United we stand, divided we fall!


Source: February 2004 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  As you may have read in the local print media, the U.S. Senate has been reviewing the Akaka Bill (S. 344) and is considering further amendments to the bill.  The Trustees of OHA recently met with our two U.S. Senators and they informed us that a few people in the Justice Department and a few others (no names or affiliations were mentioned) have concerns about our bill.  Since it was not made clear to us as to what those concerns were, I expressed my own about the possibility that Congress may change the bill’s definition of who is Hawaiian.


Some may argue that the changes would allow the bill to finally get passed, but changing the bill by adding language that is not supported by the Hawaiian community makes no sense at all.  Either recognition includes ALL Hawaiians or no Hawaiians at all.

Still others may say, “Isn’t half a loaf better than no loaf?”  That maybe so in some cases, but certainly not when it comes to deciding who will be in the Hawaiian Nation.  Isn’t that what WE HAWAIIANS together must decide?

What’s happening now with the Akaka Bill sounds similar to what Congress did to us in 1920 with the creation of the Department of Hawaiian Homelands and the 50% blood quantum.  They arbitrarily decided who was going to be a Native Hawaiian.  The blood quantum issue has long been a source of division among our people.  Why then would we let them do this to us again?

Detrimental changes to the Akaka Bill by Congress are nothing new.  The 2002 version of the Akaka Bill (S. 746) was very controversial because section 7 of the original Akaka Bill (S. 81), which allows for a fair process for all Hawaiians to be included in the recognition effort, was left out.  The 2003 Akaka Bill (S. 344), continued to lack a section which would allow for a fair process for all Hawaiians to be included in the federal recognition effort.

In mid-May of 2003, I was relieved to learn that the Akaka Bill was amended to include a process for federal recognition that would allow ALL Hawaiians to participate.  The language in the second (current) S. 344 offered and suggested a clear process for recognition that the U.S. Department of the Interior currently uses to recognize Native American tribes.

We are certainly more educated about western law and how politics works in Washington.  Our current population, which is 400,000 strong, could make our own powerful political statement.  Let us tell Congress that we, the Hawaiian community, will decide for ourselves this important question of who will be in our Nation.

We must question why Hawaiians are being treated differently from Native Alaskans and Native Americans.  Congress has the discretion to pass the current Akaka Bill in its entirety and allow us to begin the process of self-determination.  Though the Akaka bill does not give Hawaiians sovereignty, it will allow us to begin our journey.

Why then, are some in Washington  concerned about having too many Hawaiians involved in the process?  Blood quantum and membership issues are not a question for Congress to decide, and we must tell them so.  If this is indeed one of the considered amendments, we must let our Congressional Delegation know that this is a concession we will not make.

We, the Hawaiian people, must never again let Congress or anyone else divide us again.  We are only strong when we are together.  United we stand, divided we fall!  Imua Hawaii Nei…

Betrayal and the Grab for Power

By: Rowena Akana
March 2002

Source: Ka Wai Ola o OHA

For a brief moment in time I could imagine how 109 years ago our Queen must have felt, surrounded by members of her own cabinet who had betrayed her. Most painful must have been to see those Hawaiians in whom she placed her trust betray that trust. As I sat in a Hawiian Affairs hearing at the Legislature on February 5, listening to testimonies being given by Hawaiians for and against OHA, I saw before me the very reasons why it has taken us so long, as a people, to unite.

Some people testified with no real purpose except to be heard and noticed, while others had very selfish and personal reasons. Most disturbing were those Hawaiians who testified that the native Hawaiian Trust was only for them, the 50% or more blood who resided on Hawaiian homestead lands. A position taken by the SCHHA, a private organization created to represent the Hawaiian homesteaders. These people fail to recognize that there are more native Hawaiians living off of the homelands than there are who reside on the homesteads. This attitude is divisive and will only create a greater distance between all Hawaiians and those who feel that they have special rights to any entitlements because of their blood quantum. If these kinds of attitudes prevail, it will be impossible for all Hawaiians to come together to form a nation.

One only need look at history to know that a divided nation cannot stand. It is disheartening to see that within OHA, some of us are willing to work no matter who is in the leadership, while others who are not, have refused to work by serving on committees.

For the past four and a half months this has been the case at OHA. While some of us use our columns in the OHA newspaper to discuss positive programs and issues, we have at least two trustees who continue to focus on negative things. These same trustees now want to overturn the board leadership again after refusing to work for the past four and a half months while collecting a paycheck. These trustees are Haunani Apoliona, Colette Machado, and Oswald Stender. In early January the board of trustees passed OHA’s package of bills to be submitted to the legislature. In the February 5th hearing we had one trustee, Oswald Stender, support the Hemmings bill that would destroy the OHA public trust and create a private trust with OHA’s assets to be put in a trust account. This position was contrary to the positions taken by the full board in January 2002.

How can these actions be explained to our beneficiaries? Is the community right about the grab for power being more important than providing services for our beneficiaries? Are they right about some trustees trying to destroy the very fabric of OHA from within?

Somewhere in the middle of this very important legislative meeting, Trustee Apoliona is seen passing a note to the committee clerk and seconds later Senator Hemmings is heard to proclaim that according to a press release that he waves in the air which he just received, the OHA board will reorganize itself on February 13, 2002 and maybe the OHA bills being heard today need no further action. Amazingly, no one notices as Apoliona slips quietly out of the room Stunned by the announcement after sitting for almost five hours trying to explain and defend OHA’s position on various bills that were bing discussed, I am immediately descended upon by the media for comment based on Hemmings’ announcement. A sick feeling hovers over me as I try to appear composed to answer the questions being asked when all the while my mind is reeling thinking about how this folly will be perceived by the general public, our beneficiaries and the legislature. Does this move make our whole organization look foolish? Yes. Is the timing bad because of the legislative session ahead of us and the importance of unity is imperative? Yes. Is there a good reason for the change in leadership, and if so, what is that reason? Did these five members of the board think about the public reaction to this action and the possible repercussions of their actions? It is obvious to me that these questions are of no importance to them.

We need not worry about the Twigg-Smiths, Conklins, Baretts, and Burgesses. We need only to look among ourselves to see the traitorous dogs who lay in wait for just the right moment to deliver us up to our enemies.

And so it is that I wonder what is to be the fate of our people with this kind of leadership, and will it take another hundred years before any nation is formalized and, in the meantime, what will become of Hawaiian entitlements as we know them, but more importantly, will there be anything left of the spoils in a hundred years after the Hawaiians have picked each other’s bones clean.

Hawaiians Are Not the Enemy of the General Public

By Trustee Rowena Akana
February 8, 1997

A chaotic assault on Native Hawaiian entitlements got underway during the first week of the 1997 legislature. First, we heard the House Committee on Hawaiian Affairs take a swat at OHA’s submission for general funds, our only source of assistance for Hawaiians who do not meet the legislatively imposed fifty-percent blood quantum. Then we saw the House judiciary committee Chair Terrence Tom bully out of committee a Constitutional Convention, structured to give our legislators summer jobs gutting Native Hawaiian entitlements in 1998. On top of that, there is a measure afoot to repeal the statute that allows us access to justice and lets us sue the State when it fails to comply with its trust obligation to Hawaiians.

Clearly, many of our lawmakers have bought into the Governor’s public relations blitz targeting Hawaiians as Public Enemy Number One. While the same old cronyism and mismanagement–woes he vowed to fix–continue, the Governor is trying to shift the blame for the State’s cloudy fiscal future to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Some very smart people are following his camera when they should be focusing elsewhere.

So that we are all on the same page, I’ll set out the numbers again. The State gets 80 percent of ceded land revenues, or the lion’s share of land leases and rents. Until OHA took the State to court and won a determination to the contrary, the State was assured of ALL of the “sovereign” income from the big-ticket tenants such as the airport, Duty Free Shops, the University of Hawaii, etc. In addition, it collects revenues via the highest income tax in the United States, the most inequitable and pervasive general excise tax and other sources of funding extracted from its citizens, including Hawaiians. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs gets 20 percent of the income from ceded land leases and rents. Period. While Circuit Court Judge Dan Heely determined that OHA should be getting a percentage of “sovereign” income too, OHA has never received any. In an attempt to make sure we never do, the State is appealing Judge Heely’s decision. Currently Cayetano & Co. are floating the rumor that a hired gun from the Mainland will replace their consistently losing team from the Attorney General’s Office. In case this suit is, once again, decided on the merits, there is a bill in the hopper, drafted last year and brought back from the dead by Representatives Calvin Say and Nathan Suzuki, the Governor’s bag men in the House, excluding “sovereign” income from the ceded lands formula.

All this leads to the conclusion that the State is following the federal example in reneging on its treaties with Native people. Sadly, it has successfully stirred up public resentment so that the betrayal appears justified. A recent Honolulu Star Bulletin article called for OHA’s revenue percentage to be reduced, and I would not be surprised to see a bill proposing such a reduction this session. The State has not told the public that the 20 percent figure represents a compromise by OHA, the legislature, and the Governor, ratified by the voters in 1978. What would prevent the State from claiming a new, lower figure is still too much? Clearly, Hawaiians cannot have any confidence in the State even when it commits its word to law.

And there is an even bigger shibai going on, one affecting Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike. Whether the legislature chews up Hawaiian entitlements piecemeal during this session or swallows them whole during a Constitutional Convention, the financial bottom line will not change. Considering the entire State budget, the annual sum owed OHA based on 20 percent is very small, hovering around one percent. Paying it in full and on time should not bankrupt a fiscally responsible State. On the other hand, eliminating the payment won’t be the solution to poor management. The real bottom line here is that no one should trust the State’s representations when it comes to Hawaiian entitlements. The non-Hawaiian public should realize that Hawaiians are sharing 80 percent of our trust with them. To take more from us than we are already giving would be unconscionable.

Does Blood Quantum Divide Us?

By Trustee Rowena Akana
October 3, 1994

The definition of “native Hawaiian” was not created by Hawaiians themselves. Indeed, the proviso was added to the language of the 1920 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act at the behest of powerful sugar planters who were anxious to preserve over 200,000 acres of choice, inexpensive leases.

Divide and rule. It was a classic tactic of colonial regimes throughout the world, including the Territorial Administration of Hawaii. The Territory used it all too well, filling the coffers of the sugar planters while maintaining Hawaiians in factionalized penury. Seventy years later, Hawaiians are still wondering whether or not we own our own land. And of course, in alienating Hawaiians from their land, Hawaiians were alienated from their spiritual and cultural selves as well.

Although OHA is mandated to serve all Hawaiians, its funding mechanism restricts benefits to native Hawaiians. This gulf between OHA’s mission and its means can be seen in the instruments that created it and in those that fund it. The 1978 Constitutional Amendment that created OHA clearly requires the Board of Trustees to “manage and administer” proceeds from ceded lands for “native Hawaiians and Hawaiians.” However, OHA’s sources of revenue make the agency unable to fulfill its purpose. HRS-10 refers back to the Admission Act, which in turn refers back to the HHCA, which dedicates funding exclusively for native Hawaiians. The Act defines native Hawaiian as “any descendent of not less than one-half part of the blood of the races inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands previous to 1778.”

In a place of such great multicultural diversity as our island home, many Hawaiians are already below the blood quantum. Even native Hawaiian families are often only a generation or two away from being in a similar predicament themselves. We are one people. We cannot afford to be divided by arguments about benefits or entitlements. Not when so much work remains to be done. The struggle to regain our sovereign rights requires unity and the strength of numbers.

The blood quantum must be scrapped and benefits extended to all Hawaiians with continued priority given to native Hawaiians. As the Hawaiian race continues to “thin out” over time, we must find new ways to redefine our ohana, and on our own terms. Previous definitions were motivated by greed and formulated by strangers. New definitions will be motivated by a sense of lokahi and aloha and formulated by Hawaiians.

There is a final irony to the question of blood quantum. In addition to the requirement’s egregious moral and political shortcomings, it suffers from a profound and extremely basic problem as well. That is the question of how “race” is defined on the state records that are used to confirm blood quantum. According to the State Department of Health, the race item on vital records is not an indication of genetic extraction but is the race claimed by the informant. Thus, the legal determination of an individual’s status as a trust beneficiary is not even made according to legal rules of evidence.

The blood quantum requirement must be amended, by State or Federal action, so that OHA can serve all of the people it was created to serve, now and in the future.