One step forward, two steps back: OHA publishes a book and hands over Scholarship Program to UH

`Ano`ai kakou…  Last month I talked about OHA taking a step in the right direction by getting rid of a “middle-man” to administer OHA’s funds to support 17 Hawaiian-focused charter schools.  It was a win-win situation I hoped we could replicate with other OHA programs.  Disappointingly, this seems to have been the exception, not the rule.


Certain things should be contracted out to outside vendors, such as publishing books.  We’re a government agency focused on bettering the condition of Native Hawaiians, not a book publisher.

Amazingly, on November 21, 2017, OHA published and released a book that explores mana.  According to OHA’s press release, the 300-page Mana Lāhui Kānaka is “a multidimensional study of mana: what it is, how to articulate it, and how to access and cultivate it.  The book, which is available free to the public online, was co-authored by OHA Ka Pouhana and Chief Executive Officer Kamanaʻopono Crabbe, Ph.D, Dr. Kealoha Fox and Holly Coleman.”

I had no idea our CEO was using OHA staff time and resources over the past five years to write this book.  None of the previous Board Chairs or the Trustees I’ve talked to were aware of this project or how it came about.  Apparently, OHA’s CEO felt that there wasn’t many books written about mana out there, so he decided to have OHA publish one.

While mana maybe a worthwhile subject for some, is spending five years of staff time on it to publish a book more important than the life of our people or their homeless plight?  OHA needs to be more careful when taking on these projects because the public could easily see it as self-serving and done on the backs of our beneficiaries.


According to OHA’s press release, on November 8, 2017 OHA filed a filed a lawsuit in First Circuit Court against the State of Hawaiʻi and the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) for their longstanding and well-documented mismanagement of Mauna Kea.  OHA’s complaint requests the court to order the state to fulfill its trust obligations relating to Mauna Kea and to terminate UH’s general lease for the mountain for breach of the lease’s terms.

“The state and UH have failed to properly mālama Mauna Kea and have demonstrated their inability to ensure that the environmental and cultural significance of the mountain is recognized and protected,” said OHA Vice Chair Dan Ahuna.  “It’s time to abandon any hope that UH is capable or even willing to provide the level of aloha and attention to Mauna Kea that it deserves,” Ahuna continued.  “We need to come together as a community to completely re-think how we care for the mauna, and that starts with cancelling the university’s master lease.”

I agree with Trustee Ahuna.  However, on November 29, 2017, the Board approved, based on the Administration’s recommendation, the disbursement of $550,000 from FY 2018 and $550,000 from FY 2019 to fund a grant to the UH system to serve as administrator for OHA’ scholarship fund.  NOTE:  I abstained.

So to recap, OHA can’t trust UH to properly manage Mauna Kea but we can totally trust them to properly distribute our money to Native Hawaiian students.  Talk about mixed messages.  Aloha Ke Akua.

The Return of Trustee Accountability: Bring Back OHA Run Programs

`Ano`ai kakou…  With a New Year coming up soon I continue to hope that there will be positive changes at OHA.  However, change will not occur unless the Trustees begin to hold our Administration responsible for their actions.

The biggest problem is that the current system encourages Trustees to do nothing but show up to vote for action items written by the Administration.  Many of these action items are delivered to us a few days before a meeting, giving us very little time to properly review them.  This is why Trustees often feel blindsided at the table by last minute proposals.

Another problem is that OHA only reacts to problems as they pop up instead of proactively solving issues before they get serious.  With the many emergencies we face, our beneficiaries cannot afford Trustees that only sit back and passively wait to put out fires.

OHA used to be a hands-on agency with a variety of programs to help our beneficiaries.  Whenever a beneficiary would call with a problem, whether it had to do with health, education, housing, or even funds for an emergency, we could call someone in the OHA Administration for help.  Our beneficiaries were assisted quickly and efficiently by an OHA staffer.  That’s why having in-house OHA programs, closely monitored by the Trustees, are so important.

Today, OHA mostly operates like a charitable foundation that simply hands out grants and conducts research.  Most of the successful OHA-run programs, like Aha ‘Opio and Aha Kupuna, which took years of hard work by past Trustees to develop, have been contracted out or quietly discontinued.

OHA also had a very successful housing program through a partnership with Fannie Mae and implemented through First Hawaiian Bank.  We not only provided assistance with down payments but also classes on how to control debt in order to qualify for a mortgage.  In those productive years OHA ran many programs with just a quarter of our current staff.  While farming work out to nonprofits is appropriate in some cases, I believe OHA has gone too far.


Rebuilding our programs won’t be quick or easy, but there is hope.  For the last eight years, OHA contracted with a third-party “middle-man” to administer OHA’s funds to support 17 Hawaiian-focused charter schools.  The middle-man took a small percentage of the funds as an administrative fee to cover the costs of distributing the fund and ensuring compliance.  Since the Trustees approved $1.5 million for this school year and next school year, the administrative fee was estimated to be up to $200,000 for each year.

On October 19, 2017, the OHA Trustees approved distributing the $3 million directly to the charter schools over the next two years.  Amazingly, the Trustees finally decided to get rid of the middle-man.  This means that the administrative fee will now go to the schools.  It’s a win-win situation I’m hoping we can replicate with other OHA programs.


The Trustees are ultimately accountable for OHA.  Therefore it makes more sense to run our programs in-house so that we can monitor them.  That way, OHA Trustees will be more involved and regularly kept up to date on our programs’ progress.  This should be our goal for 2018.  I pray that the New Year will bring constructive and meaningful change.  Aloha Ke Akua.

My continuing hope for change at OHA

`Ano`ai kakou…  Happy Year of the Snake!  Now that the elections are over and our new Board of Trustees is in place I continue to hope that there will be changes at OHA to make things better here for everyone.


I believe that being a trustee is not about simply showing up at a few monthly meetings.  OHA cannot afford to maintain a system which encourages passive trustees, as we have experienced in the past.

Currently, there are only two subject-matter committees under the Board of Trustees: (1) The Asset & Resource Management Committee which oversees all of OHA’s fiscal, policy, economic development, and administrative matters, and (2) The Beneficiary Advocacy and Empowerment Committee, which has responsibility over all federal and state legislation, on-going programs in health, housing, education, land, and the Native Hawaiian Revolving Loan Fund.

The problem is that each committee is too broad in scope and can easily become overwhelmed.  I’m hopeful that the two committees will form “Ad Hoc” sub-committees to allow other Trustees to concentrate on more specific issues such as land, policy & planning, program management, legislative & government affairs, and budget & finance.  Creating sub-committees will get more Trustees actively involved and ensure less things “fall through the cracks.”


Today, OHA mostly operates like a charitable foundation that hands out grants.  Most of the successful OHA-run programs, like Aha ‘Opio and Aha Kupuna, which took years of hard work by past trustees to develop, have been contracted out or quietly discontinued.  While farming work out to nonprofits is appropriate in some cases, I believe OHA has gone too far.

I believe that OHA should do much more for our beneficiaries in terms of programs and services.  Grants are ineffective in solving long-term problems since grant monies eventually run out.  Even successful services end up getting cut if they can’t raise any money.  That’s why we need on-going OHA programs that are closely monitored by the trustees.


Despite many requests, OHA meetings are not televised like the City Council or the State Legislature.  Cost has always been an issue, but with today’s technology, it shouldn’t cost that much – Olelo and YouTube are free!  Broadcasting our meetings would make Trustees more accessible and keep us honest.


Congratulations to State Senators Malama Solomon and Clayton Hee, two former OHA trustees, on their re-election.  OHA continues to have two legislators it can count on in the State Senate.  Let us hope that we can have another successful session and get more things done for our beneficiaries. Aloha Ke Akua.

OHA 2003: Missed Opportunities


Source: January 2004 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  OHA spent more in 2003 than any other year.  We spent a million on Federal Recognition and tens of thousands of dollars on preparations for ceded land negotiations, but what were the results?  What happened to our ongoing programs that were established to improve the lives of our Hawaiian people?


OHA’s Ceded Lands Negotiation Team currently consists of Trustees Mossman (Chair), Apoliona, Stender, and Carpenter.  Although the team met in 2003, no negotiations with Governor Lingle’s Administration ever took place.

The Negotiation Team hired a “technical support team” of four experts to assist in preparations.  So far, I have not seen any formal report of their plans nor have they made any recommendations on our general strategy to the Board.  These experts have already cost OHA approximately $100,000 (and counting) with no end in sight.


We missed our opportunity for Federal Recognition in 2003.  The Akaka-Stevens Bill (S.344) did not even make it to the floor of Congress for a vote.  Part of the problem is that OHA’s leadership waited too long to hire a reputable Washington D.C. lobbyist to advocate for the bill’s passage.  By the time a lobbyist was hired, it was already midway through the year.  Once they were onboard, the Trustees never knew what they were doing for us, despite the fact that they were in contact with the Chair’s office on a weekly basis.  This secrecy kept many of us out-of the-loop.


In December of 2002, the Chair consolidated our five committees into just two.  This left Trustee Stender to oversee all of OHA’s fiscal, policy, economic development, and administrative matters, while Trustee Machado was given responsibility over all federal and state legislation, on-going programs in health, housing, education, land, the revolving loan fund, and then some.  The Chair’s rationale was that this would foster efficiency. 

Anyone can see that two Trustees can’t possibly do the work that kept five Trustees busy all year.  One can argue that this was simply an attempt to consolidate power under just three Trustees and shut out the remaining six from making any meaningful contributions.

There are clear signs that the two committees are overwhelmed.  Last year, virtually no new programs were proposed and none of our long-standing programs showed any progress.  In fact, our Aha Kupuna program was dropped altogether for 2003.  Programs that were helping the everyday lives of Hawaiians fell by the wayside, apparently to make way for our nationhood efforts. 

A total of $1.2 million was spent on nationhood in 2003 and another $2.2 million has been committed for 2004.  With such large amounts of funds being expended, it is imperative that the Hawaiian Community be kept informed of our intentions, so that they can have faith in our leadership and feel certain that their trust funds are being spent wisely and prudently.

While building a nation is critical, OHA cannot afford to neglect the various long standing successful programs that have assisted many Hawaiian individuals and organizations.  A healthy and well-educated Hawaiian population is what we will depend upon for building a strong nation.

We have much to accomplish in 2004.  I will continue to work with Governor Lingle, the State Legislature, our Congressional Delegation, and my fellow Trustees to overcome the many challenges we face.   However, our efforts cannot succeed without the support and confidence of our people.

This is a critical time for our Hawaiian people.  I urge those of you who believe in open government, fostering teamwork, and empowering others through the sharing of power to consider becoming a candidate for OHA Trustee in the 2004 elections.  Imua Hawaii!  Hauoli Makahiki hou!