1. What will be your top priority if elected?

In my first term as a Trustee, I initiated a three-point plan to develop the land and resources of OHA’s trust fund to meet the needs of Hawaiians: 1) Protect the Trust through audits and sound fiscal policies; 2) Grow the Trust by developing the financial potential of Kaka’ako Makai and other properties; and, 3) Use the Trust for the real ‘bread and butter’ needs of OHA beneficiaries for housing, jobs, education, and health-care. I will continue to steer OHA to take these steps to meet the most pressing needs of Hawaiians, empowering them to thrive, succeed and achieve great goals.

2. What is the most pressing need for the people you seek to represent and what can the Office of Hawaiian Affairs do to address that need?

Before I was elected Trustee-at-Large in 2016, OHA had been spending millions of dollars on pursuing a race-based nation. But in a professional survey commissioned by OHA it was discovered that the majority of Hawaiians surveyed disagreed with OHA’s focus. Instead, Hawaiians felt that OHA should focus on their real ‘bread and butter’ needs for housing, jobs, education, and healthcare. With the Coronavirus crisis, these pressing needs have only intensified, and countless Hawaiians are struggling just to make ends meet. That is why I have pushed OHA to focus on meeting basic needs rather than on pursuing controversial political agendas.

3. What is one specific change you would like to see in OHA’s operations and what would you do to make it happen?

Crucial to OHA’s ability to meet the needs of Hawaiians is the proper management of its trust fund and land assets, which at present are valued at nearly one billion dollars. OHAʻs trust portfolio, like many other investment funds, is facing challenges due to the economic downturn from COVID-19. Nonetheless, I have had concerns about OHA’s trust fund portfolio since before the Coronavirus pandemic. Just before I became a trustee in 2016, OHA’s own financial advisors had given a dire warning, namely, that OHA trustees were spending too much, too fast. At the rate they were spending, which exceeded 5% of the trust annually, the entire trust fund could be depleted within a decade. I wrote a report and submitted several policy recommendations to the board. Some of these recommendations have been adopted, I’m glad to say, but the spending cap, in my opinion, is still too high.

My bigger concern about the OHA trust fund is that our stock portfolio is out of balance with our landholdings. OHA is relying too heavily on its income from the stock market, while its land holdings are sitting still and losing hundreds of millions of dollars of potential annual revenues. For example, OHA owns 30 acres of valuable waterfront land in Kaka’ako Makai on Oahu. That’s from the old Fisherman’s Wharf down through Kaka’ako Waterfront Park. It’s been sitting there for more than seven years without development. Similarly, OHA owns valuable commercial property in ‘Iwilei at the old Gentry Pacific Design Center, formerly part of Dole Cannery. That property, too, remains underdeveloped.

The tragedy is that the lost revenues on these underdeveloped properties are enough to take care of the needs of Hawaiians across the Islands. Think of all the homes on Hawaiian Homelands that could be built with this income.

That is why I am passionate about returning to OHA as Trustee-at-Large to implement my three-part plan for growing OHA’s Trust fund: 1) Protect the Trust through audits and sound fiscal policy; 2) Grow the Trust by developing Kaka’ako Makai and other properties; and, 3) Use the Trust for real ‘bread and butter’ needs of beneficiaries, especially those in poverty. That way, Hawaiians will have housing, jobs, education, and healthcare.

4. Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and what should OHA’s role be in the process?

Like many Hawaiians, I believe there is room on Mauna Kea for both science and the sacred; for both the TMT and Hawaiian cultural practice. This is in keeping with the centuries-old values of Hawaiians who promoted navigation by the stars. The Thirty Meter Telescope presents many possibilities for scientific, educational, economic, and cultural advancement of Hawaiians and all peoples, especially future generations of keiki. However, we must practice the value of Mālama ‘Āina by ensuring pono management of the Mauna. That is why as a Trustee, I have supported OHA’s measures to ensure the preservation and sustainable care of Mauna Kea. Simply put, the State must fulfill its obligations to preserve and protect the environment and cultural heritage of the Mauna. As we move forward with science, we must also commit ourselves to protecting and honoring Mauna Kea’s unique sense of place.

Hawaiians are dIvided on the issue of TMT, so OHA needs to bring together the voices of the Hawaiian community to ho’oponopono (peacefully reconcile) and seek common ground. To do this, OHA must regain trust and restore its reputation by continuing to reform its financial and missional practices. OHA can successfully convene Hawaiians only as it fulfills its mission to meet the needs of all Hawaiians regardless of their political views. That is why I supported an OHA resolution to meet humanitarian needs of individuals risking health and safety while demonstrating at Mauna Kea. But I insisted that the aid go to any Hawaiians regardless of which side of the controversy they stood on – against or for the TMT. And I made sure that OHA’s funds were monitored and did not go to pay for the political activity of any one side. As a result, I am pleased with reports that Hawaiians of differing viewpoints benefited from OHA assistance at Mauna Kea such as portable toilets, tenting, and trash removal. It’s a first step of many more that are needed. But at least it’s a step toward OHA bringing Hawaiians together. Divided, there is nothing we can do, but, united, nothing can stop us.

Because there is so much confusion and outright mis-information regarding my stand on the Thirty Meter Telescope, the Koani Foundation (Free Hawaii) posted this brief excerpt of an interview he did recently on Hawaiian Kingdom Now where he succinctly answers that question.  Notice host and respected Hawaiian activist Kalaniakea Wilson's response.

5. What is OHA’s role in easing the overrepresentation of Native Hawaiians in prisons?

Hawaii has long been in need of criminal justice reform, and many basic reform measures will help both native Hawaiians and the population as a whole. One measure that would help is reform of the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws. At present, no conviction is required for police to seize property. This is devastating to many innocent native Hawaiian families when one member is arrested. At a minimum, the system should be reformed.

There are many other actions the state could take to improve Hawaii’s criminal justice system. These include:

  • A clean slate initiative, which would make it easier for non-violent offenders who have been rehabilitated to get their records expunged;
  • More culturally sensitive alternatives to rehabilitation (especially for drug-related crimes) rather than just putting people in prison;
  • Improved vocational training that can help ex-offenders re-enter the job market;
  • Providing incentives for employers willing to give Hawaiian ex-offenders a job.

But the best solution is prevention. And that means building strong ‘ohana (families) so Hawaiians don’t end up in the criminal justice system. In my early career with Youth for Christ, I worked with youth and families on the Waianae-Nanakuli Coast and across the state to empower them through community programs such as “Parent Project,” which equips parents to intervene successfully in the risky behaviors of their children. I have personally mentored and seen “at-risk” Hawaiian youth overcome family, educational and economic barriers, and achieve success in life.

It is empowering to see them embrace the Hawaiian values that I have learned from my kupuna and taught to my own children. These include, “Kulia I Ka Nu’u” – strive to achieve the highest; and “Mai maka’u i ka hana, maka’u i ka molowa” – Don’t fear work, fear laziness.

6. What role should the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands play in reducing homelessness?

There are more than 27,000 Hawaiians on the Hawaiian Homelands waiting list, yet annually less than 1% acquire homes. Thousands have died while waiting on the list. This tragic situation is the result of mismanagement and inadequate funding, but the root cause is a century-old failed business model which renders the Homelands land-rich and cash-poor.

To fulfill its mission to homesteaders and to provide accommodations to the homeless, the Hawaiian Homelands must aggressively pursue commercial development that generates revenue through shopping centers and other commercial ventures, much like the Bishop Estate/Kamehameha Schools has done in creating one of the world’s wealthiest charitable institutions.

Although the Hawaiian Homelands are administered by a separate agency (DHHL), OHA has a constitutional mandate or “kuleana” to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians. For this reason, I advocated for the inclusion of helping Hawaiians acquire homesteads in OHA’s new strategic plan, and I advised a working group that reviewed OHA’s commitment to helping finance the Hawaiian Homelands.  I am committed to OHA increasing its efforts to work with DHHL to eliminate the long waiting list and to provide housing initiatives for the homeless.7.

7. What are your views regarding Hawaiian self-determination?

Any model of self-determination should come from and be decided on collectively by the Hawaiian people.  And most Hawaiians reject a form of governance over them resembling the experience of Native American tribes under the U.S. Department of Interior. Further, Hawaiians have diverse views on self-determination, independence and sovereignty.  Therefore, OHA as a government agency, should respect this diversity and remain neutral as to the form of political future for Hawaiians and focus, instead, on meeting the needs of all Hawaiians (i.e., for housing, jobs, education, and health care).

Many Hawaiians are proud to be both Hawaiian and American. As for my fellow Kanaka Maoli who pursue various models of self-determination, I affirm their First Amendment right to advocate for independence or nationhood. OHA can support and facilitate civil discussion of this topic among Hawaiians and the broader community, but it should refrain from using its resources to impose any one model of political self-determination. Instead, OHA should foster economic empowerment for all Hawaiians as individuals and a people.

8. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?

Sometimes non-Hawaiians ask why they should vote in the election of OHA trustees. Simply put, everyone benefits from the betterment of conditions of the Hawaiian people. When Hawaiians go without essential needs, everyone suffers; when Hawaiians prosper, everyone prospers!

Even so, some non-Hawaiians feel it is not culturally respectful to vote in OHA elections. Let me share what I told Honolulu Magazine:

As a Native Hawaiian, I believe it is important for all registered voters, regardless of race, to participate in the election of OHA trustees. This is the way to be culturally respectful because it honors the Hawaiian Kingdom practice that citizenship was not based upon race. From the time of Kamehameha the First to Queen Lili‘uokalani, leaders of multiple ethnicities were appointed to manage the kingdom’s land and assets for the benefit of all. Hawaii was the first place in what is now the United States where citizenship and voting were based upon “the content of one’s heart, not the color of one’s skin.”

So, as more Hawaii voters realize it is everyone’s kuleana to vote for OHA trustees, there will be more opportunity for democracy and change.

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  • Debra Kekaualua
    commented 2023-05-08 13:09:02 -1000
    The Truth and nothing but the Truth needs to be Published