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Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 9 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Mililani B. Trask, 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.
Name: Mililani B. Trask
Office: OHA Trustee At-Large
Profession: Principal At-Will, Indigenous Consultants LLC
Education: Kamehameha Schools Class of 1969; bachelor’s in Political Science, San Jose State University in 1974; Juirs Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Santa Clara in California in 1978.
Community organizations: Value Growth Associates, Ka Lahui Hawaii and L.A.M.A
1. Why are you running for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs?
I am running for OHA because I believe my skills as an attorney and my experience in areas including affordable housing, sovereignty, renewable energy, human rights, and Hawaiian Homelands are badly needed by the office at this time. The recent state audit indicated that the current Trustees do no fully understand their fiduciary obligations as reflected in several program areas.
2. What is your view regarding OHA’s efforts to build a Hawaiian nation?
I believe strongly in re-establishing a Hawaiian Nation. The U.S. overthrew our Hawaiian Nation and we should resist any effort of the state and/or federal governments to impose on our peoples an American Indian model (several Indian “bands” acting as a confederacy). As Kia Aina of Ka Lahui Hawaii (KLH), I was intimately involved in nation-building for many years. This included oversight of an educational program for grass roots Hawaiians, drafting of a constitution, sponsoring three constitutional conventions, and implementing a strategy for interfacing with state, federal and international bodies and states. In addition, KLH created a master plan, known as Hookupu Ka Lahui Hawaii, to guide future work and protect the private land trusts. View education materials, constitution and Hookupu Master Plan by going to: Ka Lahui HAwaii | A native initiative of sovereignty (kalahuihawaii.wordpress.com). Only the Hawaiian people can re-establish the Hawaiian Nation. This is the right of self-determination. Ongoing efforts of the state and U.S. to create a “governing entity” and imposing it on Hawaiians is a violation of our human rights. Please read the UN Declaration of rights of Indigenous Peoples to understand our human rights and the Right of Free, Prior Informed Consent.
However, OHA’s role should be limited to facilitating the creation body of Hawaiians (residing in the state) to steer the process, draft rules for a con-con, etc. OHA cannot and should not interpose itself or its staffers in the process beyond this initial stage. If Hawaiians in Hawaii agree (by referendum or plebiscite) to exercise their right of self-determination by re-establishing a Hawaiian Nation and that OHA should fund the effort, OHA should do so. KLH has submitted a proposal to OHA for an alternative process to the Kamau ‘Ea/ Kanaiolowalu effort and urges all Hawaiians to do the same. We need to reassert our people into the process. OHA has repeatedly funded state and federal efforts that excluded the Hawaiians. Hawaiians have already informed OHA — they are calling for education and timing to KUKA and create a Hawaiian self-determined initiative. Our Hawaiian educators have submitted a grant for education to OHA but it has not been funded! They know education, how to develop a curriculum and how to educate our community. OHA staff does not have these qualifications. OHA should stop intermeddling!
3. What is your view on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s proposed rule-making on a government-to-government relationship?
I believe the U.S. DOI has not worked with the Hawaiian peoples and beneficiaries in our state and has consequently taken an approach that does not address or reflect the concerns and rights of Hawaiians. DOI has been guided by the agendas of a few Kanaiolowalu commissioners to the exclusion of the Hawaiian peoples. It is unclear what authority the U.S. DOI is proceeding under or how the Hawaiian status issue can be resolved by amending administrative rules or obtaining an executive endorsement of the process by executive order. Hawaiians are not Indians. The Congress has passed over 150 statutes relating to Hawaiians, non of these laws recognize Hawaiians as Indians. Hawaiians need to work with the Interior to address and resolve these matters. The U.S. has admitted in the Apology Law that the U.S. violated our peoples’ right to self-determination and international law by overthrowing the Kingdom. International human rights standards must be applied to right this injustice. What was destroyed was a Hawaiian Nation that had a nation-to-nation relationship with the U.S. Restoring a state or federally created “governing entity” and imposing it on Hawaiians will not right this historic wrong. Nation building must begin with the Hawaiian peoples themselves coming to consensus on a way forward.
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?
Trust laws require that trustees develop and manage all trust assets, including land holdings, in a way that maximizes the asset for its beneficiaries. This may mean that a parcel of land is preserved & maintained for beneficiary cultural use (Wao Kele O Puna), or it might mean the land is developed to its highest and best commercial use (Kakaako). This is an appropriate avenue for OHA to follow, but such a strategy should ensure that OHA has a balanced portfolio, avoids risk and has a land management plan for each of its land holdings.
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?
In some areas OHA has done well. OHA’s efforts to support Hawaiian education has assisted many educational programs and facilitated the opportunity for many Hawaiians to obtain an education. In other areas, such as the provisions for affordable housing for its beneficiaries on the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands waiting list, OHA needs to do more. There is a need for OHOA to work with DHHL, local labor and the private sector to create an affordable housing company so that the homesteaders currently waiting for housing can obtain affordable housing that can be constructed through self-help or with local labor. This is also an excellent opportunity for a training program to mentor Hawaiians in construction. DHHL has lands near harbor areas that are industrial areas suitable for such a project. OHA has capital to facilitate such a project. Affordable units would not compete with existing housing projects because this program is geared to address those who currently cannot qualify for standards financing.
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?
OHA is not an environmental trust, its primary obligation is to better the conditions of native Hawaiians and Native Hawaiians. However, OHA should be proactive in adopting environmental policies that are in compliance with state, federal and environmental laws. I am committed to protecting and preserving Hawaii’s natural resources.
OHA needs a clear policy regarding health and wellness for its Hawaiian beneficiaries. There are many players in the health arena that OHA can interface with, including JABSOM & Queens. One priority should be facilitating affordable health insurance for Hawaiians who either are uninsured or underinsured. OHA missed an opportunity with Obamacare — OHA could have facilitated Hawaiians enrolling in this federal program, but did not.
How can OHA best “perpetuate culture”? OHA currently funds many cultural projects and facilitates many cultural meetings conferences & programs. In order to strengthen its programming in this area I would recommend OHA work with Hawaiian cultural practitioners and Kumu to initiate projects that will provide long term cultural benefits for Hawaiians, and the public. For example, many of our island halau do not have a Hula Pa at the ocean facing east. Kumu Leinaala Heine and other Kumu are considering how this need could be met so that hula practitioners will have such a place in the future. Years ago, an effort was made to ensure that Hawaiian canoeing would be allowed at the shoreline on every island. Today, everyone, Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians participate in this cultural practice; it’s becoming a community sport for youth and adults throughout our state.
7. Are you satisfied with the way OHA has negotiated with the state over ceded-land revenues?
The Kakaako Settlement is the most pressing issue facing OHA today. This settlement, valued at $200 million, was to provide OHA with several parcels of land that could be developed for high-rise (400-foot) residential commercial units. The state Legislature refused to approve the high-rise development in 2014, resulting in not only a 50 percent loss of value but loss of 50 percent of the jobs for construction. To resolve this issue OHA should: A) Return to the Legislature to seek approval of the high-rise use in 2015, if this effort fails OHA should … B) Litigate to reopen the settlement negotiations and/or C) Seek additional parcels elsewhere for commercial high-rise development for our trust.
8. What other important issues would you like to discuss here?
An overarching issue that OHA must address is the segregation of the ceded land trust. The ceded land trust reserved for the “public” and “native Hawaiians” as defined in the Act of 1920. When the Act was initially passed by Congress, approximately 200,000 acres of marginal land were set aside for the DHHL purposes. Today, the cost for infrastructure for many of these parcels exceeds the cost for housing! A segregation of the ceded lands will provide for additional lands for more suitable housing to be allocated for the housing needs of native Hawaiians.