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 Dan Ahuna, candidate for Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees Kauai resident. Other candidates include Brittny Perez and Kamealoha Smith.
1. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing Native Hawaiians? What will you do about it?
• Economic Recovery: We at OHA need to use a multi-pronged approach focused on advocacy and investment to ensure that the “new normal” we face provides for adequate health protections, economic opportunity and housing options for Native Hawaiian and local residents.
• Affordable housing: OHA must work closely with the Deptartment of Hawaiian Home Lands and other trusts to ensure that affordable housing options are provided for beneficiaries of the DHHL trust. DHHL is the only mechanism that exists to create affordable housing for local residents specifically.
Providing affordable homes for 30,000 wait-listers will open up 30,000 homes for non-wait-listers and non-Hawaiians. Thus, the benefit extends beyond the Hawaiian community. The most critical step to tackling the affordable housing crisis in Hawaii is to make DHHL effective.
• Access to land for farming food: The COVID-19 crisis magnified our food insecurity issues for all to see. The state and the Hawaiian trusts must immediately inventory all available agricultural lands, and invest in clearing those lands to make them available for farming. A strategic plan that includes next steps for landowners, lenders, distributors and large food service customers such as the DOE, must be developed and rolled out immediately.
2. What would you do to change how OHA is run?
OHA must do better at prioritizing the needs of our community. That requires ongoing consultation and engagement. In my time at OHA, we have been most effective when working alongside community stakeholders. We can be even more effective at this by standing up community advisory committees. If re-elected, I will work to establish processes that allow for such community participation.
OHA must also diversify our investment strategies. As chair of the Resource Management Committee of the board, we are currently working closely with the administration to develop strong policies that will allow us to effectively manage our Hawaii Direct Investment program that allows for direct injection of capital into Hawaii-based projects. Our investment portfolio that lies solely in the stock market took major losses as did all other investors as a result of COVID-19. As we work to rebuild that portfolio, we must invest some of the portfolio locally. That requires strong, transparent policies. I plan to finish this work if re-elected.
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?
Community must be engaged in meaningful ways, and we need projects that very clearly benefit the communities in which they wish to be located. The problem goes beyond the Native Hawaiian community, our community just so happens to be the one that is so often burdened with making sacrifices for the benefit of new projects or industries without it being made explicitly clear what the benefit is to our community or the community at-large.
The astronomy industry, the University of Hawaii, and the State of Hawaii have failed for over 50 years to adequately manage the pinnacle of sacred land of the Native Hawaiian people that also happens to be the most valuable land on the planet Earth for the astronomy industry. Additionally, the state and the UH have effectively given that land away via $1 subleases, without ever clearly articulating the benefit to the people of Hawaii, who have effectively subsidized a billion-dollar industry. The gap cannot be closed until those issues are addressed.
Energy projects should be able to easily show how they benefit the community in which they are being proposed. It is still very unclear how the small community of Kahuku benefits from the tallest windmills in the United States being erected in their backyard.
4. Do you support the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea? Why or why not?
No. No further development cannot be discussed until the decades of mismanagement are addressed.
5. Do you support OHA providing financial aid to Mauna Kea protesters?
The safety and well-being of OHA beneficiaries or members of the public at-large to peacefully and legally gather should be supported by everyone. The right to exercise constitutionally protected First Amendment rights, as well as constitutionally protected traditional and customary rights to practice culture must always be supported.
OHA has constitutional and statutory mandates to support the protection of traditional and customary rights of Native Hawaiians, and to support the protection of land and water resources. Thus, efforts by beneficiaries to exercise those rights and to protect those resources should always be supported by OHA.
6. What role should the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands play in reducing homelessness?
The State, OHA, DHHL, private sector landowners, housing market leaders, wrap-around service providers and community partners must collaborate to create more kauhale (village) projects throughout Hawai. This type of meaningful collaboration is already occurring, led by organizations such as Hui Aloha and Puuhonua o Waianae, and this tackles the homeless issue by empowering communities. Efforts to strengthen community leadership and self-reliance has proven effective.
This work must be adopted by our institutions so we can work alongside community to build long-term solutions that include, in addition to housing, mental health care and economic development.
7. Why do you think Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in our prisons and jails? What can be done about it?
The disproportionate impacts of Native Hawaiians in the criminal justice system must be addressed by investing in the strengthening of ohana, communities and by creating place-based economic opportunity in our Hawaiian communities. OHA partners with a number of community service providers that deliver health, culture and education services throughout Hawaii. We must increase investment in housing and economic development opportunities in those same communities.
Additionally, and equally important, OHA must advocate for the decriminalization of non-violent drug offenses and for investment in health services and treatment rather than jail time.
8. What are your views regarding Hawaiian self-determination?
Native Hawaiians, just like other indigenous peoples around the world, should be afforded and strive for every opportunity to achieve self-determination. We can start to achieve this by strengthening local sectors of our community and economy by investing in place-based, community driven projects. Steps such as increasing food production and increasing affordable housing options will be major strides toward achieving self-determination.
The Hawaiian Homelands Commission Act, the Native Hawaiian Education Act, and the Native Hawaiian Healthcare Act have all been established at the federal level and have resulted in numerous gains as well as struggles for our community. OHA has been established by state constitution.
Rather than allow our community to be divided over a government model, we should focus on building upon the establishment of these monumental acts. Continue to build and continue to educate, this is the key to progress. We must fight for autonomy by recognizing our communities’ achievements, developing the best ideas, and persevering to achieve the highest. Kulia i ka nuʻu!
9. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
There is a long history of misrepresentation of Native Hawaiians in media. Dating back to the dehumanization of our alii as American business interests aimed to justify the theft of land and government, up to recent times when simple policy disputes are often devolved into sensationalized scandals that cause permanent damage to organizations and leaders.
Disproportionate libel and slander of Hawaiian institutions and Native Hawaiian individuals by local media should be studied and perpetrators of these constitutional violations should be held civilly and criminally liable.