaiians are seeking recognition from the federal government of their right to sovereignty and self determination. Hawaiians have no desire to be dependent on the state or federal government. If Hawaiians had control of their lands, they could take care of their own people. They would not be a drain on the economy. There would be no homeless Hawaiians.

Fundamental to any sovereignty concept is control over land. Hawaiians have never prospered on land held on their behalf, but outside their reach. Lands at issue consist of the 1.2 million acres currently under the control of the state and federal government, as well as lands set aside as Hawaiian Home Lands. Hawaiians are not talking about privately owned land.