Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 3 General 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 Keoni Souza candidate for Office of Hawaiian Affairs At-Large Trustee. Other candidate is Keli’i Akina.
1. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing Native Hawaiians? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue facing Native Hawaiians is the inadequacy of advocacy at the state level, including at OHA. As an OHA trustee, my fiduciary responsibility will be to administer the trust assets. Handling this responsibility with care, transparency and accountability is of utmost importance.
Oftentimes the role of OHA “trustee” is not executed in line with the responsibilities outlined in the Hawaii Revised Statutes. Generally, Black’s Law Dictionary defines “trustee” as “[t]he person appointed, or required by law, to execute a trust; one in whom an estate, interest, or power is vested, under an express or implied agreement to administer or exercise it for the benefit or to the use of another.” I will execute the responsibilities of OHA trustee to maximize the potential of the trust assets and to carry out the fiduciary duties to the fullest extent of the law, working for the benefit of Hawaiians.
We need leaders who can execute their role properly, not for their own self-interests, but for the interests of the beneficiaries — the Hawaiian people. We need to be able to trust our OHA trustees.
2. What would you do to change how OHA is run?
We need more collaboration between OHA trustees and the Hawaiian community. I will work with the business community, labor unions, educators and government leaders to access more resources for the entire agency.
We must look to other avenues for OHA funding. For example, we can utilize the private sector. In addition, we can work with unions to provide more job training in specialized trades.OHA should make it a priority to find ways to create their own revenue.
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?
Open dialogue and communication are key when addressing controversial topics such as the TMT or development of energy projects. We need to come to the table and listen to what our community members have to express regarding these projects.
Transparency is the most important aspect of running a solid agency that is accountable to its beneficiaries. We need to invest in diversified energy projects, however, we must strategically identify the appropriate locations to build such projects.
4. Do you support the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea? Why or why not?
I do not support the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea. We have a mountain that has historical significance to our people, whether the mountain is deemed sacred or not, or whether our ancestors would have condoned the project or not.
I have heard the plethora of arguments for and against the project. Ultimately, we need to err on the side of sensible building. Although I can appreciate the astronomy benefits, the creation of jobs, and the educational aspects of the project, the TMT should not be built atop Mauna Kea.
5. Do you support OHA providing financial aid to Mauna Kea protesters?
Yes. OHA should support matters in which its beneficiaries have a stake. If our people are atop Mauna Kea protesting, we should provide resources to help allow them to protest peacefully.
As a Hawaiian, I am proud to witness the engagement of our people in matters that concern us all. We need more passionate debate.
6. What role should the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands play in reducing homelessness?
OHA and DHHL need to bridge the gap between their responsibilities to the Hawaiian people and work together closely to address homelessness. With the combined resources of OHA and DHHL, we can creatively formulate ways in which to reduce homelessness.
We must entertain models from across the United States and internationally. Different projects and models have been created elsewhere, so we should not have to reinvent the wheel as far as what works and what does not work.
The better question is, “What entities should come together from across all sectors to reduce homelessness?” My answer to that would be OHA, DHHL, the building trades, labor unions and our local non-profits. We often view the scope of resolving homelessness too narrowly and need to bring more organizations together.
At one point, OHA considered the use of building homes using shipping containers to reduce homelessness. I would be open to exploring this idea further. In addition, we need to find new ways to increase revenue in order to sufficiently fund these projects. Creativity goes a long way. My ohana resides on Hawaiian Home Lands in Kapolei. DHHL should help to reduce homelessness just as quickly as it can also provide homes for families who are still waiting on the long beneficiary list.
7. Why do you think Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in our prisons and jails? What can be done about it?
The reality of the situation is that Native Hawaiians are overrepresented in the criminal justice system due to unfair treatment. OHA’s 2010 Report titled, “The Disparate Treatment of Native Hawaiians in the Criminal Justice System,” showed that Native Hawaiians were affected at each stage of the criminal justice process beginning with the arrest, which at the time, the report asserted that “data from Hawai’i’s Attorney General show[s] that Native Hawaiians are arrested at a greater frequency than Hawai’i’s other ethnic groups, often second to whites in specific offense categories.”
As a result of the report, the Native Hawaiian Justice Task Force was born. Ten years later, the reality has not changed. OHA should seek a partnership with the Office of the Public Defender to create a preventative education program for Native Hawaiians. OHA should also nurture its relationship with the Hawaii Correctional System Oversight Commission and forge a strong connection to the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility and all the prisons here locally to address the real problems that are occurring within the system.
OHA can create programs to support Hawaiians in other ways to keep them on a productive path so they can stay far removed from the criminal justice system as well. OHA needs to heavily invest in education, scholarships, homeownership programs, and wellness programs to provide Hawaiians with the resources to thrive in Hawaii.
8. What are your views regarding Hawaiian self-determination?
Hawaiian self-determination takes many shapes and forms. Individuals and groups within the Hawaiian community each have their own perspective on what self-determination looks like and how to achieve this goal. The Hawaiian people have every right to seek self-determination in their own ways.
OHA was created in some sense to be a means of self-determination. If the agency maximized its full potential, Hawaiians would find solace in OHA as a respectable ally for Hawaiians and Hawaiian issues.
9. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
The perception and inner-workings of OHA must be changed. OHA, a quasi-government agency, has the capability and financial resources to effectively help Hawaiians. However, over the years, the public has increasingly lost respect for this entity that was created for many purposes, including for “the betterment of conditions of Native Hawaiians” as codified in Hawaii Revised Statutes, Chapter 10.
The only way to change the organization is to bring in new blood that can inspire true leadership. The Board of Trustees needs to create strong partnerships with the private sector and invest in strengthening OHA’s relationship with its beneficiaries. OHA needs to work for the people at the grassroots level, where Hawaiians can experience tangible benefits from OHA within their own respective ohana.
As a husband and dad, I understand the value of ohana and helping Hawaiians thrive. As a child growing up in Hawaii, my grandmother, Mona Ka‘apana Medeiros from Molokai instilled in me the necessity of leadership and doing the right thing. Grandma Mona’s grandfather, the late Rev. Isaac Iaea of Kaluaaha Church on Molokai, also led by example through political activism and service to the Molokai community. It is my kuleana to restore faith back to OHA through leadership and serving our Hawaiian communities.
“No Hawaiian left behind” is the mantra that should direct the efforts of OHA going forward.