Amidst concerns about the direction of its nation building efforts, the Board of Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs held its regular meeting today on Molokai at the Kulana ‘Oiwi Halau.
Building a clear consensus out of a multiplicity of Hawaiian interests has always been OHA’s challenge. Since Act 195 established the Kana’iolowalu — the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission — in 2011, the mission of OHA has become even more fraught by controversy. When the registration period closed on May 1, the Commission reportedly had the signatures of 125,631 Native Hawaiians.
Now that the Kana’iolowalu is out of time and money, OHA, as administrators of the Commission, must decide how it will move forward with federal recognition. Dr. Kamana‘opono Crabbe, OHA’s CEO, has suggested that OHA take another six to nine months to educate the public prior to making a decision.
Dr. Crabbe’s recommendation comes on the heals of the controversy sparked by his letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry requesting a legal opinion on the status of the Hawaiian Kingdom under international law. This resulted in another letter from the Board of Trustees rescinding Crabbe’s request for a legal opinion. Crabbe has since agreed to withdraw his request in an attempt to bring unity to OHA’s efforts.
With no clearly established path moving forward, the OHA trustees took various comments today from the Molokai community concerning Hawaiian sovereignty. Wendy Espaniola, a longtime teacher at Maunaloa Elementary School, made a plea for more public education on this issue.
Espaniola said she had always accepted the conventional wisdom she was taught in school about Hawaii being a part of the United States. “Recently my views have changed,” she said. Espaniola now sees Hawaii as an independent sovereign nation that has been illegally occupied. “The Roll Commission could take away what Hawaii already has,” she said. “We need to wake up the people first and then take action; education is the key.”
Walter Ritte, Molokai activist and former OHA candidate, asked for the OHA trustees to take a strong leadership role to bring unity on this controversial issue.
“Don’t rush nation building,” said Ritte, “it’s not as simple as people want it to be.” Once the Department of Interior is empowered through Kana’iolowalu to be involved in this process, “we’re not sure what they’re going to do,” said Ritte. “There is a problem of mistrust of Washington, D.C. with people who want independence. The Department of Interior will just do what they want.”
With the debate about nation building “coming to a head,” said Ritte, OHA is “in a unique position to keep communities focused on unity … Don’t back down from your leadership role. We need more than six months, don’t rush nation building.”
Uncle Jimmy Duvauchelle, the pastor and longtime paniolo from Maunaloa, also spoke about the need for unity. “We are a sovereign nation, maybe we need to start from the beginning … We need to come together with one heart and one mind.”
Hano Naehu, ‘Aha Kiole ‘O Mana’e representative, asked the trustees what Hawaiians will get for giving their name.
“Our ‘aina is more important than money. If our deal makes us like our Indian brothers and sisters that’s not good.” Naehu said that when Hawaiians heard about Dr. Crabbe’s letter they became “happy and hopeful. Now I don’t know where we are … if the ‘aina’s not part of the deal don’t take the deal.”