Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 9 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.

The following came from Keli’i Akina, one of 16 candidates for three at-large seats on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees. The six who win the most primary votes advance to the general election.

Go to Civil Beat’s Elections Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Name: Keli’i Akina

Office: Trustee-at-Large, Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Profession: President/CEO, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

Education: Ph.D. and M.A., University of Hawaii; BA, Northwestern University; Graduate, Kamehameha Schools.

Age: 56

Community organizations: Youth for Christ, Center for Tomorrow’s Leaders, Pacific Century Fellows, Leeward Community Church.


Keli'i Akina

Keli’i Akina

1. Why are you running for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs?

There are three reasons that I am running for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs:

The first reason is to preserve the Aloha Spirit. The greatest value that we have in these islands is aloha. It means that we love one another, we include one another, we care for one another, and we are one people. Sadly, the misplaced efforts by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to build a separate race-based nation are dividing Hawaiians from non-Hawaiians and also dividing Hawaiians from each other. If elected, I will work to put an end to this dividing of people by race and focus OHA on uniting Hawaii’s people so that we will work together toward a better future as Hawaiians and Americans.

The second reason I am running for OHA is to meet the real needs of the Hawaiian people and all people in the islands. While OHA has spent tens of millions of dollars pursuing its political agenda, countless children of Hawaii have gone without quality education, health care, jobs, and housing. The state auditor has found that OHA is not using its vast financial resources in a way that truly benefits Hawaiians. If elected I will make it my priority to see that OHA quits wasting money on the pursuit of sovereignty and, instead, uses it to meet the real needs of Hawaii’s people. I will also work to see that OHA serves the whole community, because, in order to raise the water level of one boat we must raise the water levels of all boats. There is so much more OHA can and must do to help build the economy and meet the human needs of Hawaii’s people.

The third reason I am running for OHA is to keep OHA accountable to the people, as your government agency. During this last legislative session OHA attempted to exempt itself from Hawaii’s development rules on its Kakaako waterfront lands in pursuit of financial profits. OHA also attempted to close the doors of its trustee meetings to the public as it sought exemption to our sunshine and ethics laws. OHA has been behaving like a private land developer and, unless kept accountable to the people, it will soon affect everyone’s pocketbooks, freedoms, and the business climate throughout the state. In short, OHA is everyone’s business. That’s why I urge all citizens to pay attention to OHA and exercise your right and responsibility to vote for trustees.

2. What is your view regarding OHA’s efforts to build a Hawaiian nation?

As a government agency, OHA should not be attempting to create a sovereign nation. OHA’s efforts to do so are both unconstitutional and offensive to the Hawaiian value of inclusiveness, whereby citizenship, even in the Hawaiian Kingdom, was not based upon race. Instead of serving real needs of Hawaiians and the public, OHA continues to waste millions of dollars on the unconstitutional pursuit of political sovereignty. This is dividing Hawaiians from non-Hawaiians and Hawaiians from each other.

3. What is your view on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s proposed rule-making on a government-to-government relationship?

Hawaiians never were and are not today an Indian tribe by federal definition. The Hawaiian Kingdom consisted of citizens of multiple ethnic groups under a constitutional monarchy. There is no Hawaiian tribe — only self-styled tribal leaders seeking land, power and gambling rights of a federally recognized tribe. Attempts to organize Hawaiians into a federally recognized tribe will exploit ordinary citizens for the benefit of politically connected elites and special interests.

4. OHA has focused on developing land holdings in order to raise revenue to help beneficiaries. Is this an appropriate avenue for OHA to pursue?

While OHA’s real estate assets should bring benefit to Native Hawaiian beneficiaries, these assets are owned by all people of Hawaii, being state lands under administration of a state agency. Therefore, the will of the voting public, both Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians, should determine the development of these lands. If OHA is not kept accountable as a government agency, there is real potential for its pursuit of financial gain to become self-serving for a narrow few.

This means that OHA is not a private developer, and, therefore, should not be given exemptions from state and county development laws others must obey. Unfortunately, OHA’s recent legislative agenda sought exemption for condominium height limits and from the sunshine laws in an effort to close Trustee meetings to public scrutiny. OHA argued that these measures were necessary to maximize profits, but these measures are inappropriate for a public agency that must be held accountable.

According to a critical 2013 audit by the state auditor,  OHA is in need of competent professional advisors to manage the agency’s portfolio of assets. Thus, the Trustees should operate solely on the level of policy and oversight, not at the level of managing assets. This is necessary to protect the assets from being politicized and reduces the likelihood that Trustees become embroiled in conflicts of interest. That said, there is a set of values the Trustees should embrace, and these are best practices of boards responsible for trusts. One such value, for example, is the fiduciary duty to protect the asset base by not participating in risky speculation. Many applications of this best practice value could be applied to the Kakaako Makai property where OHA must recognize that it is not a private corporation land developer. The Trustees should also add to best practices the kind of values that reflect Hawaiian ethics and respect for both people and ‘aina. These will guide the delicate balance needed to protect the environment in Waimea Valley. As to the potential for geothermal energy development in Wao Kele o Puna, ethics and accountability should be the main focus of the Trustees who must guard against corrupt contracting practices.

5. OHA’s stated purpose is to provide “opportunity for a better life and future” for all Native Hawaiians. Is it doing that? And if not, what would you do about that?

The most recent report on OHA by the state auditor has found that the assets of OHA are not being used to the best advantage of its beneficiaries. Instead, OHA continues to pursue an agenda of political sovereignty which has diverted more than $25 million dollars from the meeting of beneficiary needs. If elected, I would work to end the funding of political sovereignty and use those funds to meet the real needs of OHA beneficiaries for housing, education, jobs, and health care.

6. Is OHA doing enough to protect the environment, improve the health of Native Hawaiians and perpetuate the culture? What ideas would you bring to OHA?

While OHA has historically articulated the value of malama pono (take care of the land), it has demonstrated frequent shifts in this policy when pursuing financial profits as a land developer. The most notable example has been OHA’s pursuit of exemption from the 200-foot building height limit for its Kakaako Makai property. I would work to get OHA out of the business of being a private land developer and reinforce its role as a public trust.

 7. Are you satisfied with the way OHA has negotiated with the state over ceded-land revenues?

No. OHA gambled with its asset base by settling for low-valued property in the Kakaako waterfront which cannot not be maximally developed due to existing law. This is a failed gamble which would require exemption from state and county laws or even “sovereignty” in order to allow profitable development. This speculative use of resources is inappropriate for a trust.

8. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?

As to the qualifications for an OHA Trustee, a  trustee must be a statesman who can make wise, ethical decisions for the good of the public being served.  If elected I will bring to OHA three decades of experience as a trustee and director of local, regional and national boards in which I have helped guide the non-profit humanitarian work of thousands of employees across the United States and several foreign countries.