Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 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 Julian Ako, candidate for Office of Hawaiian Affairs at-large trustee. The other candidates for three seats include Z. Ka’apana Aki, U’i Kahue-Cabanting, Brickwood Galuteria, Lei Ahu Isa, Sam King, Kealii Makekau, Chad Owens, William Paik, Keoni Souza and John Waihee IV.

Go to Civil Beat’s Election Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Candidate for Office of Hawaiian Affairs At-Large Trustee

Julian Ako
Party Nonpartisan
Age 79
Occupation Retired school administrator
Residence Honolulu


Community organizations/prior offices held

Past vice-president and governor, Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts; past first vice-president, Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs; past director, Hawaiian Civic Club of Honolulu; past board member, Pihana Nā Mamo—The Native Hawaiian Special Education Project; current president, Kamehameha Schools Alumni Association-Oahu Region; current president, Kuini Piʻolani Hawaiian Civic Club; current director, Ka Huli O Hāloa; current trustee, Hawaiian Historical Society.

1. What do you see as the most pressing problem facing Native Hawaiians, and what will you do about it?

The most pressing problem facing Native Hawaiians in general today concerns their well-being, particularly economic well-being in its many facets, and health well-being.

If elected, my intention is to ensure that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs manages its revenues prudently in addressing the economic (which includes housing, food security and income security) and health issues that Native Hawaiians face. I will collaborate with the other eight trustees in doing so, seeking common ground as a basis for working together.

2. 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?

The most important approach is to listen to the voices of Native Hawaiians and seek to understand the diverse perspectives represented in those voices, attempting to find some common ground for building consensus. But having listened, I will apply Hawaiian values in decision-making, with an eye to protecting Hawaiian culture, the Hawaiian language and the aina (which includes both land and the ocean).

I believe that the gaps in understanding among my people are largely a result of differing levels of acceptance of assimilation.

3. Do you support the construction of the TMT atop Mauna Kea? Why or why not? Could a new management structure help to resolve long-standing disputes?

On a personal level, I am opposed to the building of the TMT atop Mauna Kea because I view it as a further example of the continuing disregard for a Native Hawaiian worldview on aina and our belief system. For me, the TMT is a vestige of continuing colonialism.

But, ultimately, the fate of the TMT should be determined by the people of Moku O Keawe (Hawaii island), not someone like me who is not of that land (though I am descended from ancestors from Moku O Keawe on my father’s side).  I do support a new management structure that is more inclusive of Native Hawaiians, who have been shut out from the past decision-making process.

4. What role should the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands play in reducing homelessness?

Houselessness (not homelessness) is not an issue for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) alone to address. It is a problem that the county and state governments of Hawaii need to continue to tackle.

DHHL can help to provide housing for those Native Hawaiians who are of 50% aboriginal Hawaiian ancestry but the people who are houseless includes more than just that group. Furthermore, without adequate state funding of DHHL, because the lands put in its trust require such a huge investment in infrastructure to make them habitable, its ability to address the houselessness of 50% Native Hawaiians continues to be challenged.

5. Why do you think Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in our prisons and jails? What can be done about it?

The incarceration rates of Native Hawaiians are reflective of the continuing challenges our people face in their own homeland as regards well-being. I believe that the rates will be reduced when Native Hawaiian well-being is better addressed by governing entities.

6. What are your views regarding Hawaiian self-determination?

I support Native Hawaiians being able to speak for themselves and to make the decisions that affect them rather than non-Native Hawaiians continuing to do so.

But a challenge is that it’s difficult for people who have not experienced being disenfranchised and marginalized in their own homeland to understand the forgoing.

7. Is OHA getting its fair share of ceded-land revenues from the state?

Definitely not. To begin with, I would like to see greater transparency on the part of the State of Hawaii in terms of what the total annual revenues from the Public Land Trust (“ceded lands”) are. OHA’s experts estimate that OHA’s fair share (20%) is in excess of $78 million per year.

Even if the new cap of $25 million-plus per year for OHA is signed into law by Gov. Ige, that is far short of $78 million-plus. OHA’s ability to address issues that Native Hawaiians face is challenged without adequate funding.

8. Is OHA fulfilling its mandate to serve the Hawaiian people?

I donʻt think that’s a question for me alone to answer. That’s a question for all Native Hawaiians to respond to. I will say that I believe the expectations are great and the funds to meet those expectations are inadequate.

9. Is Hawaii managing its tourism industry properly? What should be handled differently?

No, Hawaii is not managing its tourist industry properly. For too long tourism has been extractive. It needs to become more regenerative, as is really true of everything in Hawaii. We are seeing the negative impact worldwide of societies operating for so long on an extractive model. I support the thrust of the ʻĀina Aloha Economic Futures initiative, which looks at the bigger picture rather than just focusing on tourism.

I will say that I am supportive of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement receiving a contract from the Hawaii Tourism Authority as opposed to the Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau. I believe HVCB has operated with an extractive model and am looking forward to the possibilities of moving to a more regenerative model, guided by Native Hawaiian sensibilities, with CNHA having a seat at the table.

10. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Hawaii. Be innovative, but be specific.

As I have already alluded to, I support the work of the ʻĀina Aloha Economic Futures initiative.

When the pandemic hit, I thought it represented an opportunity for Hawaii to reinvent itself so that tourism no longer represents 17% of the annual GDP and 80% of what we need to survive is not imported. For example, we can become more self-sufficient and achieve greater sustainability. To do so, not only does the economic model need to be overhauled, but that work needs to be done in concert with educational institutions, including the university system, so that our people are trained for a new Hawaii where they will be able to work and continue to live here.

Sadly, I observe that as things appear to improve with the pandemic, the powerful decision-makers are anxious to rush right back to where things were prior to March 2020.

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