Infighting on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee board has once again emerged in local news media to the dismay of a public increasingly impatient with OHA’s leaders. The upcoming general election is, therefore, a timely opportunity for the public to remind the trustees that they serve at the pleasure of Hawaii’s voters. Enforcing that accountability is the most effective way to ensure that OHA serves the greater good of society and does not misappropriate the vast resources with which it has been entrusted, nor the growing power which accompanies these resources.

Several concerns have made it evident that OHA is in need of a leadership change. Regardless of the exchange of personal insults, the fact remains that one trustee, Rowen Akana, has publicly charged another trustee, Haunani Apoliona, and the entire board with self-dealing in OHA’s recent purchase of the Gentry Pacific Design Center.

For a sitting fiduciary trustee of a public organization to vote to give business (the financing of the purchase) to a bank which compensates her for sitting on its board of directors is a textbook case of conflict of interest that implicates the entire trustee board. Moreover, Akana’s charge that the trustees edited the official record of their deliberations to hide the conflict of interest is sufficient grounds to call for investigation by both state and federal agencies. In its failure to properly manage this situation, the OHA board has invited a public demand for external investigation, and the matter should be considered by the State Attorney General and Legislature.

Akana is not the only trustee whose recent public comments have shed light on the inner workings of the OHA board. Trustee Peter Apo has demonstrated the kind of unrealistic thinking that motivates the trustees.

Recently Apo stated in the local press that the rationale driving OHA’s pursuit of “redress from the federal government” is the “well-documented history of the near-genocidal colonization of the Hawaiian people.” Not only is this invoking of the term genocide factually inaccurate and inflammatory, the U.S. federal government had no substantial dealings with the Hawaiian people until decades after the only event that could remotely be construed near-genocidal, the tragic population-reducing epidemics of the early 1800’s.

Apo further stated that “… Hawaiians and their institutions, led by OHA, have been fiercely focused on achieving political sovereignty.” He asserts that OHA should, therefore, marshal the “collective asset base” of all Hawaiian organizations, consisting of “… hundreds of thousands of acres in land and billions in liquid assets.” Not only has Apo overstated OHA’s self-appointed leadership role amongst Hawaiian organizations, it is not likely that the Kamehameha Schools, the Lili’uokalani Trust, Queen’s Hospital, and the Hawaiian Civic Clubs would consider much of their wealth to be “liquid” nor at the command of OHA and its political sovereignty agenda.

In the last year, OHA has undergone a rapid transformation from a mostly cash-only trust to the state agency with the fastest growing financial portfolio thanks to its acquisition of 30 acres of prime Honolulu waterfront property, tracts of land on several neighbor islands and the purchase of the Gentry Pacific Design Center. OHA is considering scooping up additional undervalued properties through leveraging its existing cash and realty assets.

What this means for the public is that the quality of leadership in OHA is a major concern in our state’s economy and political culture. Frequently non-Hawaiians feel that voting for OHA trustees, which is the right of all voters in Hawaii, is somehow an interference with a Hawaiian organization.

OHA, however is not an exclusive Hawaiian organization, but a state agency created “of the people, by the people and for the people” of the State to serve Hawaiians as well as the common good. There are more than 125 Hawaiian advocacy organizations, many of which do not look to OHA as the default leader of Hawaiians. In reality, OHA is one of many efforts to help Hawaiians, but fundamentally it belongs to all citizens, and it is the duty of all citizens to vote and hold this organization accountable.

About the author: Dr. Keli’i Akina is a philosopher who lectures on human rights and business ethics in Chinese and American universities. He is a candidate for OHA Trustee-at-Large in the November 6 Hawaii General Election. His website is and his e-mail address is

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