The Office of Hawaiian Affairs

#113 in the Moʻolelo series

Controversy continues at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, with some Hawaiians (including Mililani Trask) supporting Keliʻi Akina’s bid for reelection despite the fact that he is director of the Grassroot Institute, which opposes Hawaiian entitlements. Their support stems from his push for an audit of OHA. It’s a good time to revisit the creation of OHA to remember what its purpose was and whether it has strayed from this purpose.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs began operations in 1980, but was created by the 1978 Constitutional Convention. In terms of legislation, Governor Ariyoshi signed bill 196 in 1979, which authorized a budget of only $125,000 for OHA’s operations, including maintenance of an office (Ka Wai Ola o OHA, Apelila 1991, 14). After its creation in law, but before its being funded, operations were conducted in 1979 by a group of volunteers known as VOHA (Volunteers of OHA)!

According to the “history” section of OHA’s website:

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs was born of a collective and compassionate effort on the part of the delegates to the state Constitutional Convention of 1978. They spoke to a sense of justice, to the righting of wrongs suffered by the indigenous people of the Hawaiian Islands for exactly 200 years.

On November 4, 1980, 54,000 Hawaiian voted for the first set of OHA trustees. (Before the Rice v. Cayetano case in 2000, only Hawaiians voted for OHA.) The winners were Frenchy DeSoto, Moses Keale, Peter Apo, Walter Ritte, Malama Solomon, Roy Benham, Rodney Burgess, Joseph Kealoha and Thomas Kaulukukui (Ka Wai Ola o OHA, 1991).

Swearing in of the first OHA trustees by Justice William Richardson

Bill 196, which was codified as Chapter 10 of the Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes, held that OHA’s purpose was to “receive[e] a pro rata portion of the revenue of ceded lands for the betterment of native Hawaiians” (Ka Wai Ola o OHA, 1991). This was, of course, based on the five purposes of the ceded lands trust:

  1. The support of public education
  2. The betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians as defined in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920
  3. The development of farm and home ownership
  4. The making of public improvements
  5. The provision of lands for public use

Since one of the five purposes was “The betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians…” it was expected that one-fifth, or 20% of revenue from these lands (being the public lands of the Hawaiian Kingdom and private lands of the monarch – crown lands) would go to OHA.* But courts later abandoned the 20% formula and OHA was owed back payments for years. In 2010, Governor Abercrombie attempted to settle back claims with the granting of Kakaʻako Makai to OHA, purportedly worth $185 million.

*The fact that the statute reads “native Hawaiians as defined in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920,” has led to lawsuits (by Hawaiians) against OHA programs that benefit Hawaiians with less than 50% blood quantum.

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