Molokai Boy Joins DHHL Leadership
Growing up on Ho`olehua homestead land, Halealoha Ayau said he was “raised by a father who was a Jack of all trades.”
“He had many skills, so I knew what multitasking meant before that was even made fashionable,” Ayau joked last week.
The Molokai native, who has extensive history working for Native Hawaiian and Native American rights, recently came full circle. He took over as interim director of the Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL) Molokai branch Aug. 25.
With the economy still struggling, the role is offering Ayau a challenge. The department includes four positions on Molokai, but only one of them is currently filled – and that’s Ayau.
“Now’s not the time we’re going to be getting the kind of fiscal help we need … so we need to be creative,” he said.
That creativity includes nurturing partnerships with homestead associations and outside organizations. As one of his more urgent priorities, he recognizes “the very real need” to upgrade the Hawaiian homes water system, “critically with the Kalamaula tank,” he said. The department is making efforts to receive federal funding to make the repairs, he said.
Being creative also includes increasing efficiencies, which Ayau sees as a collaborative effort among the department and homesteaders.
“We have to look at everyone doing their part,” Ayau said. “Effective management is not just the department [working on homestead issues]. The other side of the coin … is the homesteaders do their part.”
The number one way for homestead lessees to help increase the DHHL’s efficiency, Ayau said, is to “make sure that you’ve designated a successor” through forms available at the department.
“If a lessee passes away and didn’t designate a successor, it becomes much more difficult for that lease to pass through to the family,” he said.
Lessees can also help the DHHL in the way they pay their water bills. When sending payments to the DHHL office, Ayau asked lessees to tear off the top portion of their invoice, which includes information like the account name and number, and it include it with the check.
“We spend a lot of time tracking things down, where we could be more efficient,” he said.
While it’s a demanding role, Ayau brings with him many years of experience fighting for Native Hawaiian rights. He graduated from Kamehameha Schools, and after receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University of Redlands, earned a law degree from the University of Colorado.
He previously worked for the Department of Land and Natural Resources, oversaw Hawaiian learning center Hui Malama and represented Native Hawaiian and Native American law firms and clients. He also has extensive history dealing with community burial sites.
Those experiences and more – combined with his homestead upbringing – gave him a valuable skill set for the job, Ayau said. And while it’s been difficult leading the department through a tough fiscal environment, he said he has enjoyed it so far.
“The harder the challenge gets, the more I like it,” he said.
Plus, he added, “the worst day on Molokai is always better than the best day anywhere else. There’s no place I’d rather be.”
While the position is a temporary 89-day hire – with the 89 days including only workdays, Monday through Friday – Ayau said he is committed to the position for as long as possible.
“I will do everything I can while I am here to make as much as an improvement to this program as possible, and if I am selected for [the permanent position] I’d be thrilled,” he said. “I’m committed to trying to support Molokai homesteading, and therefore support Hawaiian families.”