By Rowena Akana
Source: Ka Wai Ola o OHA
As chairman of the Legislative and Government Affairs Committee, my primary focus in the next legislative session will be to work with legislators to resolve the 20-year old dispute over the ceded land revenue due Hawaiians. We do not intend to address issues which will extinguish any future claims including fishing, gathering, or sea mining rights. The focus is to reassert Hawaiian rights and entitlements that were settled in previous negotiations.
Hawaiian rights have been whittled away by a series of court cases. The United States Supreme Court decision in RICE invalidated the Hawaiians-only vote for OHA. The Hawai’i Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Act 304 invalidates the basis for trust income. This puts OHA in a crisis situation. With the clarifying section of Act 304 invalidated, the court has no statutory guidance, and the income stream of OHA has been crippled. On the horizon is a possible damaging rule in the anticipated challenge to the constitutionality of entitlements for Native Hawaiians. Staying under the aegis of the state has and will run Hawaiian entitlements into the ground. The Hawai’i Supreme Court has emphasized that the state still has an obligation to the Hawaiians. Yet the income stream for OHA has trickled to a stop. The best thing for OHA would be to gain independence from the state and to run the affairs of Hawaiians for Hawaiians. This would remove the stain of unconstitutionality from Hawaiian programs and would allow us to economically develop the lands agreed upon in settlement to make Hawaiians once and for all self-sufficient. Further, it would be the beginning of the building of a nation.
If the state and OHA cannot come to a decision as to a settlement, OHA may have to revisit Act 304 and come up with a formula for payments due to the Hawaiian. However, it must be remembered that after the World Trade Center attacks, our state coffers have less monies and may not be able to offer Hawaiians enough. We must also remember that Act 304 only entitled Hawaiians to a 20 percent revenue share of land fees. This has been a source of great irritation towards the state for the past 20 years. OHA has tried to collect the 20 percent formula since 1980 which has also been the cause of the disputes resulting in several lawsuits. Resolving the land issue once and for all will be beneficial to all concerned. We must not call a settlement on land a global settlement. The term global is far-reaching and really has no meaning between OHA and the state on any kind of settlement.
Several years ago, OHA was in negotiations with the state for a land and cash settlement. Forces in OHA were against this, thus scuttling the negotiations. The misunderstanding of the term “settlement” in the negotiations was considered a settlement offer from the state as a global one. The term “global” was loosely bantered around so that it scared people into thinking it was forever on all issues. They failed to understand that a settlement with OHA over land issues would be beneficial to Hawaiians because we would be able to develop programs for Hawaiians without the worry of whether the state would continue to contest the 20 percent formula or disagree with OHA over what kinds of state income on leases should be exempt from the formula, such as the University of Hawai’i.
I look forward to working with the legislature and constituents as the legislative chair to try to resolve some of the critical issues that have beleaguered OHA for 20 years. I urge you to continue to lend your support towards this goal.