OHA Trustees Talk Nation Building
A standing-room-only crowd gathered at Kulana Oiwi on Wednesday evening, as Trustees from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) gathered concerns and highlighted efforts to improve conditions within Hawaiian communities.
During the meeting, the Board of Trustees heard testimony relating to community concerns, beneficiary achievements, Hawaiian Home Lands and issues relating to federal recognition of Native Hawaiians.
In response to requests from the Native Hawaiian community, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) announced last week that it is moving forward on a rule-making process for re-establishing a government-to-government relationship with Native Hawaiians.
“The vision of the OHA is to rebuild and establish a beloved Native Hawaiian nation that is recognized nationally and internationally,” said OHA CEO Kamana`opono Crabbe. “The federal government is considering to move forward with a process that opens up a pathway for Native Hawaiians if we so chose for federal recognition. It’s historic because this is the first time the federal government is formally recognizing the political status that Native Hawaiians have with the U.S.”
Soon after the DOI announced its plans, OHA officials issued statements commending the move.
“We commend this initial effort by the Obama Administration to engage our people in a discussion about reestablishing a government-to-government relationship with the U. S.,” said Colette Machado, OHA chairperson and Molokai resident. “This effort is an important step toward ensuring that millions of dollars for Native Hawaiian education, health and other programs will continue to flow to our people and that our Hawaiian trusts and programs will be protected from further legal challenges.”
On May 5, Crabbe sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry seeking a legal opinion on whether the Hawaiian Kingdom, overthrown in 1893, still exists, and if so, what does that mean for OHA and its efforts to rebuild a Hawaiian nation?
The Board of Trustees later rescinded the letter, saying it did not reflect board policy.
In OHA’s Ka Wai Ola publication, an article titled “One Voice, One Path” stated Crabbe said the board needs to work together moving in the future.
“Moving forward, what I agreed to and we had clear understanding and expectations laid out, that something as great as the letter I had written, I now understand will need input of Chair and the trustees,” Crabbe said. “We need to work together to address these issues as the leaders of OHA.”
The DOI will engage in a series of public meetings throughout Hawaii to solicit comments on whether and how the process of reestablishing a government-to-government relationship should move forward. Molokai’s public meeting will be held on Saturday, June 28 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Kaunakakai Elementary School.
Blood Quantum Questions
In 1921, the federal Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (HHCA) set aside approximately five percent of Hawaii land for Hawaiians satisfying a 50 percent blood quantum.
“Fifty percenters are dying out so what happens to those properties if we don’t take action to change that,” asked Oswald Stender, OHA vice chairperson. “Is [HHCA] taking a position to change the blood quantum rate?”
The HHCA isn’t entertaining any idea of lowering the blood quantum because there are 26,000 individuals currently on the waiting list for land, said Jeremy Kama Hopkins, OHA commissioner. Hopkins said the HHCA estimates that for every one person on the waiting list, there are three others not registered on the waiting list.
“There is a smaller portion of people that are trying to lobby the DOI to change the rule in the HHCA to not necessarily lower the application quantum of 50 percent, but to lower the successorship amount so that once your family gets the lease you can hold on to it for as long as you can afford it,” Hopkins said.
Throughout homesteader communities, there have been a number of people coming together to address the 25 percent blood quantum requirement on successorship, said Gene Ross Davis, a third generation beneficiary and Hawaiian Homes Commissioner from Molokai.
“In our attempt to address the concern as beneficiaries, we are beginning a process of unifying ourselves in the community specifically towards addressing successorship,” Ross Davis said
Ross Davis said he believes proper funding of the DHHL will put people on homestead land in a timely manner and shorten the waitlist.
“If there’s proper channeling of funding to drive this mission, there would be no reason for why we can’t put people on the home land at 50 percent blood quantum,” he said. “When you accomplish that, you can lower it to 40 percent. All the while, you can lower successorship; erase successorship. That’s your perpetuity, it’s perpetual, and it’s forever.”
Status of OHA Initiatives
Updates were shared on bills introduced at the federal level and the continued efforts to move forward with advocating for Native Hawaiian rights.
Kawika Riley, OHA chief advocate, said that the board advocated successfully for the passage of two bills in the 2014 legislative package.
The first bill, HB 1618/SB 2105, will add a requirement that at least one member of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources have an expertise in Native Hawaiian traditional and customary practices. Before this bill became law, there was no requirement that any member of the board have that expertise, even though they were making environmental decisions that affected Native Hawaiians significantly, Riley said.
The other measure, HB 1616/SB 2103 made through the Hawaii State Planning Act, ensures the State Planning Act focuses on creating policies, interventions, programs and funding targeted at eliminating health disparities that affect Native Hawaiians.
“While Hawaii as a state has some of the best health statistics out of any of the 50 states, here on our home land, we as the first people, are at the bottom of so many of these indicators,” Riley said. “Much of that we believe through research is because of social determinants of health.”
OHA officers updated Molokai residents on building projects on Oahu, including plans to create a cultural place where the public can celebrate and perpetuate Hawaiian culture and would build residences, businesses and recreational opportunities at Kaka`ako.