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.

Wishing our dear Princess a very happy 90th birthday

`Ano`ai kakou…  Before the Kingdom of Hawaii was illegally overthrown in 1893 it was a thriving, internationally recognized nation with a royal family that was beloved by the people.  While many of the institutions of the Kingdom of Hawaii may be gone, the royal family continues to live on and flourish to this day.

It is with great admiration and respect that I dedicate this column to honoring Her Royal Highness Princess Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa who celebrated her 90th birthday on April 26th.

The great grandniece of King David Kalakaua and Queen Kapi‘olani, Princess Kawananakoa was born in Honolulu and was adopted by her grandmother, Princess Abigail Kawananakoa, who was the widow of Prince David.  She grew up learning from the keepers of our traditions – many of whom had served the monarchy.

Princess Kawananakoa is best known as a philanthropist who has helped sustain authentic Hawaiian history, music, hula, literature, and language.  As president of the Friends of ‘Iolani Palace for nearly 30 years, she was the moving force behind the palace’s monumental and historic restoration project.  The palace operates as a “living restoration” that tells the story of Hawaii’s monarchy.  Visitors leave understanding how advanced a society Hawaiians had created before the overthrow.

Princess Kawananakoa has supported many projects throughout the state, from the first Hawaiian language immersion schools to the historic renovation of the Hawaiian Hall at Bishop Museum which named the kahili room in her honor.  She nurtured the Merrie Monarch from its earliest days and continues to be a faithful and generous sponsor of halau.

In 1978, she established the Abigail K. Kawananakoa Foundation to continue her commitment to the preservation of Hawaiian culture and a wide range of charities throughout the world, and she later formed Na Lei Ali‘i Kawananakoa, which serves and represents the interests of Native Hawaiians and has preserved many Hawaiian artifacts.

Known globally for her love of horses and her support of animal rights, Princess Kawananakoa endowed a university chair for research on equine orthopedics at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University from which more than 160 Hawai‘i students have graduated.  She has been a pioneer in the use of advanced veterinary science with her horses.  These successes have led to her becoming an advocate for translating breakthroughs in veterinary medicine into techniques and therapies that would assist humans.

In 2009, the University of Hawaii conferred an Honorary Doctorate and in 2016, Colorado State University did as well, both recognizing her extraordinary commitment and contributions to civic life.

As holder of the largest share of the Estate of James Campbell, she has encouraged its support of important community programs throughout Ewa.  Her dedication of land to create the UH West Oahu campus is another important contribution our Princess has made to education.

Age has not slowed her efforts to help the Hawaiian people and to preserve and protect in perpetuity the legacy passed down to the present generation.  She has used her persuasive voice to seek proper stewardship of our natural resources including Mauna Kea and Haleakala.

A matter of common knowledge, but never revealed, is her personal assistance to literally thousands of individual Hawaiians and Hawaii groups in times of distress.  Much of what we take for granted as part of the “Hawaiian Renaissance” only exists because of her devotion to seeing that our true heritage is not lost.  Aloha Ke Akua.

The Road to Self-Governance is Rocky and Long

`Ano`ai kakou…  During the last of the President Bill Clinton’s years in the White House, I served as the Chair of the OHA Board of Trustees.  When Clinton first took office in 1993, many positive things happened for Hawaiians and Hawaii.  It was during Clinton’s his first term that he signed the Apology Resolution submitted by then-US Senator Dan Akaka in 1993.  There was also a great friendship that developed between President Clinton and then-Governor John Waihee III.

During those eight years, Hawaii’s Native people were treated as equals to the Native Americans and Native Alaskans.  We were included in the Native Education Act and Hawaiian health took on a new focus with lots of funding coming from Washington, D.C.  The Administration for Native Americans’ funding was also great for us and we still use money from that program today to fund our OHA loans.

Before President Clinton left office, his cabinet created the federal Office of Native Hawaiian Relations within the Department of the Interior so that Hawaiians did not have to go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs to seek monies or recognition the same way that American Indians do.

Also done was a study by the Departments of Interior and Justice on the overthrow and the taking of Hawaiian lands and how Hawaii became a territory and eventually a state.  Public hearings were held all over the 50th state and after all the information was gathered they came out with a book called “Mauka to Makai.”  Its final recommendation was for the federal government to begin a dialogue with Native Hawaiians to resolve Native claims and issues that were unresolved.

At the time, it was hoped that Democratic Vice-President Al Gore would succeed President Clinton and the work to resolve all of our issues would continue.  As we all know, this did not occur and for eight years during the Bush Administration all of our efforts were squashed.

During the Obama Administration, it has been very difficult as well with the Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate.  Before the current president leaves office, I believe he would like to see something done for our Native people.  That is why we are currently going through the federal “rules” process.

My point to all of this is that, as a Democrat, choosing the right candidate who I believe will help Native peoples the most is my highest priority.  To my knowledge, Bernie Sanders has no track record as a champion for Native people, let alone Native Hawaiians.  Throughout his campaign, he has not articulated a clear plan to help Native peoples nor has he received any strong endorsements from Native organizations that I am aware of.

Our road to sovereignty is very difficult.  I have been in this struggle since 1999.  Having people in Congress and certainly the White House that support our efforts is critical to our success.  Mahalo nui for your patience and for listening to my voice.  Aloha Ke Akua.

The Constitution of the Native Hawaiian Nation

`Ano`ai kakou…  On February 26, 2016, the majority of the Na‘i Aupuni ‘aha participants voted to adopt The Constitution of the Native Hawaiian Nation by a vote of 88 to 30 and one abstention.

There were 10 to 15 participants that were absent and a few sat outside when the vote took place.  All of them were given every opportunity to return and vote if they had missed their turn for whatever reason.

It is very difficult to put into words the awesome experience this was for me.  Not only was this an important historical turning point in our history, but it was also at times a very emotional for me to experience.

In the room sat kupuna, makua, and our young warriors.  Among them our leaders who have been at the forefront of the movement to reunify our people and restore our nation’s sovereignty.

They included Emmett Aluli, Lilikala Kameꞌeleihiwa, Poka Laenui, Aꞌo Pohaku, Keoni Agard, Melody MacKenzie, Devianna McGregor, Dr. Claire Hughes, Mahealani Cypher, Bumpy Kanahele, and, in spirit, Uncle Buzzy Agard, Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell, and Peggy Hao Ross.

Unfortunately missing from this auspicious occasion were two sisters who should be credited with helping to drive the sovereignty movement to where it is today.  They are, of course, the Trask sisters, Haunani K. and Mililani.

This constitution is in honor of all of those warriors who came before us and who could not be there.

It was moving to see people who were often on opposite sides of an issue come together for the good of the whole.  There were several participants that frequently came to OHA to protest our positions on nationhood and yet we were all able to put those differences aside and finally draft the governing documents needed to restore our nation.

I guess the most amazing aspect of the ‘Aha was to see our young people so energized and ready to take our efforts to the next level.  I have no doubt that they will make our dreams to form a new Hawaiian nation a reality.

The next step is to ratify the Constitution by taking it out to our people.  I encourage all of our ꞌohana to give the Constitution serious consideration.  While it is not a perfect document, it is a beginning.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any assistance in understand the document.  If you are would like a copy of the Constitution, please visit my website at or e-mail me at to request a copy.  Aloha Ke Akua.

We need nationhood to protect our lands

`Ano`ai kakou…  Throughout the month of February, I was privileged to participated in the Na‘i Aupuni ‘aha to discuss self-governance.  I believe that calling for an ‘aha is an excellent opportunity to provide an open and democratic forum to discuss possible governing documents of our new nation.  This is where the ultimate form of the Hawaiian government can be debated and considered.

I have always advocated that gaining federal recognition as a native people would finally allow Hawaiians to negotiate with the state and federal governments for the return of some of our ceded lands that the state holds in trust.  Federal recognition would also put us in a stronger position to protect our lands and trust assets.

The three key elements of nationhood are sovereignty, self-determination and self-sufficiency.  In order for Hawaiians to exercise control over their lands and lives, they must achieve self-determination by organizing a mechanism for self-governance.  Hawaiians must create a government which provides for democratic representation before they can begin to interrelate with the State and the Federal governments who control their lands and trust assets. The ultimate goal of nationhood is to become self-sufficient and self-supporting.

My hope is that, as a result of the ‘aha, we will be able to draft the articles or provisions of our constitution for the new Hawaiian nation, whatever form it ultimately takes.  It is important to remember these documents can be changed or annulled.  This is only the beginning.  Once these governing documents are ratified by the Hawaiian people, they can be implemented to protect our lands and trust resources.  We would then be able to care for our people without assistance from anyone.

The window of opportunity for us to act on controlling our lands is closing.  For those who think we have lots of time to talk about this, they only need to look at all of the laws that have been passed in the last ten years to realize time is running out.

A good example of why nationhood is so critical for our people is the recent attempt in the legislature to pass the “forced land sales bills.”  Kamehameha Schools (KS) recently led the charge against legislation that would have forced Hawai‘i’s landowners to sell leasehold lands to their lessees.

If HB 1635 and HB 2173 had become law, all commercial, agriculture, conservation and industrial lands would have been put under threat to be forcibly sold.  KS would have been hurt by these bills since nearly 80 percent of their commercial properties are ground leased.  Our ceded lands controlled by DLNR would also be threatened.

Private land developers could have moved in to condemn and remove historical lands that were passed from generation to generation of Hawaiians.  This would have also negatively impacted the ability of Native Hawaiian organizations and trusts to fulfill their missions.  HB 1635 and HB 2173 represent yet another example of the government’s shameful history of removing Native Hawaiians from their ancestral lands.

Thankfully, on February 8th, KS announced that the House cancelled the hearing for HB 1635 and HB 2173, which effectively killed the bills.  However, there are other land bills in the legislature we need to be concerned about such as DLNR selling off remnants and the transfer of land to the military.  Let us be makaꞌala (watchful).  Aloha Ke Akua.

February ‘aha to discuss self-governance

`Ano`ai kakou…  On January 6th, Na‘i Aupuni announced that a total of 154 individuals will participate in the February ‘aha to discuss self-governance.

The ‘aha participants were derived from a list of 196 former candidates of an election that would have resulted in 40 delegates attending a constitutional convention.  Na‘i Aupuni decided to terminate the election on December 15, 2015 because of pending federal litigation that would probably stall the vote count for years.  So instead, Na‘i Aupuni offered all of the then-registered candidates a chance to participate in a gathering to discuss a path to self-governance.

As one of the 154 participants, I have been receiving emails of conversations between other ‘aha participants and while I am enthused by their excitement and the wide varieties of topics being discussed, I would like to steer the conversation back to the essentials of forming a nation.

I believe that calling for an ‘aha is an excellent opportunity to provide an open and democratic forum to discuss possible governing documents of our new nation.  This is where the ultimate form of the Hawaiian government can be debated and considered.

The first step is for everyone attending the ‘aha to come with an open mind and clean slate.  We must all be willing to learn how other native peoples have drafted constitutions and formed governments that serve their people.  To do that, we must focus on questions such as:

  • What kinds of powers would we want our nation to have?
  • What will our new nation’s relationship with the State of Hawaii, the Federal Government and the International community, including other Pacific islanders entail?
  • What are the fundamental rules we would like to see written in our constitution?
  • Will our new nation have the power to tax?
  • Will our new nation be free from state and federal taxes?

These are the kinds of important issues that I would like the ‘aha to focus on.

Given the fact that there are so many participants and such a short amount of time, it is clear that it will be challenging to build a consensus by the close of the ‘aha.  However, I am hopeful that the more experienced participants will help to organize smaller working groups and also assist in steering the discussion towards constructive topics such as what it takes to form a government.

Hawaiians have a spirituality that is admired by the world – the Aloha spirit.  It’s a feeling in the heart that can’t be described.  It’s a feeling that we all feel when we come together as one and recognize that while we may have differing views, all views are welcomed and respected.

No matter what the outcome of the ‘aha may be, let us all remember to move forward, together as one people.  Aloha Ke Akua.

Looking back at 2015 and welcoming the New Year

`Ano`ai kakou…  Happy Year of the Monkey!  I began 2015 on a high note as the new Chairperson of the Asset & Resource Management (ARM) Committee and oversaw OHA’s budget, fiscal operations and Trust Fund.

From January to July, the ARM Committee was incredibly productive.  We had a total eleven (11) ARM meetings; two (2) joint meetings with the Beneficiary Advocacy and Empowerment Committee; and passed a total of seven (7) ARM Action Items, which included authorizing funds to help support our kupuna at Lunalilo Home.

Despite my ARM committee’s high output, on July 30, 2015, the Trustees voted to consolidate the ARM committee with the Land and Property (LAP) Committee to form a new super-committee called the Committee on Resource Management (RM).

OHA leadership believed that consolidating the committees would lead to greater efficiency in the Board of Trustees, but I was not supportive of the consolidation because the RM committee is simply too broad in scope.  I am still hopeful that the Trustees can go back to our previous system of five committees.  It worked so well to engage the Trustees and allowed us to deal with issues proactively.


I will continue to push for more fiscal responsibility within OHA on issues such as:

  • Changing our spending policy limit to 4 ½ percent of the Trust Fund given the state of the current economy;
  • Conducting a full forensic audit of how every penny is spent at OHA; and
  • Making sure the Administration keeps its promise to get rid of the “Fiscal Reserve” slush fund.


If you haven’t already heard, you may now go to OHA’s website at to watch live meetings of the OHA Board of Trustees.  Be sure to tune in on the days we have our meetings.  For a meeting schedule, please call me at (808) 594-0204.


OHA is currently working on plans to develop its Kaka‘ako Makai properties with a truly Hawaiian sense of place that allows for open space and ease of community access to the waterfront.

For the upcoming legislative session, I will be focusing on legislation that will allow OHA to use its Kakaako properties provide our beneficiaries and the community as a whole with affordable housing.

OHA should be allowed to increase its building height limit in order to allow for more middle income condos.  Everyone agrees that Hawaii’s homeless problem is caused in large part due to the lack of truly affordable housing.  Luxury high rises that only millionaire mainlanders can afford are sprouting up all around the Kakaako area.  OHA is one of the few entities that can develop affordable living spaces in the area that specifically targets local buyers.

The lack of affordable housing is not just a Native Hawaiian issues, it’s an issue that affects us all.  This is why we will be counting on the support of the broader community to get this legislation passed.  I have high hopes that, working together, we will all have a successful session.

Hau’oli Makahiki Hou and God bless.

The Naʻi Aupuni Election Process

`Ano`ai kakou…  The ballots for the Naʻi Aupuni Election were mailed to certified voters on November 1, 2015 and voting ended on November 30, 2015.  So the Election results should be announced by the time this column is published.

This is an exciting time for Native Hawaiians.  We have not had this type of consensus-building opportunity since the overthrow of our kingdom and we should take hold of this opportunity to start the process of deciding how we want to move forward in unity.

While I am pleased that the Naʻi Aupuni Election was finally able to proceed, I was surprised to see that the candidates’ names were listed on the ballot in a “randomized” order and not in alphabetical order.

Naʻi Aupuni decided to list the all candidates in a random order to give everyone a chance to be at the top of the ballot.  While I can understand why they made this change, an argument could be made about whether the list was truly “random.”  For example, two of the top five names listed on the Oahu ballot were OHA employees.  I’m sure this was just a coincidence, but most voters would agree that it seems suspicious.

According to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser article dated November 3, 2015, Hawaiians’ election for constitutional convention begins, reported that the Naʻi Aupuni election suffered from a rash of candidates dropping out and one calling the election “fixed.”  There have been other complaints in the community that OHA is trying to control the process.  Having OHA employees at the top of the ballot doesn’t help to dispel this negative impression.

To make matters worse, both of the OHA Employees have also run for a seat in past OHA Board of Trustees elections, giving them more name recognition in the Hawaiian community than candidates who have never run in a Hawaiian election.

I believe that Naʻi Aupuni should have just done what the state election office has been doing all along – list the candidate names in alphabetical order.  Voters are used to seeing candidate names listed alphabetically and it would make it easier for them to find the candidates they support, especially since Oahu voters had to sort through an incredible 103 candidates!

They should have also made it easier for Oahu voters by breaking up the island into smaller sections (such as rural and urban Oahu) with fewer names.  Voters on Oahu needed a lot of time and stamina to search through all those names.

I am surprised that Naʻi Aupuni would turn to such a radically different voting process than what Hawaii voters are used to for such a historically important election.  There was already a high level of scrutiny regarding the integrity of the election and I believe they should have stuck with what works.  Instead, they just added to the confusion.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the voting process, please contact Elections America at or call Elections America toll-free at (844) 413-2929.  Aloha Ke Akua.

It should be Trustees that represent OHA to the world, not the Administration

`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.

The tail is wagging the dog at OHA

`Ano`ai kakou…  If you need something done, don’t bother talking to the Trustees anymore.  The Administration is running the show now.  We’re just rubber stamps that sign whatever is put in front of us.

When the year began I had high hope that OHA would finally become open and transparent.  Instead, it took just a half a year for the new Board Chair to take OHA a big leap backwards to the ultra-secret and consolidated power structure of the previous two Board Chairs.


I’ve always argued that being a Trustee is not about simply showing up at a few monthly meetings.  The people of Hawaii elected us in the hope that we would make their lives better.  Unfortunately, the current Board Leadership is more interested in tying our hands and muffling our voice.


It was bad enough that there were only three Trustee committees, but now we’re back to just two.  The current Chair might argue that it will improve efficiency but the truth is it leaves one more Trustee with much less to do.

For many years OHA operated effectively with five committees.  All of us worked hard and we were deeply involved in Hawaiian issues.  Five Trustees had the opportunity to be a committee chair and could focus on a specific issue and become experts in that field.  The five-committee system produced better Trustees.

The current two-committee system takes all the policy development out of our hands.  It encourages us to just show up for meetings every other week.  While we don’t really get to develop policy anymore, we certainly get all the blame when things don’t work out.

The Trustees are now dependent on the Administration to spoon feed us everything.  None of us ran for office just to keep some seats warm.  Good Trustees should be driven to find solutions to problems that are plaguing our people.

Instead, the Administration is taking advantage of the Board’s weakness to push their own agendas, such as producing strange cartoons and travelling all over the world (more on this in my next article).

You’ll probably hear the term “Ad Hoc” sub-committees as a way of trying to get more of us involved, but don’t be fooled.  They only make suggestions and are easy to ignore.  If you don’t believe me, I can show you a list of requests that the Board Chair and Administration ignored when I was the powerful ARM committee chair.  What results could a weaker sub-committee possibly produce?


Despite the recent changes to the committee structure, I will continue to push for more fiscal responsibility within OHA such as:

  • Limiting the Administration’s excessive international travel;
  • Encouraging Board Leadership to give Trustees meaningful work and allowing them to gain further financial experience;
  • Changing our spending policy limit to 4 ½ percent of the Trust Fund given the state of the current economy;
  • Conducting a full forensic audit of how every penny is spent at OHA; and
  • Making sure the Administration keeps its promise to get rid of the “Fiscal Reserve” slush fund.

These changes won’t come easy and I am sure to meet heavy resistance.  But like I said, I didn’t become a Trustee just to attend a bunch of meetings every month.  Aloha Ke Akua.