There has been a recent outburst within the Native Hawaiian community over the actions of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees.

On May 9, the OHA Board of Trustees rescinded a letter that Ka Pouhana, the CEO of OHA, Dr. Kamanaʻopono Crabbe had sent to United States Secretary of State John F. Kerry seeking clarification on whether the Hawaiian Kingdom continues to exist under international law.

In the letter that he sent to Washington, D.C., on May 5, Crabbe said he was seeking a formal legal opinion from the United State Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel on the matter.

His action was prompted when one of his staff attended a presentation and panel discussion at the William S. Richardson School of Law on April 17, 2014 that featured former Hawaii Gov. John Waihee III, chairman of the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission, Law Professor Williamson Chang and Dr. Keanu Sai.

Crabbe explains, “The presentations of Professor Chang and Dr. Sai provided a legal analysis of the current status of Hawaii that appeared to undermine the legal basis of the Roll Commission, and, as alleged in the panel discussions, the possibility of criminal liability under international law.

Both Professor Chang and Dr. Sai specifically stated that the federal and state of Hawaii governments are illegal regimes that stem from an illegal and prolonged occupation by the United States as a result of the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom government.”

He goes on to express, “These matters have raised grave concerns with regard to not only the Native Hawaiian community we serve, but also to the vicarious liability of myself, staff and trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and members of the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission. The community we serve, the trustees, and many of my staff members, to include myself, and the members of the Roll Commission are Native Hawaiians, who are direct descendants of Hawaiian subjects of the Hawaiian Kingdom.”

Crabbe said he sought to seek an opinion on the validity of these allegations from its in-house counsel or from the attorney general of the state of Hawaii, but felt he was prohibited because there would appear to be a conflict of interest if these allegations were true.

However, the OHA Board of Trustees did not see it this way.

“How did our chief executive officer not understand this by sending the letter to the State Department, especially to the secretary, John Kerry? That’s why we had to respond quickly on a unanimous position to rescind that letter, because it is not an official position of OHA,” Machado said.

The question I pose: was that really the “official position” of OHA?

Trustee Dan Ahuna had changed his mind shortly after, writing in a letter to OHA Chairwoman Colette Machado, that it is “in the best interest of our people” to gather the information on what Crabbe requested.

As an aspiring Native Hawaiian scholar, I have been following Native Hawaiian issues closely over the past few years. I feel that what made this issue distinctive was that following the release of Crabbe’s actions, community members who would generally not show support for OHA had showed support for Dr. Crabbe’s actions deeming it a “bold step for Hawaiian Sovereignty.”

A question that I had posed to my mentor, Dr. Umi Perkins, was “what could we do?” His answer: a petition letter of support.

Over the past few days, hundreds of people have signed the petition of support for Dr. Crabbe that was created by distinguished Hawaiian scholars — Dr. Noelani Goodyear-Kaopua, Dr. Jon Osorio, Dr. Kamana Beamer and Dr. Kekuewa Kikiloi, to name a few. It has gained over 1,000 signatures in its first 48 hours.

The goal of this petition was to “stand in strong support of the courageous actions of Ka Pouhana, CEO of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kamana‘opono Crabbe in his letter to the United States Secretary of State John F. Kerry released on May 9th, 2014.”

Following my signing of the petition, I have just been in awe of how many people have come together to support our leader, Dr. Kamanaʻopono Crabbe. I feel that he had been acting in the best interest of the people — something, I would argue, that the OHA Board of Trustees wasn’t doing.

I reflect on this issue as it is unfolding and I can’t help but relate it back to the Bishop Estate scandal that occurred in the 1990s. The estate’s board of trustees were seeking the removal of former Kamehameha Schools Headmaster Dr. Michael Chun. Although the OHA Board of Trustees isn’t seeking the removal of Dr. Crabbe, I feel that both instances show an example of a misuse of power by both boards.

As we move forward and wait so see what unfolds, an important lesson can be learned. I ali’i nō ke ali’i i ke kanaka — a chief is a chief because of the people who serve him. Leaders are elected to serve the people that elected them. They are “supposed to be” the voice for the people they serve. We, as citizens of the “State of Hawaiʻi” have elected these OHA trustees to serve in the best interest of our needs.

Many of us do not agree with what they are doing and how they are handling this situation. It is important for the community to use this as a platform to come together, despite our differences to send a message to the OHA Board of Trustees that: “We support Dr. Kamanaʻo Crabbe and his actions and will be watching the OHA Board of Trustees very closely in the weeks to come to see if they are truly acting in our best interests.”

About the author: Jacob Bryan Aki is a graduate of the Kamehameha Schools and an undergraduate student who is majoring in Hawaiian Studies at the Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

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