Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 11 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Makana Paris, a candidate for an at-large position on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees. There are 15 candidates for three positions. The others are Leina’ala Ahu Isa, William Aila, Rowena Noelani Akana, Alvin Akina, C. Kaui Amsterdam, Faye Hanohano, Brendon Kalei’aina Lee, Keali’i Makekau, Pohai Ryan, Landen Paikai, John Waihee IV, Marcus Bruce Kalai Pa’aluhi Sr., Kali Puuohau and Eleanor Sharsh-Davis.
1. Is OHA fulfilling its mandate to serve the Hawaiian people?
Yes, it is, but it can do more. Our elders have done a wonderful job of ensuring that the current generations of Native Hawaiians attained the largest number of Western degrees in the history of our society. Millions of dollars have been spent providing needed direct services through organizations with longstanding relationships in our communities. In this, OHA has certainly succeeded. However, the methods of 20 and 30 years ago do not work as well in 2018 and will not work at all in 2028 or 2038. It’s time for a new direction.
OHA should be a service-supporter that empowers local partners who already have the expertise and kuleana (responsibility) to provide services to our communities. OHA can provide support in data collection for better long-term planning and administrative support to promote accountability. In addition, OHA can better actively listen, receive, hear, and consider the thoughts and ideas of those that have kuleana to Hawaii. Together, we must gather expert knowledge, lived experience, and the wisdom of our communities to chart next steps for our collective future. Drawing on the knowledge of our ancestors and considering the needs of those yet unborn, we can leave Hawaii better than we found it. Together, we can rebuild trust.
2. What would you do to change how OHA is run?
OHA trustees serve as fiduciaries of the trust for the benefit of Native Hawaiians. As a trustee, I intend to faithfully execute the fiduciary’s duties of care, loyalty, good faith, confidentiality, prudence, and disclosure. In line with these obligations, I would move the organization away from taking political positions on issues that are not properly within the kuleana (responsibility) of the office. I would support the organization moving toward administrative efficiency, so we maximize the resources that flow to our beneficiaries.
I would focus the next strategic plan on long-term goals and economic drivers that will provide the jobs, education, housing, and health care that Native Hawaiians will need to stay and thrive in Hawaii in the years to come.
3. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing Native Hawaiians?
Native Hawaiians need housing, now.
4. What are your views regarding Hawaiian independence?
My personal views on Hawaiian independence are just that, personal. However, OHA is in a unique position to fund the political, social, and economic studies that need to be done in order for the Native Hawaiian community to make an informed decision about its collective future.
As vice chair of ‘Aha 2016, I have worked collaboratively with others to push for actual scholarly study of the potential benefits and costs of governance. OHA can leverage its resources to not only study these issues, but to enlarge a pool of Native Hawaiian experts who are able to advise the community on all aspects of governance. What that “independence” eventually looks like is a question for a duly constituted and democratically elected Native Hawaiian government to decide to pursue.
But OHA needs to be trusted again to make these proposals a reality. As an OHA trustee I will work to rebuild that trust.
5. Is OHA getting its fair share of ceded-land revenues from the state?
No. And only by working together from a position of unity and solidarity will the board be able to credibly invite the relevant state agencies, legislators, and administration to the table. But sitting down at the table is not enough. In addition, OHA, the state and its agencies, all need to conduct a mutually agreed upon, proper accounting of the public trust resources and its current revenue levels.
Without accurate data, no amount of conversation will create real change. I have a successful track-record of fostering legislative change through coalition building and trust relationships as the president of Prince Kūhiō Hawaiian Civic Club and as a research analyst for the Hawaii Iron Workers Stabilization Fund. And, I hope that voters will empower me to use that experience to serve OHA in this way.
6. Why do you think Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in our prisons and jails? What can be done about it?
Incarceration disproportionately affects Native Hawaiians. Incarceration separates families, and it separates the inmates from the aina (land) and their communities.
I believe that OHA can do more to advocate for reforms of the structural, systemic reasons for this inequity. Studies show that lower housing, income, education, and health care outcomes all contribute to higher incarceration rates. For me, it all starts with:
• Rebuilding trust in our officials.
• Rebuilding trust in our organization.
• Rebuilding the trust for Native Hawaiians for the benefit of all of Hawaii so that OHA has the resources to accomplish its mission. By prioritizing investment in economic drivers that promote: housing, jobs, health care, and education, in tandem with issue specific advocacy, OHA can address the incarceration issue at its heart and improve the well-being of Native Hawaiians and all of Hawaii.
7. Do you support the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea?
Aloha. I personally believe that there should be pono and proper stewardship of Mauna Kea, including care for the current telescopes and appropriate remediation of the surrounding areas when installations are no longer in use. However, as an OHA trustee, my kuleana is limited to serving as a fiduciary of the trust for the benefit of Native Hawaiians. As a fiduciary of the trust, I would have a legal responsibility to stabilize OHA and grow the trust to fulfill its mission: improving conditions for Native Hawaiians and all of Hawaii. That is my vision. That is my kuleana.
This means honoring a fiduciary’s duties of care, good faith, loyalty, and disclosure to beneficiaries. This means working with my fellow trustees. This means creating clear expectations and goals for employees and programs, clear relationships between the trust and its beneficiaries, and a clear relationship between OHA and the state. This means working to rebuild trust in OHA.
8. What role should the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands play in reducing homelessness?
The mission of DHHL is to manage the Hawaiian Home Lands trust effectively and to develop and deliver lands back to Native Hawaiian possession. DHHL should partner with other organizations to develop self-sufficient and healthy communities on its extensive land portfolio. OHA can, and should, partner with DHHL to create more housing for Native Hawaiians.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I will always support greater civic engagement, including preparing our communities for constitutional conventions. The current constitution calls for a convention question to be on the ballot every 10 years, so the community must be ready.
OHA was founded as a direct result of the 1978 convention and it is the only organization of its kind in the United States. I believe OHA should support civic education and showcase the amazing work done by our elders in the 1978 convention – like worker protections, access rights, environmental protections, and Native Hawaiian rights. By remembering our past successes, we will have a strong foundation on which to build our future.
If a constitutional convention happens, OHA should advocate for common sense changes that prioritize investments in economic drivers that promote housing, jobs, health care, and education for Native Hawaiians and all of Hawaii.
But before we can properly engage with the constitutional convention, we need to get our own house in order and rebuild trust in OHA itself so that it can again be a respected voice for Native Hawaiian rights.
10. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
The most important thing is to let people know who I am. I was born and raised in Nanakuli, live in Papakolea, and farm on Hawaii Island. Growing up houseless, at times, and with a family that dealt with drug abuse, incarceration, and mental illness, I come from the communities that the Hawaiian trusts were designed to support. Through the trust of Ke Aliʻi Pauahi Bishop, I was able to attend Kamehameha Schools (’98) and my dreams of higher education were realized. Through the Hawaiian Homelands trust established by Congressman Ke Aliʻi Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniʻanaole, today, my extended ohana enjoy a house in which we live together.
I have benefited from the trusts that our ancestors established. Our communities empowered me with education and experience. Now is the time to join them in supporting and giving back to the next generation. E hoʻoulu lāhui aloha – together, we can grow a flourishing Hawaii for all who call Hawaii home, and especially our Native Hawaiian sisters and brothers.