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 Lei Kihoi, 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, Pua Ishibashi, 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 Office of Hawaiian Affairs Hawaii Island Trustee

Lei Kihoi
Party Nonpartisan
Age 75
Occupation Retired attorney, therapist, college teacher, mediator, facilitator, hula dancer
Residence Kailua-Kona


Community organizations/prior offices held

Member, Hawaii State Bar, American Bar Association and Native Hawaiian Bar Association; chair, Traditional Dispute Resolution Committee, NHBA; board member, Hui Hanai Board Member (Queen Liliʻuokalani Trust); board member, E Mau Na Ala Hele (Trail Preservation, Hawaii Island); Hawaii delegate, League of Women Voters; member, Governorʻs Advisory Council for Hawaii Island; member, Polynesian Voyaging Society; presenter and member, World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference; executive board member, Hawaiian Civic Clubs of Kalihi-Palama South Kohala; executive board member, Hawaiian Caucus, Democratic Party Hawaii; commissioner, Native Hawaiian Roll Commission, Hawaii Island; advisory board member, Public Broadcasting Service; pro bono attorney, Advocats, Animal Rights, Hawaiian Rights; member, American Association of University Women); presenter, National Conference Indian Welfare Act (New Mexico).

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

Housing and homelessness are the issues I’ll address by leveraging investments.

According to the 2011 Hawaii Health Survey, the combined population of pure- and part-Native Hawaiians comprise 23.9 percent of Hawaii’s overall population. Hawaii is the most expensive place to live in U.S. The cost of living in Hawaii is about three times than what it is generally paid in the U.S. Renting a place runs from $800 to $3,000 per month. A median sales price of a single family home is $835,000 (2019) and a condo is $461,500.

Although I do not have the actual number of Hawaiians who are homeless, it is my assumption that a significant amount of Hawaiians are homeless as a result of not having the income to either rent or buy a home.

As a trustee, I would promote a plan to “leverage” our investment, by partnering with Hawaiian/non-Hawaiian, private/public organizations, for-profit/nonprofit entities to build more affordable homes for Hawaiians. For example, I would advocate partnership with Kamehameha Schools, DHHL, Howard Hughes Corporations to build homes for Hawaiians. This would put more Hawaiians in homes, and reduce the homelessness among our people.

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

OHA was formed via constitutional amendment at the 1978 “ConCon” to serve as an entity to receive ceded land revenues mandated in 1959 under the Admissions Act. Today, OHA is under the microscope — in-house fighting, state attorney general and FBI investigations, self-dealing, internal lawsuits, scandals, ethical violations, financial audits, mismanagement, fraud, misappropriation of funds, corruption.

This has had a negative affect on the public, the state Legislature (who OHA depends on for continued mandated funding), and also its’ beneficiaries.

OHA needs self-regulation. State law requires that OHA trustees follow its’ internal bylaws. As a trustee, I will advocate for the amendment of the current bylaws which includes self-regulation procedures. Bylaws are the most important document of an organization. It is my understanding that there is no enforcement mechanism in the current bylaws. When a trustee violates their fiduciary duties, they should be held accountable by censure, fine, suspension or expulsion.

As an attorney who has drafted many bylaws, I would immediately ask that the internal bylaws be amended to assure that every trustee is held accountable for their actions. Why use external means (lawsuits, audits, etc) to reprimand behavior that has a negative impact on trust assets? Self-regulation is the answer.

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?

We can bridge the gap with education and conflict resolution.

To do this, we need to accept other ways of thinking. For example, sustainable energy comes in so many forms. I was the attorney for Hawaii Appeals/Supreme Court for the Geothermal cases. At that time, I remember some of the Hawaiians were so passionately against geothermal that they would chain themselves to the fences near the geothermal site — in opposition to geothermal development. And, now some of them, which I know personally, have taken a totally different view on the use of geothermal.

To bridge this gap, we need to educate Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians on different ways of thinking, understanding and respecting other cultures and beliefs. Another way is to resolve this issue by ho’oponopono, mediation or facilitation. I am trained in all these modes of dispute resolution, and I would advocate that we actively utilize these tools to bridge the gap of understanding.

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

No. I believe Mauna Kea is a sacred place.

I do not support the building of TMT at this time, because the issues surrounding the building of TMT have not been adequately addressed such as the size (seven stories) of the structure,  the fact that Native Hawaiians have not been adequately consulted, the poor management of Mauna Kea thus far, the failure to remove current telescopes (no cleanup procedures in the plan) and no decommissioning plans.

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

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has spent more than $39,000 in support of the protest against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. And again, this expenditure has come under scrutiny by the State Attorney General’s Office.

If I were a trustee at the time of this money was released, I would have to ask myself: Would I have approved of this expenditure. My answer is “maybe.”

I find it difficult to make this decision, because first of all we need to ask ourselves as a trustee: Will this money be used for the “betterment of Hawaiians”? (OHA Mission) I believe the trustees made that determination based on the facts presented to them at that time.

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

I believe DHHL should actively be involved in reducing homelessness because it is in the “housing” business. To do this, I would ask that they actively engage with OHA and other for-profit/nonprofit, Hawaiian/non-Hawaiian entities and private/public organizations to meet the needs of the homeless as expressed in Question 1.

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

As stated previously, Native Hawaiians comprise 23.9 percent of Hawaii’s overall population. The Department of Public Safety (DPS) reports that 39% of the state’s incarcerated population are Native Hawaiian.

When adult Hawaiians are removed from their home for an extended period of time, this has an impact on unemployment, housing, homelessness and education of our population. We need to fix this.

As an OHA trustee, I would promote job employment training, more community college certificated program training, educational scholarships, and youth job training, substance abuse prevention, domestic violence training in order to reduce and prevent incarceration of Native Hawaiians.

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

There have been many advocates/forms of advocacy of self-determination/sovereignty of Native Hawaiians. To name a few: Queen Liliu’okalani, Ku’e Petition, ALOHA, Ka Lahui, Ka Pakaukau, Poka Laenui, Nation of Hawaii, Protect Kahoolawe Ohana, Hawaiian Kingdom, Akaka Bill, Act 195. 43 CFR Part 50 or “Rule 50.”

All of these efforts have had a significant impact on self-determination of Native Hawaiians. The Department of Interior, after extended island-wide hearings, promulgated “Rule 50,” which establishes an administrative process for reestablishing a formal government-to-government relationship between the U.S. and the Native Hawaiian community. In terms of analysis, this would be classified as “nation within a nation” status.

A “nation to nation” status would result in the following:

• Preferential hiring of Hawaiians not subject to 14th amendment;

• Developing our own court system;

• Implementing our own laws and regulations reflecting our Hawaiian values;

• Granting us the ability to negotiate directly with the state and the federal government;

• Reduction in taxes;

• Ability to develop trade policies with other indigenous nations;

• Management of our cultural and historic sites, water and land resources;

• Defining our citizenship;

• Setting up our own constitution and governmental structure exemplifying Hawaiian values.

For the above reasons, I am in favor of a “nation-to-nation” status. In my opinion, Rule 50 would not foreclose the possibility of total independence.

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

I believe in justice, equity, transparency, openness in government and accountability. As a trustee of OHA, my primary goal would be to restore trust and integrity for an entity, such as OHA, which I believe has truly served Hawaiians well. I have been actively walking the “civil beat” of Hawaii by meeting (with social distancing) with individuals who appear completely disillusioned and disgusted with OHA. This faith has got to be restored.

OHA is the voice of our people. My hope is to restore trust in OHA so that OHA can better fulfill its’ mission: To serve for the betterment of Native Hawaiians, for a better Hawaii.