‘Auwe nohoi! We are at a critical turning point in our history.  For the first time in a long, long while, Native Hawaiians and the public at large are poised to play a meaningful role in how we shape our future.

A dark cloud of uncertainty has hung over our future for decades. We have become aware with each passing day, with each hike in our electricity rates, that we have allowed ourselves to grow ever more dependent on imported oil.  That has put us at the mercy of a distant oil cartel that controls the supply and price of oil. No other state depends as much as we do on imported oil for its electricity. No other state has its electricity grid largely managed by one company, free of the tempering effect of Federal scrutiny.

The people of Hawai`i island especially have felt the negative impact of both the dependence on foreign oil and just one monopoly utility. They feel it every time they have to choose between groceries, school supplies for their children or electricity for their homes, their farms or their small businesses. This situation is untenable and unjust.

The trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) were recently presented with the opportunity to make change happen.  Innovations Development Group (IDG), a Native Hawaiian company that is already developing geothermal energy on behalf of a number of Maori Trusts, took to OHA the results of nearly two years of canvassing the Hawaii geothermal community.

After months of careful internal consideration and external review, the OHA trustees voted almost unanimously to invest as a player in a groundbreaking effort to finally do something about our dependence on imported oil by developing a firm power alternative: geothermal.  The investment met OHA’s strategic priorities. It is in line with its mission. It is consistent with OHA’s direct investment policies and meets the requirements set out under federal law in the Uniform Prudent Investment Act.

IDG Partnership Makes Financial and Cultural Sense

That means the partnership with IDG made financial sense.  But just as important was the fact that this move made cultural sense. It was a strong move in the right direction to empower Native Hawaiians as active participants in the shaping of their future.

Punishingly high energy prices in one of the poorest areas in the state has helped keep too many Hawaiians from pursuing the kinds of opportunities that might be theirs — if affordable power was available to them.  What the OHA trustees did was nothing short of investing in creating a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.

The step that the OHA trustees took marks the first significant effort to do something on behalf of Native Hawaiians to address the hostage situation we are in with regard to energy. That something was to say, YES to geothermal. YES to working with a Native Hawaiian company for the betterment of Native Hawaiians and all the people of Hawaii.

In the real world in which we operate, on the issue of geothermal energy, there is only one Native Hawaiian company that has demonstrated that it knows our painful history with geothermal and understands the lessons to be learned from it. It has created a model for community-based development that is already being used in New Zealand and that has attracted the confidence of world-class technical and financial partners.  That company is IDG.

In the real world in which Native Hawaiians are disproportionately represented on all the indices of poverty, IDG demonstrated that it was prepared to move the ball forward on something that is critically important to our future: energy security.

To recognize that a homegrown Native Hawaiian company is providing leadership on geothermal development elsewhere and ask them to bring their model here speaks volumes for the clarity of OHA’s understanding of its mission and responsibility to the people. That old adage about prophets too often not being recognized in their own country is worth remembering. To keep sniping at those at who are brave enough to offer leadership keeps us mired in the pettiness and poverty of the present. It is time to stop the uninformed sniping.

OHA surely understands that what it does is subject to scrutiny.  They have to be acutely conscious of the fact that history will judge their actions—and ours— as will our children. The stakes could not be higher. Surely the most productive, most responsible thing we can do is to gather our collective energies to become architects of our own destiny. OHA’s decision did not come out of nowhere. We should celebrate that they have finally acted.

It’s about time, maika’i OHA, you have caught the vision!  We’re bringing it home, it’s time for us to decide.   For too long we have ceded that right to others whose motivation has been nothing more than the bottom line.  No more. It’s time to move forward as one. Imua!

About the author: Cy Bridges is a widely respected Kumu Hula, renowned Hawaiian genealogist and former member of the Oahu Burial Council. He played an extensive role in developing the Polynesian Cultural Center for over 44 years and currently serves as the Center’s Cultural Director. He is a key member of IDG’s leadership team, bringing with him his extensive knowledge and understanding of indigenous Native culture and traditions and a passion for strengthening relationships and Native-to-Native alliances in Hawaii as well as the Asia-Pacific region.

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