Campaign Corner: Who Should Vote In OHA Elections? - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Leianuenue Niheu

Leianuenue Niheu is chair of Komike Kalaiaina, a committee of Ka Lahui Hawaii, a native initiative for self-governance and self-determination that was formed in 1987. She is originally from Papakolea and has been involved in the sovereignty and demilitarization movements for over 30 years.

Eighty-five years after the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the theft of 2 million acres of Hawaiian national lands by the U.S., the Office of Hawaiian Affairs was established at the 1978 Constitutional Convention in a poor attempt at rectifying the injustice of the overthrow and land theft.

Article XII, Section 5 of the State Constitution provides that OHA shall “hold title to all the real and personal property now or hereafter set aside or conveyed to it which shall be held in trust for native Hawaiians and Hawaiians.”

According to OHA’s 2019 Annual Report, these assets total over $670 million.

The State Constitution originally provided that OHA trustees shall be Hawaiians voted in by Hawaiians. However, the “Hawaiian only” qualification for OHA was struck down in 2000 and 2002 by rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court in Rice v. Cayetano and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Arakaki v. State. The rulings allowed all Hawaii residents to serve as and vote for OHA trustees.

Left, OHA Chair Colette Machada leads board meeting with left, Member Dan Ahuna in OHA meeting held at board room with large chairs.
An OHA Board of Trustees meeting in 2017 at the agency’s offices on Nimitz Highway in Honolulu. All registered voters in Hawaii are allowed to run for and vote for trustees, but many are not informed about the candidates or OHA’s mission. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Only 20 years after OHA was formed, Asian and haole settlers had used the post-civil war 15th amendment to say they were being discriminated against based on race, as a means of taking away the Hawaiian people’s right to represent ourselves and determine for ourselves who should stand as our trustees in OHA. They were supported and financed by conservative organizations like the Campaign for a Color-Blind America, the Center for Equal Opportunity, and the Pacific Legal Foundation.

Their efforts to dismantle Native Hawaiian rights, entitlements and programs continue to today.

Learn The Issues

In order for Hawaiians to maximize our collective political power and combat efforts to eliminate Native Hawaiian rights, entitlements, and programs, we must vote for OHA trustees with a track record of preserving native lands or encourage Hawaiians who share our cultural values to run as a candidate. Despite the courts’ ruling in the Rice and Arakaki cases, your vote can ensure that OHA trustees are held accountable and continue to make decisions for Hawaiians by Hawaiians.

While we may disagree on who is the best candidate, actively informing ourselves on the issues that are important to Hawaiian communities is key. These issues include the transfer, sale or lease of 2 million acres of stolen Hawaiian national lands also known as “ceded lands,” legal protections for kuleana land owners, federal recognition, the protection of Mauna Kea, and using OHA resources for affordable housing.

Find out where current OHA candidates stand on these issues at

We understand that the OHA voting process has its shortcomings. Although some trustees are elected to represent specific islands (Hawaii, Kauai, and Molokai-Lanai), Oahu outnumbers the total number of neighbor island registered voters by over 2 to 1.

As a result, Oahu’s residents frequently end up choosing the trustees representing neighbor islands, undermining neighbor island residents’ ability to choose their own OHA representatives.

Still, we must make our vote count to preserve the trust for our keiki and their keiki.

If you are not Hawaiian and intend to cast a vote for an OHA trustee, that decision should be taken very seriously. Uninformed votes will undercut the voices of Hawaii’s native people.

Just because everyone can vote for OHA doesn’t mean everyone should.

At the very minimum, educate yourselves on how the candidate will advance the interests of Hawaiians and protect the trust. Voting based solely on name recognition or some other arbitrary elimination process is unacceptable.

If you have no clue who to vote for, especially if you aren’t Hawaiian, then please consider leaving your ballot blank rather than run the risk of supporting a candidate who is not committed to fulfilling OHA’s mandate. Just because everyone can vote for OHA doesn’t mean everyone should.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

Read this next:

Lee Cataluna: Neighbor Islands Chafe At Oahu-Centric Tourism Plan

Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.


About the Author

Leianuenue Niheu

Leianuenue Niheu is chair of Komike Kalaiaina, a committee of Ka Lahui Hawaii, a native initiative for self-governance and self-determination that was formed in 1987. She is originally from Papakolea and has been involved in the sovereignty and demilitarization movements for over 30 years.

Latest Comments (0)

"Just because everyone can vote for OHA doesn’t mean everyone should." Yes, everyone should vote and yes, everyone should educate themselves on the issues facing OHA. And no, everyone does not agree on the issues facing Native Hawaiians. I believe that those on the Homelands waitlist should get their lands right away. I believe that the TMT should be built while protecting the land and the rights of Native Hawaiians to practice their culture and pray on Mauna Kea. I believe that we need trustees who want to root out corruption and call for audits of OHA. I want Trustees with open minds and open hearts. I will not vote for those who are divisive and close minded. Yes, everyone CAN and everyone SHOULD vote OHA.

kbaybaby · 2 years ago

Aloha Lei.  Beautiful article.  I've always stated that we should have HomeRule and kiloi this concept of "one man, one vote", because of that very reason you pointed out.  if someone can't get the vote from their island, that says a lot!  And it's not right that they should also allow non-Hawaiians to vote when we pay for our own process to boot.  What was overlooked in that process is that the Native Americans were given that 'privilege' because of the many injustices against them and that was the discussions and reasoning to give us Native Hawaiians the same opportunity.  Talk about undermining the self-determination of Native Hawaiians.  Has OHA's three 'C's: Censorship, Coercion and Co-opting finally gotten to this?  Minamina, but I guess since our staunch kupuna all when ua Hala, Kekuni, Kihei, Kawaipuna, etc., hope that didn't/don't discourage that choice to be continued in light of the political situation in America.  Hoopono.  a hui hou, Ku

Hoopono · 2 years ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.