Office of Hawaiian Affairs CEO Kamana’opono Crabbe urged OHA trustees on Thursday morning to extend the timeline for nation-building and consider opening up a second roll for those Native Hawaiians who disagree with the current process.
More than 100 people crowded into a hearing room at OHA headquarters to hear an update on the agency’s progress on facilitating Hawaiian nationhood and share their thoughts on the best path forward.
OHA, a semi-autonomous government agency charged with helping to better the lives of Native Hawaiians, conducted an aggressive public outreach campaign over a six-week period from March to May to gather signatures for the Kana’iolowalu Roll.
The list of names, estimated at over 130,000, is intended to serve as a basis for electing delegates and holding a constitutional convention as soon as this October.
But Crabbe recommended that trustees lengthen the process by six to nine months in response to community feedback that there should be more time for public outreach and education.
Kehaunani Abad, OHA’s community engagement director, described the Native Hawaiian community’s comments on nation-building as remarkably consistent, explaining that while most people supported OHA’s goals, many had concerns about the way the agency is managing the process.
Crabbe suggested trustees not only extend the timeline but boost public education about Hawaiian history and the options for nation-building. OHA has already conducted 20 town halls and 11 additional meetings, while also placing newspaper and radio advertising.
Crabbe also urged trustees to consider opening up a separate roll for Native Hawaiians who have shied away from the current process out of fear that its outcome is predetermined because OHA is a state entity.
Abad said a second registration process would “ensure that the nation doesn’t begin with a significant divide within the lahui (nation).”
But there already appears to be widely differing views about what a Hawaiian nation would look like.
Some want the ongoing nation-building process to move forward as planned and believe federal or state recognition is the best option for the indigenous community. Nearly a dozen people held up signs at Thursday’s hearing indicating that they have signed and support the current roll.
But many others want greater independence, citing the current occupation of the Hawaiian Kingdom by the U.S. government.
A popular refrain during public testimony Thursday morning was that Hawaiian sovereignty endures and that federal recognition similar to that of many Native American tribes wouldn’t be adequate.
The disagreement is reflected within OHA itself. Recently, Crabbe sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry seeking a legal opinion on whether the Hawaiian Kingdom, overthrown in 1893, still exists. And if it does, what does that mean for OHA and its efforts to rebuild a Hawaiian nation? The Board of Trustees later rescinded the letter.
“Why do Hawaiians have to look like we’re such idiots fighting with each other all the time?”
Trustee Rowena Akana said she was annoyed at Crabbe’s proposal to delay the process and the continuing dissent from many in the community.
“After a while it gets kind of ridiculous,” Akana said. “Why do Hawaiians have to look like we’re such idiots fighting with each other all the time?”
But several other trustees said they support Crabbe’s recommendations. Trustee Dan Ahuna emphasized that the 350,000 Native Hawaiians who chose not to sign the roll deserve to be heard.
Crabbe told reporters after the hearing that OHA may not be the best agency to facilitate the nation-building process, which he described as a work in progress.
But he said that there is “political will amongst our people to establish or restore our government that is an extension of the legacy of Queen Liliokalani.”
While he wants the agency to proceed with caution, he said, “It’s imperative for us to establish some political protection as soon as possible.”
The question is what that looks like in the 21st century.