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 Kamealoha Smith, candidate for Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees Kauai resident. Other candidates include Brittny Perez and Dan Ahuna.
1. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing Native Hawaiians? What will you do about it?
Affordable housing is one of the most pressing issues facing Native Hawaiians. It is an issue that many residents, both Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians, face. There are not enough affordable housing units in Hawaii. The immediate strategy is to address the issue of building more affordable housing. OHA needs to work with the local, state and federal governments to review current programs to assess whether the current programs are appropriate to pursue building affordable housing for Hawaiians not eligible for DHHL programs.
If elected, I would work with the community to review current strategies to address immediate needs and develop new strategies to address the current housing crisis. I would use OHA lands and monies to build infrastructure and affordable homes for all Kanaka Maoli families (any blood quantum) who meet income qualifications.
2. What would you do to change how OHA is run?
In 1980, I was 14, growing up in Anahola, Kauai, when the first OHA island rally was held in an open field across Kuhio Highway on the homestead. Everyone was enthusiastic and had so much hope for OHA. Now, 40 years later, I wonder what the first OHA candidates in 1980 would say?
Whatever optimism existed at that time, has turned to disenchantment. Many now see OHA as a huge bureaucracy that has lost its connection to the community. Political infighting is common and OHA is currently embroiled in state/federal investigations. Public perception is everything and right now, OHA has a public perception problem that is hampering the agency from fulfilling its trust obligations. OHA must do better!
To combat these perceptions, as a trustee, I would work to increase transparency, require that all processes have accountability mechanisms in place, ensure the agency provides fair and equal access to all services, and encourage cooperation and open dialogue among trustees. It would be great to gain back some trust from the community and great to reimagine OHA as the agency it was intended to be 40 years ago; an agency that inspires hope for a better life for beneficiaries.
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 should view all issues like the TMT at Mauna Kea as an opportunity to bring the community together. What I appreciate about what is going on in the movement, is that I see people from both sides prepared with answers that reflect their deep commitment to preserving and perpetuating Hawaiian language, culture, history, self-determination and self-identity. I do not believe there has been a single issue in recent times where so many in the lahui have been galvanized to rally.
We, in Hawaii, are charged with creating a pono management plan for Mauna Kea that accommodates traditional and modern world views of science, culture, the economy, religion, language and history. I believe we owe it to ourselves to come together as a lahui to have a respectful dialogue and be tolerant of other views.
As a Native Hawaiian educator, I feel I have the appropriate skill set and experience to bring people together to sit, dialogue and come up with a solution. I offer my 25 years of community organizing and advocacy as a testament to my commitment to my community to work with everyone to move the lahui forward on this issue.
4. Do you support the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea? Why or why not?
The issues involving TMT should not be viewed as a pro or con question. Given the ongoing litigation that OHA has with the state and the university, it would be difficult to provide a definitive answer at this time. It is my understanding that the TMT budget has expanded, COVID-19 has impacted all countries involved in the construction of the TMT, and there are other issues that need to be resolved. If elected, I would be open to entertaining a proposal from both sides. All proposals for pono management of Mauna Kea are welcome.
Further, I would propose that OHA establish a Mauna Kea subcommittee. This committee would be required to post their meetings and follow board rules. Meetings would be open to beneficiaries on all islands. I would volunteer to sit as a member of the committee. However, as a trustee representing Kauai/Niihau it would be inappropriate to chair any proposed Mauna Kea subcommittee. Should COVID-19 continue, OHA should use technology to Skype participants in from the neighbor islands, especially beneficiaries from Hawaii island to insure maximum participation in all meetings.
5. Do you support OHA providing financial aid to Mauna Kea protesters?
OHA did the right thing by passing a resolution to protect and support humanitarian efforts at Mauna Kea. I also agree with extending funds to the kiai mauna (Protectors) for humanitarian efforts. Even now during COVID-19, OHA is providing humanitarian aid to individuals and communities who qualify for OHA funds. This I believe is all pono.
However, OHA should have included a clause in their resolution that acknowledges that there are people in the Native Hawaiian Community who support TMT. Any resolution put out by OHA should be inclusive and work to bring Native Hawaiians together. A statement of inclusion would have spoken volumes about OHA’s commitment to all beneficiaries to support equal access to OHA services. As a trustee, I would push to ensure that all beneficiaries have equal access to OHA services, especially when it comes to humanitarian aid.
6. What role should the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands play in reducing homelessness?
I believe the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands can play a huge role in reducing homelessness. If elected, I would push for a well-articulated memorandum of agreement between OHA and DHHL as the basis for building rentals such as accessory dwelling units, for qualified homeless beneficiaries. About one-third of the homeless in Hawaii are Native Hawaiians and there may be many who meet the 50% Hawaiian blood requirement for Hawaiian Homes.
There seems to be broad support among some Native Hawaiian groups and agencies as well as support from the larger community for a partnership like this between OHA and DHHL. A partnership could also be a way to explore other opportunities to build houses for other beneficiaries who currently are on the DHHL waitlist. The wait list currently is around 28,000, maybe more, and this is not acceptable.
OHA’s kuleana is to better the lives of Native Hawaiians and OHA can impact the wait list by partnering with DHHL to build homes for qualified Native Hawaiians on the wait list. As a trustee, I would advocate for a partnership that would allow for OHA to work with DHHL beyond the current relationship to address homelessness in the Hawaiian community.
7. Why do you think Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in our prisons and jails? What can be done about it?
Yes, I believe Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in our prisons and jails. In many cases, this is linked to an individual’s socio-economic circumstances. There are many who live in poverty. Poverty as defined by individuals who are either unemployed or underemployed, who lack adequate housing, have low educational attainment and expectations, who have chemical dependency issues, and those who live with mental illness.
In Hawaii’s case, I also believe that some of this is linked to historical trauma due to the overthrow of 1893. I do not believe it is a coincidence that criminal and prison statistics in the Native Hawaiian community are similar to other native communities around America and the world. We all share a common history.
As an OHA trustee, I would make this issue a priority. I would put resources into diversion, prevention, rehabilitation, mental health, employment and training, financial literacy, life skills and other appropriate outreach programs that provide services that can be effective in decreasing the number of Hawaiians in prisons and jails. Second, I would also commit to reaching out to agencies to address long-standing institutional biases in the criminal justice system.
8. What are your views regarding Hawaiian self-determination?
As an OHA trustee, I feel it is my fiduciary duty to get OHA back on track so we can better serve our beneficiaries. Right now, I do not believe we are receiving our full 20% of the ceded lands revenues. I would like to spend time and resources on advocating for a full share of the ceded lands revenue. I believe that is what the Hawaiian community needs me to do.
I am knowledgeable about the history of the 1893 overthrow and understand the tremendous generational traumatic impacts. There is no doubt that this trauma continues today. Despite hardships and feelings of oppression, we still find the courage and fortitude to endure and continue.
I am confident that the Hawaiian community can bring everyone together to address the issue of self-determination in our own way and in our own time. The issue of self-determination is better left in a community setting, where leaders, stakeholders and others who have kuleana to this issue can come together to freely discuss self-determination and come up with the best pathway to move the lahui forward. As a trustee, I support making resources available to the community to pursue this effort.
9. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
I felt compelled to run because of the many issues my community and the larger community are facing due to two emergencies on Kauai, the floods from 2018 and 2020, and COVID-19. Small businesses have closed, people have lost their jobs and homelessness has increased. We need solutions!
It is difficult for OHA to address these issues when there is minimal communication with the community, when there are stories of infighting, and when there are articles in the newspaper about state and federal investigations. OHA has a public perception problem.
OHA needs bold new leadership for the island of Kauai, a leader who has the courage to “clean house” at OHA, a leader who is committed to work with everyone in the community, and a leader who has innovative ideas to move our community, the larger island community, and Hawaii forward. I feel I am that person who has the experience and qualifications to work with the community to pull us through these uncertain times.
I humbly ask that you consider Kamealoha Smith as your next OHA Kauai island Ttrustee. Please come on this journey with me to take the canoe in a new direction! Hiki no a lanakila. (Together we can.)