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 Shane Palacat-Nelsen, candidate for Office of Hawaiian Affairs At-Large Trustee. Other candidates include Keli’i Akina, Jackie Burke, Kaipo Hanakahi, Larry Kawaauhau, Lenson Sonoda and Keoni Souza.
1. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing Native Hawaiians? What will you do about it?
Our local economy is the most pressing issue. The current conditions remind us that our community’s future economic security cannot continue to rely so heavily on tourism and the visitors and businesses who do not always act in the best interest of Native Hawaiians. This change is needed now.
Having worked in this industry for over 13 years, I know it has not done well for everyone. The high cost of living in our homeland requires many Native Hawaiians in the service sector to work multiple low-paying jobs to make ends meet, and the high-paying jobs are not filled with well-qualified, local industry professionals. The new economy must flip the status quo and be sustainable and innovative; it must create jobs aimed at local talent and skills, provide opportunities for higher earnings, and allow everyone to thrive. A strong economy means a reasonable cost of living, abundance of well-paying jobs, and available affordable housing, along with reduced unemployment and homelessness.
As the economy evolves, OHA’s leadership must direct and steward OHA’s resources — its funding, land holdings, and staffing — in ways that are sure to lift our community so that we all thrive as Hawaii rebuilds and recovers.
2. What would you do to change how OHA is run?
Fulfilling OHA’s mission is a balancing act that requires a constant watch on how it serves a wide range of beneficiaries who are often on all sides of an issue. One step OHA’s board and executive leadership can take toward becoming more effective is increasing the trust between themselves and the beneficiaries they are responsible to serve. In improving this relationship, OHA can accurately assess needs and respond by providing appropriate resources across and throughout the Native Hawaiian community, and advocating for policies to address those needs.
If OHA is positioned as a trusted and unbiased organization that deploys resources and advocates on behalf of its beneficiaries, it will be better able to mediate conflicts in the Native Hawaiian community and facilitate relationships with other government entities that make decisions that impact our community. We could spend less time in courtrooms and spend more time investing in and developing our community.
Restoring trust between OHA and the community means OHA can be more responsive in facilitating discourse, and sometimes resolution, on topics like astronomy on Mauna Kea, commercial activities near other significant sites, capitalism versus aloha aina, tourism impacts on cultural and natural resources and balancing cultural practitioners and economic development.
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?
Generally, the community is not against the advancement of science and technology, or renewable energy resources, or projects that provide broad benefits to Hawaii at reasonable costs. The divides in the community are created when its members are not afforded the opportunity to engage with project leaders and understand how a project creates benefits and impacts, and for whom, and at what costs. The divides grow when there is misinformation and lack of transparency, and when processes are rushed. The divides yield frustration, and frustration paves the path to protests, litigation, and added costs borne unnecessarily by taxpayers.
Broadening the project development and approval processes to include community in the initial planning phases would allow for the developer and the community to address concerns early on, and prior to government approvals when possible. When decision-makers and leaders engage in good faith and consider the true impacts of projects on neighborhoods, residents, schools, traffic and quality of life, and when the project developers respond appropriately to concerns raised, the divides are minimal.
4. Do you support the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea? Why or why not?
No. I do not think the process through which TMT was approved appropriately accounted for all impacts and costs, or the interests of Native Hawaiians.
5. Do you support OHA providing financial aid to Mauna Kea protesters?
OHA’s mandate is to care for Hawaii’s people and environmental resources and OHA’s assets toward ensuring perpetuation of the culture and protection of entitlements. The needs of the Native Hawaiian community are great, and the resources available to OHA to meet these needs are limited. As such, I do not support providing financial aid for Mauna Kea protesters, but rather I do support OHA providing financial aid for the most urgent needs of our community: grants for housing and health care, scholarships for education, support for legal defenses, loans for small businesses and investments for broadly supported community-driven initiatives.
6. What role should the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands play in reducing homelessness?
OHA is distinct from the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL), but both are responsible for improving conditions for Native Hawaiians. The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act charges the DHHL to: provide homestead leases for residences, ranching and leasing; provide homestead loans; provide water and other infrastructure on the homesteads; and to support rehabilitation and economic self-sufficiency.
DHHL’s role in addressing homelessness should be determined by the Hawaiian Homes Commission, not OHA. That said, I do personally support the department’s ongoing efforts to prevent Native Hawaiians from losing their leases and becoming homeless, as well as its new rental assistance program for applicants on the wait lists.
7. Why do you think Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in our prisons and jails? What can be done about it?
A number of factors and reasons contribute to the large number of Native Hawaiians entering the criminal justice systems. However, the lack of sufficient programs and effective services that are culturally appropriate to prepare prisoners for reintegration lead to recidivism and a high incidence of Native Hawaiians returning to prison.
Across the board, these programs are understaffed and sometimes not available, and can prevent inmates from being eligible for the earliest possible release date. In out-of-state facilities, the programs are not culturally sensitive or meaningful. In some instances, prisoners are released without completing the programs.This is especially true of access to these programs and services should be readily and available for all prisoners to fully complete them prior to their release date. The state and OHA must collaborate and rethink how we house our inmates and support rehabilitation with the priority to eliminate recidivism.
8. What are your views regarding Hawaiian self-determination?
Native Hawaiians have the right to exercise our inherent sovereignty and self-determination, and I acknowledge the copious views of how to do that and what we can achieve through the assertion of these rights.
9. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
In the past few years, accountability and transparency at OHA have been in the spotlight. OHA board votes, expenditures, and operations are under scrutiny by legislators, the state auditor, beneficiaries and others. Accountability and transparency are important; but it is critically more important that the leadership responsible for ensuring accountability wants OHA to succeed. The audit reports must be used for improvement and growth, and they cannot be tools to tear down the agency.
In the decades of doing community work in Napoopoo and South Kona, and nearly eight years working at the OHA, I’ve learned the value of this organization as it deploys resources and funding across Hawaii. OHA serves an important role as it serves our community. Hawaii’s voters should elect trustees who desire for OHA to thrive. Ola kanaka, ola Hawaii, if Hawaiians are thriving, all of Hawaii thrives.