Hawaii state agencies fail to collect and track accurate data about Native Hawaiians and programs that are supposed to help them, according to a report released Friday by two nonprofit organizations.

Native Hawaiians face disproportionate impacts in numerous areas, including health and economics, according to the joint report by Papa Ola Lokahi, a Native Hawaiian health advocacy organization, and the Hawaii Budget & Policy Center.

But data about the community is often obscure and lacks Native Hawaiian input, whether during the collection process or in determining how the data is used, the authors say.

“Without comprehensive, detailed data, our state agencies cannot truly evaluate and improve the services for the populations they serve,” Lilinoe Kauahikaua, one of the authors of the study, said Friday during a webinar.

The researchers reached out to state agencies, who they say expressed an understanding of the need for more detailed and accurate data while acknowledging the limitations in resources, she said. For these agencies’ data systems to improve, there needs to be legislative action.

The report adds to calls for the state to improve its data collection about Native Hawaiians.

The Hawaii Legislature was considering a resolution backed by the Office of Hawaiian affairs this year that would urge several public agencies, including county police departments, to release disaggregated data on Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders.

The proposal also sought a task force to analyze and provide recommendations on how the state collects, processes, retains and shares demographic data.

One of the chief complaints was that Native Hawaiians are often lumped together with Pacific Islanders and even Asians, which obscures the complex nuances, as well as the unique strengths and weaknesses of Hawaii’s Indigenous people. That’s not useful in helping marginalized communities.

“It effectively sends a message that Native Hawaiians are invisible, which then perpetuates continued marginalization,” Kauahikaua said.

The report found that state agencies’ data practices often lumped Native Hawaiians with other ethnic groups. Courtesy: Hawaii Budget & Policy Center/Papa Ola Lokahi

The authors noted that Hawaii’s State Judiciary does not collect any ethnic or racial data. The Department of Public Safety collects some racial data for its corrections system, but inmates can only choose one ethnicity, meaning those coming from multiple ethnic backgrounds cannot indicate that diversity.

Even with that flawed collection method, Native Hawaiians make up 37% of the male prison population, Kauahikaua said. If the data collection were to be more granular, it could show that people of Hawaiian descent are even more overrepresented in the correctional system.

State programs funded to help Native Hawaiians also aren’t adequately tracked to see if funds are actually being used for that purpose, the report said.

For example, Act 155, which passed in 2014, sought to eliminate “health disparities by identifying and addressing social determinants of health” for Native Hawaiians and other minorities, but the report found that the state did not track its outcomes.

“This leaves us wondering how then these policies are actually being adhered to if many of these agencies are not collecting this data,” Kauahikaua said.

OHA’s research director Lisa Watkins-Victorino responded that there has been legislative action in the past to address data collection issues, specifically with regard to disaggregated race data, including in 2012 as the report also noted.

“Clearly, we’re still here talking about it,” she said, adding that great strides have been made especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, including partnerships and robust conversations about the importance of disaggregated data with the Department of Health and other agencies.

OHA’s criticism of the health department’s COVID-19 data prompted the state to release detailed coronavirus case data by race and ethnicity last year.

The data justice report also pointed to programs and agencies that excelled at data collection, including the Hawaii Department of Human Services, as “best practices” that should be models for other agencies.

It also recommended that organizations seek the counsel of the Native Hawaiian community in developing programs for the community.

“This is not about finger-pointing. This is not about any of that. It is about calling it what it is, putting it on the table and figuring out how we’re going to move forward,” said Sheri-Ann Daniels, executive director of Papa Ola Lokahi.

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