Thanks for trying, Senators Hanabusa & Hee


Source: July 2009 Ka Wai Ola Column

I want to send out a Big Mahalo to all of the state senators who tried to resolve the ceded land revenue issue once and for all, especially Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and Senator Clayton Hee. 

Senator Hee introduced Senate Bill 995, which attempted to resolve the claims and disputes relating to OHA’s portion of income from the public land trust between 11/7/1978 and 7/1/2009.  Senator Hee’s proposal offered OHA $251 million in cash and 20 percent of the 1.8 million acres of ceded lands to be determined in negotiations between the agency and the Lingle administration.

SB995 would have given OHA the right to choose from the following properties, among many others:

(1)  Kaka’ako Makai;

(2)  Kahana Valley and Beach Park;

(3)  La Mariana and Pier 60;

(4)  Heeia meadowlands;

(5)  Mauna Kea: Mauna Kea Scientific Reserve;

(6)  Waikiki Yacht Club;

(7)  Ala Wai Boat Harbor Complex;

(8)      Kalaeloa Makai; and

(9)      Any and all other lands, together with the State’s interest in any and all improvements thereon, that the State may agree to convey to OHA;

Even a few of these properties could generate all of the revenue OHA needs to operate indefinitely and would have given our future nation the concrete assets it needs to serve the Hawaiian population. 

OHA can never be a self-sufficient organization as long as our leadership is content with begging the legislature for a 20% share of ceded land revenues every year – funds which can be taken away from us at anytime.  SB995 would have made Native Hawaiians self-sufficient (the very essence of sovereignty) and relieved the State of Hawaii of a large burden on their budget.  Unfortunately, this opportunity has once again slipped away from OHA’s hands.  AUWE!

So why did SB995 fail to pass during the last days of the legislature?  According to an article written by Advertiser Staff Writer Gordon Y. K. Pang on May 2, 2009, “key House members” declined to support the bill, but everyone knows that all of these key members are directed by House Speaker Calvin Say.  It doesn’t surprise me that Speaker Say killed the bill since he has not supported many Hawaiian issues.  Rumor has it that he had help from certain Hawaiians who conducted some hard, backdoor lobbying.  Speaker Say has also told OHA’s administration that he doesn’t want to see another settlement bill next year.

Pang’s article also stated that the OHA trustees were “lukewarm” in their support of SB995.  I am baffled by this statement since the board voted unanimously to support the bill with a few technical changes by our attorney, Bill Meheula.  When I later spoke with Pang, he said that Trustee Stender told him that the board did not formally support the bill, which is funny, since I remember Stender voting for it.  The lack of any coherent vision offered by our current leadership has been a set-back for OHA for the last seven years.  The mixed signals that are given on the boards’ behalf have also been less than honest.

I believe that if SB995 passed, the Governor would have vetoed it.  For all the praises she sang about helping the Hawaiian Community, at best it appears the Governor and her Attorney General have done everything they could to limit their support for OHA and its beneficiaries.

The Attorney General’s latest betrayal to Native Hawaiians is to remove his support for the Akaka bill if the original version from the year 2000 is introduced.  According to him, it is unconstitutional.  This has forced our congressional delegation to pullback the 2000 version and re-introduce last year’s bill that Republicans in Congress bastardized.  I say why rush this bill through now?  The Lingle administration will be gone next year.  At the same time, the democratic controlled Congress and a President who has pledge to sign the bill when it reaches his desk should be a better fit for us.


The Kawaiaha’o Church Multi-Purpose Center Construction Project

In early May of 2006, OHA contributed $1 million to help rebuild Likeke Hall at Kawaiaha’o Church.  However, reconstructing Likeke Hall has now turned into a “Multi-Purpose Center,” which will house offices, a nursery, archives, meeting space and a kitchen.

As many of you have certainly heard in the media, construction of the Multi-Purpose Center was put on hold in April after 69 sets of human remains were discovered by workers.  On May 27, 2009, OHA sent a letter to the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) regarding our serious concerns about the ongoing discovery of remains and the treatment of unmarked burial sites on the Kawaiaha’o Church property. (NOTE: At the time of this writing, we have not heard from SHPD).

State law requires that any discovered skeletal remains that appear to be over 50-years-old cannot be moved without the state Department of Health’s (DOH) approval.  However, since the church didn’t have names for the deceased, which DOH requires, the issue fell under the jurisdiction of SHPD.

OHA feels that a “good faith interpretation of the law” would require inventory level testing of any area proposed for construction.  OHA also stresses that if any remains are identified, that they be treated in accordance with the law as in previously identified burial sites.  The Oahu Island Burial Council also needs to be allowed to determine the ultimate disposition of the remains in consultation with identified lineal and cultural descendants; and this time, be given AN ACCURATE MAP of where the graves are located.

Since the area of Kawaiaha’o Cemetery and the surrounding area headed makai hold hundreds of unmarked ancestral Native Hawaiian burial sites, OHA strongly advised against removing or redesignating portions of Kawaiaha’o Church Cemetery just to make the Multi-Purpose Center easier to build.

OHA also reminded SHPD that construction workers need to remember that the surrounding soil contains fragments of our iwi kupuna that are too small to be noticed or properly recovered.  Given the powerful reverence for iwi kupuna within our Native Hawaiian community, the soil should also be treated with the utmost respect.  There should also be no utility lines, sewer lines or grease trap within the vicinity of human burial sites.

I strongly believe that construction should have been halted as soon as the first group of iwi was unearthed.  A REPUTABLE archeologist should have immediately contacted the Oahu Island Burial Council.  Instead, what seems to have occurred is that many of the iwi kupuna were placed in lauhala baskets and stored under the church.  The workers then destroyed all of the caskets, making the iwi almost impossible to identify.  This is a flagrant act of desecration no matter what culture a person comes from and it is unbelievable that it was allowed to occur at Kawaiaha’o Church.  The people responsible for this egregious act should be called upon to explain how this could have happened.

It is also unfathomable to me that a construction firm could possibly get a permit to desecrate such a sacred burial site in this manner without proper authorization.  One has to question if they even had all of the proper permits to proceed.  It is my understanding that the graves were unearthed with only a grading permit!  I believe that all of this could have been prevented if they had simply taken the time to do things right before construction started.  Now they are forced to work backwards to fix their mistakes after the damage has been done.

This project must not be allowed to continue until a plan can be agreed upon by all parties, including lineal descendants.  Let us pray that all sides can work together to care for the iwi kupuna in a pono way.  Aloha Ke Akua.

The State’s obligation to all Hawaiians


Source: June 2009 Ka Wai Ola Column

Towards the end of this past legislative session, the OHA general funds budget was completely cut by the Senate Ways and Means (WAM) committee chair Senator Donna Mercado Kim.  While it is still possible that the funding will be at least partially restored (the legislative session will not be over at the time of this writing), I was disappointed to hear the reasons why the WAM Chair felt the cuts could be justified.

The WAM Chair argued that: (1) OHA has $300 million in its trust fund; (2) OHA has $15 million in its fiscal reserve fund; (3) OHA receives $15.1 million a year in ceded lands payments; and (4) OHA received $2.03 million for a legal settlement from the Hokulia case from the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (NHLC).  However, the WAM Chair did not take into consideration other circumstances such as:

  • OHA’s trust fund has lost almost $150 million, or 30% of its value, from its peak in late 2007.
  • OHA’s Spending Policy puts an annual cap of 5% on withdrawals from our trust fund, so there can be no further withdrawals.
  • OHA had already agreed to reduce its budget by 20%, like all other state agencies, at the legislature’s request.  Now they are proposing to cut 100% of our budget.  Where is the fairness in that?
  • The OHA Fiscal Reserve Fund is not a “rainy day” fund and is actually part of our trust fund.  It was never meant to be used to make-up budget shortfalls.
  • OHA’s matching funds for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation only entitles us to about half of the total $2.03 million the NHLC received for the Hokulia settlement.  Therefore, OHA will only receive about $1 million.

In addition, the $15.1 million ceded land payments that OHA receives annually are part of the state’s legal obligation to pay OHA for its 20% pro rata share of income from ceded lands.  The Attorney General has made it clear that the Hawaii Constitution makes OHA trustees, not the legislature, responsible for determining how the Native Hawaiians’ portion of ceded land revenues is spent.  The Attorney General has also stated that OHA’s share of ceded land revenues belongs to Hawaiians and is not “public money.”

The WAM Chair also ignores the fact that the OHA budget was designed more than 16-years ago by the Governor and the State Legislature to contain both general funds and trustee approved matching trust funds so that it can better the condition of all classifications of Hawaiians:  (1) those with at least 50% blood quantum under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 and (2) any descendants of the aboriginal peoples inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands in 1778.  This blending of funds was thought to be the most effective way to allow OHA to serve the entire Hawaiian population, estimated at the last census to be 400,000 nation-wide.  OHA will not be able to provide the same level of services to such a large population without the assistance of additional general funds from the state.

The WAM Chair needs to realize that OHA funds a wide range of programs relating to Education, Health, Human Services, Housing, and Economic Development, just to name a few.  For the sake of comparison, while OHA may have $300 million in its trust fund, Kamehameha Schools spend more than that in just one year — only on education!

OHA has also subsidized the loss of legislative funds to the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, which by law must be funded by the Governor’s budget.  Other state departments that have been funded by OHA include the state departments of Education and Health.

Finally, cutting the funding to Na Pua No’eau is simply cruel and would destroy a leader in Hawaiian culture-based education.  The WAM Chair needs to think about the 1,500 Hawaiian students, their families, 80 teachers that will be adversely affected.

The actions by the WAM Chair shows why OHA needs to constantly educate the legislature on Hawaiian history and culture and Hawaiian rights.  But it wasn’t always this way — There was time when legislators made it a point to be educated on Hawaiian issues and were all well aware of why OHA was created during the 1978 Constitutional Convention. 

It was very clear to the legislators and the governors who served from 1978 to 2000 that the legislative funds that OHA was to receive were to serve the Hawaiian population with less than 50% blood quantum.  This promise was made because the law, Chapter 10 of the Hawaii Revised Statues, made it clear that the ceded land revenues are to serve Hawaiians with a 50% blood quantum.  The law ended up creating two classifications of OHA beneficiaries, but funded only one of those beneficiaries.  This is why legislative funds have been sought since 1980.

It is clear that the across the board “slash & burn” of OHA’s budget by Senator Donna Mercado Kim is without conscious or careful thought regarding the special circumstances that governs the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.  If you are outraged by this action, please write to Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and your state senators and representatives.  Aloha Ke Akua.