Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 8 Primary Election, 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 Pua Ishibashi, candidate for Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees Hawaii island resident. Other candidates include Kauilani Almeida, Noelani Cashman-Aiu, Laura Desoto-McCollough, Louis Hao, Cyd Hoffeld, Lei Kihoi, Keola Lindsey, Lanakila Mangauil, Louis Pau and Kalaniakea Wilson.

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

Candidate for OHA Trustee Hawaii Island

Pua Ishibashi
Party Nonpartisan
Age 62
Occupation DLNR Land Agent, CEO Black Koa, and CEO Kukulu Cultural Resources for Organizations
Residence Hilo


Community organizations/prior offices held

U.S. Army Garrison, Pohakuloa Training Area Cultural Advisory Committee; Hawaiii Volcanoes National Park Kupuna Cultural Council; Ke Kahu O Na Kumu Wai (Marine and Coastal Zone Advocacy Council); chair, Moku Management Group; Royal Order of Kamehameha; founder and coordinator, annual Kamehameha Festival; Board of Directors, Puna Canoe Club; founder, ‘Ahahui Ha‘akoa; co-founder, Aloha Aina Party.

1. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing Native Hawaiians? What will you do about it?

There are many issues including health care, unemployment, homelessness, drugs and crime, and much more. But I think the most pressing issue would be affordable housing. Hawaii has the highest median home value in the nation at $619,000. Native Hawaiians, as an ethnic group, have the lowest home ownership rate among all other groups in Hawaii. Home ownership for the Hawaiian community is a dream, a dream that becomes more elusive every year as home values continue to soar.

As your trustee, we will look at all the options, from traditional government subsidies and political policy support to collaborating with government agencies, nonprofits, and other organizations to find affordable housing solutions for the Hawaiian community. More specifically, I will work toward, and press for, a memorandum of agreement between OHA and DHHL to address the 28,000 beneficiaries on the DHHL waiting list. OHA has the financial resources and DHHL has the land. This can be a win, win, win, for OHA, DHHL, and the Hawaiian community. Let’s make this happen! If we can start working together, get creative, and get serious about solving this issue, solutions will be found, and more Hawaiians will get into homes.

2. What would you do to change how OHA is run?

OHA is experiencing the worst public relations in its 47-year history. The result of years of controversy, scandals, infighting, internal lawsuits, trustee/CEO battles, and ethics violations. OHA’s recent financial audits in 2018 and 2019 exposed mismanagement, fraud and waste of millions of dollars. In addition, OHA is currently under investigation by the Hawaii Department of the Attorney General and the FBI regarding allegations of “public corruption and misappropriation” of taxpayer and state funds (2020).

OHA depends on the Legislature for much of its continued funding, as well as any potential increase in funding. Accordingly, it is imperative that OHA be perceived as not only effective and efficient, but also honest, credible and trustworthy. A good reputation is also critical in dealings with the Hawaiian community. It is impossible for OHA to fully benefit the Hawaiian community if its beneficiaries cannot respect and trust OHA. I am committed to reform and optimize OHA. To move forward with accountability and transparency. To rehabilitate OHA’s tarnished reputation by restoring credibility and trust. And to make OHA all it can be to more fully benefit the Hawaiian community and the state.

3) What would you do to bridge the gaps within the Native Hawaiian community over issues like construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope or development of energy projects?

Issues that we face should never divide us. Regardless of the issue (TMT, sustainable energy, etc.), the only things that can divide us are ourselves. Unfortunately, we allow this to happen too often, because of our attitudes and mindsets.

Too often we have the attitude that if they are not aligned with us, they are against us. We are too quick to label others as good or bad, right or wrong, because they have a different point of view. When this happens, we discount and dismiss the opinions and feelings of others. We stop looking for common ground and win-win situations. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking only results in win or lose scenarios.

As a certified mediator, trained ho‘oponopono practitioner, and law school graduate trained in alternative dispute resolution, I have been building bridges of understanding and collaboration between individuals, organizations and communities for most of my life. I will use my knowledge, experience and skill sets to help address issues impacting and dividing our Hawaiian community. I will start by helping people understand that we can agree to disagree and still have aloha for one another. I will promote a process that is transparent, safe and respectful, and facilitated with aloha.

4) Do you support the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea? Why or why not?

I believe the right to worship, or not, is one of the greatest fundamental human rights that we have. The people’s right to worship and practice must be respected and protected whether Christian, Buddhist, Hawaiian faith practitioner; or any other faith. This right is protected under the U.S. Constitution, 1st Amendment, that government cannot deprive people of their freedom of religion. If practitioners of a faith believe Mauna Kea is sacred and that there should be limited/no development on Mauna Kea, I believe those beliefs should be respected and their ability to practice their faith protected.

I understand that TMT is a complex issue with many interests and concerns including, economy, science, environment and culture. But, I believe, this issue turns on freedom of religion, and for that reason, I cannot support the development of TMT on Mauna Kea.

I believe only Hawaiian faith practitioners can determine the how, what and when, of their faith and practice. I support continued genuine dialogue between practitioners and TMT supporters toward a mutually beneficial resolution if possible. In the interim, I support the continued “mutual stand-down,” where TMT construction remains suspended and access to Mauna Kea remains open.

5) Do you support OHA providing financial aid to Mauna Kea protesters?

OHA trustees have a duty to establish policies on how OHA is administered and moves forward. This includes how and where funds should be used. I believe OHA funds should be considered sacred with OHA trustees having a fiduciary duty to be transparent and accountable for every dollar spent and unspent.

OHA has recently undergone financial audits in 2018 and 2019. Both audits indicate instances of mismanagement and possible fraud regarding millions of dollars. In this particular case, some $39,000 and 159 staff hours are at issue here. It is my understanding that the majority of funds were used for staff and trustee travel, monitoring and protection of constitutional rights, and providing for public health and safety. Some of the cost here included toilet rentals and servicing, dumpster removal, landfill disposal fees, and tent rental and lighting. In this particular case, I believe the trustees had the discretion to approve the financial aid here to Mauna Kea protectors.

6) What role should the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands play in reducing homelessness?

According to the DHHL website, its mission is: “To manage the Hawaiian Home Lands trust effectively and to develop and deliver lands to native Hawaiians.” I believe this means, DHHL is to provide land (for farming and ranching, etc.) and homes for Hawaiian families to live in. I also believe if a Native Hawaiian is houseless, it is DHHL’s kuleana to help put that individual or family into a home. In the interim, at the very least, DHHL should provide some kind of temporary shelter that is safe and clean until that person can get into a more permanent home situation.

However, the more important question here is, how can DHHL and OHA partner to address the 7,000 homeless (disproportionately Native Hawaiian) and affordable homes for the 28,500 families who have been waiting and dying on the DHHL waiting list for generations. As I have stated earlier, DHHL has the land while OHA has the funding, so the resources are available. All that is needed is the will. As your OHA trustee, I will provide that will. I will press for a memorandum of agreement between OHA and DHHL to address these issues.

7) Why do you think Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in our prisons and jails? What can be done about it?

Historical traumatic events have had devastating consequences on the Hawaiian community that continues to the present day. These events, beginning with the landing of Captain Cook in 1778, include, but are not limited to: Depopulation due to introduced diseases resulting in a population loss of 95 percent. The overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii resulting in the loss of political power, financial resources, social status, disenfranchisement from the land and culture, and marginalization by the new government. These acts, singularly and taken together form the basis of what psychologists refer to as historic and trans-generational trauma, a trauma that passes through generations.

Historic and trans-generational trauma has manifested itself in a variety of psychological ways within the Hawaiian community. However, it is most commonly seen through high rates of substance abuse, alcoholism, depression, anxiety, suicide, domestic violence and criminal activity. These conditions have resulted in the disproportionate representation of incarcerated Hawaiians.

I will promote the acknowledgement and understanding of this trauma and how it is impacting the Hawaiian community today. This is the critical first step in addressing the Hawaiian community’s disproportionate incarceration rate. We must look at and address the root causes and not simply focus on the symptoms.

8) What are your views regarding Hawaiian self-determination?

I believe in justice and fairness. I believe in ho‘oponopono. The essence of ho‘oponopono is to make right what is wrong and restore what was lost or taken. I believe we must ho’oponopono the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii of 1893. That for the good of the Hawaiian community and all the people of Hawaii, this wrong must be made right. Only then will pono (balance and righteousness) return to the people and land allowing both to flourish.

The question here is, what was lost? The answer is, a sovereign and independent nation of Hawaii. As such, I believe sovereignty must be a viable option.

I believe only Native Hawaiians and Hawaiian nationals have standing to choose a process and governance model whether it is sovereignty, federal recognition, or some other model. These decisions cannot be made by OHA, the State of Hawaii, or the federal government.

I believe OHA’s role should be a resource, to educate, facilitate and assist in the process as needed if requested. Furthermore, OHA must remain neutral regarding any governance model (not pro-federal recognition as it has been in the past).

9) What other important issue would you like to discuss here?

My commitment and promise to you:

Should I be honored to become your OHA trustee, I will dedicate whatever resources are necessary in time, energy, mind, strength and spirit. To the betterment of OHA, the Hawaiian community and State of Hawaii. I will carry out my fiduciary duty with accountability and transparency and with faith, integrity and aloha. I do not play politics, I do not have a hidden agenda, no one pulls my strings. I am here for change, I am here to make a difference, I am here for you.