St. Andrew’s Cathedral was full of music, prayer, promise and politicians Tuesday as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs held its annual investiture.
The mood was celebratory, as there were many things to celebrate, including making progress on Hawaiian Home Lands; reaching out to Hawaiians in need from alii trusts; chartering Hawaiian civic clubs; increasing service in areas like health, education and employment; rejuvenating Bishop Museum; and designating Papahanaumokuakea — the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands — as a Marine National Monument and a UN World Heritage site.
Meanwhile, OHA’s legislative package in the next session of the state Legislature will seek to resolve the lingering matter of $200 million in ceded lands revenue payments from the state to OHA.
“The current status of Native Hawaiians is vibrant,” said Haunani Apoliona, who stepped down Tuesday after nearly a decade as OHA chairwoman.
Apoliona departed from her prepared address to give the audience an update, saying, “The fact is, all of us expected the bill would have been passed” in the U.S. Congress’ lame-duck session.
Instead, the bill never made it to the Senate floor despite the fact that Democrats control the majority. Apoliona blamed Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for “peeling away” nine Republican votes and making it difficult for the 57 Democrats and two independents to secure the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster.
“Commitments were broken,” she explained, saying Majority Leader Harry Reid was forced to withdraw the bill. “Without a doubt, this is another setback in a series of many.”
Insult was further added to injury, she said, when millions of dollars in earmarks for Hawaii programs went by the wayside when Daniel K. Inouye‘s $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill was killed by the GOP last week. That bill also included a provision for the U.S. Department of the Interior to move ahead on producing a study to help implement the Akaka bill.
Undeterred, Apoliona said OHA remained committed to self-determination and would not cease in its efforts. She announced that OHA, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the Abercrombie administration would launch an “enrollment affirmation” in the new year to compile the names of eligible Hawaiians to help constitute a Native Hawaiian governing entity.
“We cannot be idle or immobilized or paralyzed. A victim mentality is not acceptable,” she said. “We will achieve federal recognition for Native Hawaiians.”
Apoliona concluded her address with a rousing delivery of words expressed some three decades ago by kupuna wahine Edith Kanakaole “in the spirit of our ancestors.” An excerpt:
“E … a hui hou kakou me ke aloha o ka welina no ka aina aloha. Aloha no.” (“Until we meet again … all of us … we remain loyal to our homeland bound together by aloha.”)
A standing ovation immediately followed.
Machado on Apoliona: “A workaholic!”
Earlier in the day, Apoliona, 62, handed the OHA chair to her hand-picked successor, Collette Machado, 60. Apoliona remains an OHA trustee.
“I would like to continue her vision,” Machado said after the investiture, joking that it would be difficult to follow in the footsteps of a “workaholic” like Apoliona. “It was our vision. There will be a seamless transition.”
Machado then teared up, as she is wont to do.
“There is still bitterness. I hurt inside,” she said. “Many injustices still continue.”
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.