Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 4 general election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.

The following came from Rowena M.N. Akana, one of six finalists for three at-large seats on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees. The others are Lei Ahu Isa, Kelii Akina, Mililani Trask, Harvey McInerny and John D. Waihee. McInerny and Waihee did not respond to the questionnaire.

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

Name:  Rowena M.N. Akana

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

Profession:  Elected official

Education: Yale School of Management, The Endowment Institute – Level II (2012); Yale School of Management, The Endowment Institute – Level I (2011); University of Hawaii; Kapi’olani Community College; New York University; Roosevelt High School

Community organizations:  American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA), Pacific Region representative, since 2012; Governors’ Interstate Indian Council (GIIC) National Board, Board of Directors, member since 1999; past president of the Culture and Arts Program  Bishop Museum; Niu Valley Fee Simple Committee; past president of the FAA Womens Club; Hawaii Kai Bobby Sox Board member; Niu Valley association.

 Rowena Akana

Rowena Akana

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

As a veteran OHA Trustee with nearly 24 years of experience serving on the board, the institutional knowledge I bring to OHA allows me to provide the board with much-needed context regarding the many issues that we continue to face.

My decades of experience working with OHA’s many investment managers allows me to serve as a steadfast and knowledgeable steward of OHA’s Trust assets. When I was first elected in 1990, OHA was struggling just to exist.  OHA had very little money in the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund, no land assets, OHA Trustees received no salaries, and OHA was in the midst of contentious negotiations with the state on receiving its fair share of ceded land revenues.

After OHA finally received its first settlement of $129 million, we prudently invested it in the stock market and by the year 2000, OHA’s Trust Fund had grown to $400 million.  

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

The reestablishment of a Native Hawaiian Governing Entity is a high priority. When our independent nation was overthrown over 120 years ago, it set into motion a calamity of events that our people have never fully recovered from. The loss of our lands, language, culture and pride has been a very difficult challenge to overcome. The restoration of our nation would mean a brighter future for our young Keiki. Receiving the lands that are held in trust back and managing our lands again to build a strong economic base will allow the next generation of Native Hawaiians to be able to afford living in the islands. Over 200,000 Native Hawaiians have moved to other states and countries. It is time to help provide our Ohana with the jobs and affordable housing they need to come home. For more information on sovereignty, please visit my website at www.rowenaakana.org.

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

The process to establish a government-to-government relationship between Native Hawaiians and the United States government is an essential step toward ensuring that schools, scholarships, care homes for elders, services for at-risk youth and other similar programs serving Native Hawaiians can continue to flourish and that our Hawaiian trusts and related programs will be protected from further legal challenges. 

OHA trustees have vowed to protect these programs in perpetuity and we believe the establishment of a government-to-government relationship will do so.

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?

The lands that have been transferred to OHA will someday generate the revenue needed to support OHA’s many Native Hawaiian programs.  This process may take some time, but we are well on our way to someday being completely self-sufficient.

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?

OHA has invested heavily in education to ensure a better life and future for all Native Hawaiians.  In 2013, OHA gave $1.5 million to the Native Hawaiian Charter School Alliance; $797,000 to provide college scholarships for Native Hawaiian students through the Hawaii Community Foundation and Liko A’e; and granted millions of dollars to programs benefiting Native Hawaiians students within the University of Hawaii system as well as colleges on the continental U.S. and abroad.

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?

Today, OHA operates like a charitable foundation that hands out grants. Most of the successful OHA-run programs, like Aha ‘Opio and Aha Kupuna, which took years of hard work by past trustees to develop, have been contracted out or were quietly discontinued after 2001 when Haunani Apoliona became the chair. Farming work out to nonprofits is appropriate in some cases, I believe OHA has gone too far with this idea because the success or failure of a program sometimes cannot be accurately assessed.

I believe that OHA should do much more for our beneficiaries in terms of programs and services. Grants are ineffective in solving long-term problems since grant monies eventually run out. Even successful services end up getting cut if they can’t raise any money. That’s why we need ongoing OHA programs that are closely monitored by the trustees and staff.

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

On April 11, 2012, Gov. Abercrombie signed the historic $200 million settlement between the state and OHA to resolve all claims that were raised with the state relating to its portion of income from the public land trust from Nov. 7, 1978 to June 30, 2012.  

Unfortunately the settlement will not meet the $200 million amount that OHA and the state settled on without the right to develop residential structures.  

It should also be noted that OHA remains committed to the guiding principles of the Conceptual Master Plan and will address these principles in any application for development permits for the two lots.  OHA must follow the criteria of “the highest and best use” when it develops Kakaako Makai.

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

The knowledge and assets that OHA have gained over the past 30-plus years must be passed on to the new Native Hawaiian governing entity. However, this may take some time to accomplish in order to ensure a smooth transition. OHA’s land holdings and portfolio investments are subject to complex legal and regulatory requirements that will require time and extensive negotiations to work out.

I believe that being a trustee is not about simply showing up at a few monthly meetings.  OHA cannot afford to maintain a system which encourages passive trustees, as we have experienced in the past.

From 2001 to January of 2014, only two subject-matter committees existed under the Board of Trustees: (1) The Asset & Resource Management Committee which oversees all of OHA’s fiscal, policy, economic development, and administrative matters chaired by Oz Stender, and (2) The Beneficiary Advocacy and Empowerment Committee, which has responsibility over all federal and state legislation, ongoing programs in health, housing, education, land, and the Native Hawaiian Revolving Loan Fund chaired by Colette Machado and John Waihee IV. Earlier this year, a Land and Property committee was reinstated, chaired by Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey. This new committee allows for more input by other trustees. There is no question why there were only two committees for almost 10 years. It was meant to consolidate power and control over the board. The two-committee structure was and is dysfunctional. With so much oversight over so many subjects, many important issues got overlooked.

I am always hopeful when election time rolls around that we will have new trustees who will emerge and the board make-up will change for the better. Then trustees can start focusing on the important issues at hand rather than playing politics and being self-serving.