The Future of Hawaiians Cannot be Left to Autocrats

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We need people to create a community in Kaka‘ako

By Karl Veto Baker

Names are special to Hawaiians. When we give birth to our children, we seek out kūpuna to find a name. The land in Kaka‘ako was given the name Hakuone, proposed to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) by Loea Cy Bridges, with a multitude of meanings befitting a treasured place in the heart of Honolulu.

When we give birth to our children, when we name them, everyone rallies to care for them and build them into strong pillars of the community. Hakuone is a gift we all must nurture, a gift that can protect our people, preserve our culture, and become a welcoming place for all the people of Hawaiʻi.

Yes, with less than one-fifth of the land in Kaka‘ako Makai, we need to build up as well as out. Vertical villages – taller, higher-density residential towers – mean more people can afford to live in Hakuone.

Good planning also ensures that there is enough room for all the other things Hakuone will offer: a Native Hawaiian cultural center, open space and ample parking, daycare for both kids and kūpuna, and shops and stores targeting Hawaiʻi residents, not tourists. Plus plenty of ocean access and opportunities for recreation so everyone can enjoy the best that Hawaiʻi has to offer.

Most people in Hawaiʻi support residential in Hakuone. But even as OHA engaged the public at every level, from education to pushing its supporters to participate in the political process, it was largely a futile effort. Hawaiʻi’s political process is broken, and will be as long as life-long politicians hold all the cards.

One man, House Speaker Scott Saiki, kept Hakuone from being discussed at all.

Saiki has this power over every House bill. He is clearly not moved by the voice of the people – the people he supposedly serves. And he most certainly is not receptive to the Native Hawaiian community.

What is really happening here? It is assuredly not the misguided but earnest efforts of a few surfers wearing matching t-shirts.

Is it other land developers, afraid of what affordable housing will do to their sales? Is it a small cadre of rich donors hoping to protect their million-dollar views? How is it that a dozen luxury condos can sprout up right across the street from Hakuone with profits going to Texas? Yet OHA is being challenged on how many and how high?

We are – all Hawaiians – beneficiaries of OHA and its mission. We all should care. And we need to act and bring about change.


Karl Veto Baker completed the ʻūniki ceremony to become a kumu hula in 1995 and is a kumu of Hālau i ka Wēkiu which is celebrating 25 years with a May Day concert at the Waikīkī Shell. A past president of the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce (NHCC) and a member of NHCC for over a decade, Baker is also an ʻŌ‘ō Award recipient and has worked as a mortgage banker since 1998.