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

The following came from Wes Kaiwi Nui Yoon, 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: Wes Kaiwi Nui Yoon

Office: At-Large Trustee, OHA

Profession: Consultant

Education: Architecture

Community organizations: Pacific Century Fellow 2014; chair, State Legacy Land Conservation Commission; Executive Council, Ka Mauli Hou, Hawaii Restoration and Conservation Initiative; ex-member, OHA Native Hawaiian Historic Preservation Council; ex-member, Hawaii Conservation Alliance; founder, Kukulu Kane Program, a volunteer program for the state correctional system, calling for a joint collaborative effort to address rising Native Hawaiian inmate population using traditional cultural education and land use management as means to build self identity and sense of place

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

I decided to run for OHA Trustee-at-Large because with my unique background in development, historic preservation, conservation, and renewable energy, I know I can best serve Hawai’i by being the bridge to balance the worlds of commerce and culture, capitalism and conservation, and money and mana.  As OHA is the 13th largest landowner in Hawai’i, the people need a trustee who truly understands land management, cultural sensitivities, and sustainability.  

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

One of the fundamental questions being contemplated is if the nation ever ceased, and if not, then re-establishment would be unnecessary. In either case, any nation will need to have economic sovereignty to better support achieving its goals. While the response from pertinent parties is being addressed, there is nothing to prevent OHA, other strategic partners and the community from conceptualizing, developing and implementing models of economic sovereignty to support continued and or increased goods and services to the people of Hawai`i.

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

I acknowledge the DOI on starting the process to address the issues and hearing the community before developing its policies surrounding a government-to-government relationship. To date, these discussions have solicited passionate and committed responses from the community.  Regardless of the support or opposition to such a relationship and in order for the DOI to propose rule-making, these community issues must first be addressed. Without knowing the DOI’s commitments and expectations or the majority of the community’s affirmative perspectives, it is premature for rule-making. Premature and uninformed decisions create unstable outcomes. Our children deserve a better legacy.  

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?

OHA’s investment portfolio has experienced relatively positive growth, which was dependent on expected financial resources and investments in conventional financial markets. However, given OHA’s recent increase of commercial land holdings in 2012, OHA has yet to develop the relationship, direction, and rules between land and investment policies. Without an overall master plan for the properties and how the portfolio can support such initiatives, the daily management is diminished to keeping them afloat as opposed to maximizing their true potential.

The fact that OHA’s land and property involvements are considered assets, which have the potential to provide opportunities for financial investment and return, means OHA will need to apply business acumen and planning to such assets until such time that OHA is clear on how to balance commerce and culture, capital and conservation, money and mana. The management of legacy holdings needs to have relationship and relevance to other property types. Diversification of a property by itself is not enough. Diversifying with and between properties will be instrumental in realizing innovative ways that may challenge conventional thought but at the same time, will challenge the repeated management shortfalls that were caused by the fear of such innovation.  

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?

Since 1978, OHA has been a resource and advocate for its beneficiaries. OHA has served to communicate Hawaiian issues to the public, increased its resource capacity, and made significant advances engaging with federal, state, and county agencies. Trying to educate and gain support from Hawaii’s people is no easy task given the exponential growth of Hawaii’s population in a short period of time on a very small land mass with very limited resources. Advances in communications and technology, Native Hawaiian education, and cultural identity call for OHA’s next evolution, innovative vision and new leaders.

OHA should continue its efforts to seek political clarity, but also serve as a catalyst for economic sovereignty. In order to achieve this, existing and new strategic partnerships must be promoted so that OHA may gain added insight and experience in areas that are perhaps unknown to OHA. Not all knowledge is learned in one school, and it’s time for OHA to diversify beyond its institutional borders and explore what will serve our community in the next stages of Hawaii’s evolution.

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?

Having worked within OHA for over six years in land management, I have already proposed innovative and viable ways to integrate best management practices in land and environment, the perpetuation of culture and commerce, and how each relate to overall health of Native Hawaiians. Because OHA is a relatively new land owner, it has yet to understand and capitalize on how best to leverage and integrate its resources. With increased qualified leadership at the Board level, these advances can be realized sooner than later.  

I am also chair of The Legacy Land Conservation Program, which has awarded funding towards the protection of over 20,000 acres of special and unique lands, granting $34 million and leveraged $66 million of matching funds for an overall total of roughly $97 million since its inception. If elected, I would bring actual and demonstrated knowledge and experience of land acquisition, conservation, and management.

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

OHA balances an incredible amount of considerations before it makes decisions and having been a part of OHA land management staff, I had observed the tremendous weight OHA leadership had shouldered before, during and after ceded land revenue negotiations. OHA has made its decisions, and as a next generation leader, I am focused on how best to capitalize on given OHA resources. 

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

In 1976, the Hokule`a voyaged from Hawai`i to Tahiti. Two years later, OHA was created. In 2014, the Hokule`a set sail on an ambitious journey around the world. It is now time for OHA to take its next evolutionary steps and reinvent itself so that it may include new leadership, broaden its horizons, and ultimately be a more integral part of ensuring a healthy and thriving future for Hawai`i.