Of the 150 or so unelected delegates who organizers say are participating in the Nai Aupuni convention on Native Hawaiian self-governance that began Monday, two are lawmakers on the public payroll.
Brickwood Galuteria has served in the Hawaii state Senate since 2008, while Rowena Akana has been a trustee with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs since 1990.
They will receive a total of $1,000 in “per diem” payment to attend the month-long convention, or aha, from a private foundation funded by OHA grant funds to the nonprofit Akamai Foundation.
That comes on top of their state salaries: $59,004 for Galuteria (plus a $10 a day per diem during the legislative session) and $56,280 for Akana.
More significantly, Galuteria and Akana have regular, full-time commitments to the Senate and OHA, respectively.
Galuteria is majority caucus leader, vice chair of the committee on Housing and a member of three other committees, including Ways and Means.
There are also 16 floor session days in February, the same month that the aha is taking place at the Royal Hawaiian Golf Course meeting rooms in Maunawili. That’s near Kailua, on the other side of the Pali from the State Capitol downtown.
Lynne Matusow, a Honolulu resident formerly active in neighborhood boards and in the Democratic Party of Hawaii, is not happy that some elected officials are also part of the aha.
“I think where we have people holding public office who have been elected to do a job, which includes attending meetings and voting — and in Brickwood’s case with his complete conflict and time with the legislative session — that they need to make up their mind which of the two they’re going to do.”
Matusow added, “Otherwise, the public loses out because they are not properly doing the job they were elected to do.”
Galuteria, who represents District 12 (Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kakaako, McCully, Moiliili), said his priority is his duties in the Senate. He attended the morning session of the aha on Monday but said he is unclear what the aha schedule will be for the rest of the month.
“At this point I am doing my best to make sure my constituents are served, but I want to be a meaningful voice at Nai Aupuni, too,” he said. “But everything is so up in the air right now that it’s kind of hard to determine what the commitment will be. We will take it one day at a time.”
Akana’s schedule conflicts, meanwhile, are tied to her work at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
OHA has scheduled two Board of Trustees meetings in February, up to two meetings for the Committee on Resource Management and as many as four meetings for the Committee on Beneficiary Advocacy & Empowerment. The latter has tentatively scheduled extra meetings this month because the Legislature is in session and OHA typically has pressing business there.
Asked about her work load, Akana said she did not expect to miss important OHA meetings.
“For example, we have a big agenda Wednesday, which has to do with all bills before the Legislature,” she said. “I will be in the OHA office. We don’t have meetings every day, but when we have them, I will be there.”
The privately run aha itself is to run for 20 days in February. A spokesman for Nai Aupuni said the schedule is Monday through Friday “approximately” from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The commitment was too much for Kaniela Ing, a state representative from Maui.
“My first priority will be the Legislature,” he said. “I signed up to participate in Nai Aupuni for the same reason I am involved in public service to begin with. Anyone who cares about Native Hawaiians should be involved in the legislative session and also can’t relinquish a seat at Nai Aupuni. The stakes are that high.”
But Ing said delegates were expressly told they would have autonomy to choose their own schedule and location for the venue. Otherwise, it didn’t make sense for delegates from the mainland, the neighbor islands and places like Waianae, a long drive to Kailua. And he says he’s not alone in his concerns.
“If they had held this downtown, then maybe we could have participated,” he said. “It’s a little upsetting for me.”
Ing, who represents the 11th House District (Kihei, Wailea, Makena), is chair of the Ocean, Marine Resources & Hawaiian Affairs committee and a member on three others. As a neighbor island lawmaker, he receives $150 a day per diem during session.
Ing said he is still listed as an aha delegate, though he has asked for his name to be removed. A Jan. 6 posting on the Nai Aupuni website, the most recent as of Monday, listed Ing’s name with 153 other delegates.
Asked about Ing’s complaints, Nai Aupuni organizers declined to comment. Instead, they directed inquiries to an email trail (posted below) that includes several Q&As about the aha process, the commitment of delegates and correspondence between Ing, Nai Aupuni attorney Bill Meheula and Akamai Foundation head Louis F. Perez III.
The email exchange suggests that Nai Aupuni organizers were not inclined to consider any changes to the aha schedule or venue.
On Monday’s opening day, Nai Aupuni said 127 delegates participated, or about 85 percent of the total.
Nai Aupuni President Kuhio Asam, in a written statement, told delegates they had 20 days “to make as much progress as you can. Use that precious time in a wise, efficient and effective manner.”
Asam said additional resources aren’t available to support any changes to the venue, per diems or days of operation.
“We appreciate that each of you has agreed to attend the daily sessions and remain respectfully engaged throughout the process,” he said.
While delegates from Oahu will receive a total of $1,000 in “per diem” payments, neighbor island delegates will get a total of $4,000 and those coming from outside of the state will receive $5,000.
Delegates were advised that they must attend in order to avoid being taxed on the payments received. The minimum attendance necessary for advances to be considered “earned” is 80 percent.
“If they had held this downtown, then maybe we could have participated.”— Rep. Kaniela Ing
The meetings are closed to the public and the media, though Olelo Community Media will televise presentations this week on constitution building, federal Indian law and federal recognition; international law, de-occupation and indigenous rights; U.S. constitutional issues and ceded lands; and Kingdom law.
Galuteria said he and other delegates gathered informally for dinner Sunday night at the Pagoda Hotel in Honolulu. He expressed confidence that aha participants would be able to craft a governing document of sorts, but for now they were still figuring out things like whether to use Robert’s Rules of Order.
“I have been impressed by what is happening — it’s all positive for me,” he said, adding that there are “brilliant people” involved in the process.
“I have much confidence that something will emerge for consideration,” he said.
For her part, Akana said it was critical for her to have a seat at the table. She pointed to her long experience at OHA, which included the push for the Akaka Bill bill on federal recognition — an effort that failed — and legal challenges concerning voting in and running for OHA elections.
“For someone like me it is very important to help us move forward,” she said. “I am not ‘high pie-in-the sky’ about what document we will have, that it will say everything that we need to say. But a constitution can be amended and improved upon, and hopefully we can build some consensus on what needs to be done.”
Akana added, “We know that it has to be ratified by our people at some time, too.”