Aloha mai kākou,
In the 1970s, organized Hawaiians sought remedy for injustices suffered since the overthrow of the monarchy, standing up for the survival of their cultural heritage.
Grassroots activists united in protest on several fronts, calling for an end to the military bombing of Kaho‘olawe and for a halt to evictions in Kalama Valley and on Mokauea Island, O‘ahu’s last remaining fishing village. Against this backdrop, delegates to the 1978 Constitutional Convention (con con) envisioned an entity that would be entrusted with improving conditions for Native Hawaiians.
These were contentious times. Even as the ‘78 con con was in progress, roughly 200 Hawaiian activists gathered at Hilo Airport, leading to the activation of the National Guard and the arrest of 60 demonstrators. Con con delegate Frenchy DeSoto, who would become OHA’s first chairwoman, told her fellow delegates about the disparities Native Hawaiians faced in public education, the workforce and the criminal justice system. “Hawai‘i must respond to the needs of the Native Hawaiians; the time has come,” she said.
Ultimately, delegates settled on a Hawaiian Affairs package that included the establishment of a state agency responsible for moneys earmarked for Native Hawaiians – the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. As OHA approaches its 40th anniversary in November, we can look back at the original tenets the agency was founded on to see what has been accomplished, and identify where we need to buckle-down to support our beneficiaries for the next 40 years.
Some issues that were pressing in 1978 persist today, such water rights. This July, East Maui kalo farmers celebrated a victory in a landmark legal case when the Water Commission called for restoration of streams that had been diverted to irrigate Alexander & Baldwin’s vast plantations for more than a century. Plaintiffs in the two-decade-long legal battle were represented by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., a native rights law firm that receives annual funding from OHA. OHA’s advocacy has also helped protect the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, so much so that OHA was named a co-trustee of the 583,000-acre Papahänaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
Substantial work remains to ensure Hawaiians are well-represented in higher education, the workforce and the civic arena. OHA provides funding to Hawaiian-focused charter schools and a scholarship program at the University of Hawai‘i. OHA also supports programs that combat diabetes, hypertension and other health issues that disproportionately impact our beneficiaries. This biennium, OHA grants support school nutrition programs in Kualapu‘u, Moloka‘i; Häna, Maui; and in Līhu‘e and Kekaha on Kaua‘i. On O‘ahu, an OHA grant to the Salvation Army supports substance abuse treatment for Hawaiian women.
But OHA itself is not fully funded, despite repeated requests to the state to lift the “temporary” cap on OHA’s pro rata share of Public Land Trust revenues. We will continue to seek our fair share in order to get more resources into our communities. Early advocates fought hard for a public agency dedicated to Hawaiians. The impetus is on us to fulfill our mandate and accomplish our vision.
‘O au iho nō me ke aloha a me ka ‘oia‘i‘o,
Kamana‘opono M. Crabbe, Ph.D.
Ka Pouhana/Chief Executive Officer