“Never cease to act for fear you may fail.” – Queen Liliʻuokalani
New OHA board chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey wants people to know this about her: “I have integrity, perseverance and compassion and am committed to do the job I was elected to do. I have no agenda, and I remain a servant to the people I represent,” she said.
Lindsey, who has represented Maui as a trustee since 2012, was selected board chair by her fellow trustees in December, succeeding former board chair Colette Machado.
Lindsey believes her colleagues realized her leadership potential during her tenure as chairperson of the board’s Resource Management Committee.
“I believe they saw my leadership style, and my capability of being a fair and trusted leader who would push the initiatives of the board to fruition. It’s the chair who determines the pace by which the board moves,” she said.
Lindsey is certainly an experienced business executive.
She is a former properties administrator for Maui Land & Pineapple Co., as well as the former administrator for the County of Maui’s Land Use and Codes Division. Additionally, she’s owned her own real estate company and been a licensed real estate agent for more than 40 years.
During her speech at the organization of the new board on Dec. 10, 2020, Lindsey shared her message of unity.
“Our commitment is to build trust and cohesion amongst OHA’s Board of Trustees so that we may address past disputes with the state, and within our agency and community, so that we can begin to face the many challenges as Hawaiians with a strong and unified house,” she said.
Lindsey is taking the agency’s reins at a key moment in time.
In September 2020, the OHA board approved a new strategic plan – based on community input – that identifies the organization’s priorities and the framework for their implementation through the year 2035. The initiative includes focused strategic directions in the areas of educational pathways, economic stability, quality housing and health outcomes.
In advance of the February media launch of OHA’s new strategic plan, Lindsey shared some of the details surrounding the organization’s new direction.
“We’re committed to continuing our support for our Hawaiian charter schools and their traditional learning systems. OHA is also committed to strengthening Native Hawaiian-owned businesses by establishing new markets for Hawaiian products and providing Native Hawaiian producers with a livable wage,” she said.
“We will strive to increase the number of Native Hawaiians who are renting or purchasing housing that meets their ʻohana’s needs, and is ‘affordable’ in terms of their financial capacity. And OHA’s health priorities will support programs that strengthen Hawaiian wellbeing, including physical, spiritual, mental and emotional health.”
Lindsey has some interesting takes on a variety of topics as she looks at OHA’s potential future, clarifying that these ideas are solely her vision for the organization, and that she will support a process to engage, collaborate and seek the support of her fellow trustees in developing these viewpoints.
As someone who has been in the real estate business for decades, Lindsey speaks from experience when discussing OHA’s lands at Kakaʻako Makai.
“It’s time to move forward on Kakaʻako Makai, and in the process consider and assess opportunities for multiple uses and benefits for OHA, our people and the public. The development of these land assets has the exponential potential to greatly increase our Native Hawaiian Trust Fund by optimizing highest and best use of these lands as a compelling urban neighborhood in Honolulu producing comparable and competitive values for our property,” she said.
“Advancing development of our Kakaʻako Makai lands will require a strong strategic effort that includes our beneficiaries, community and the public. OHA will need the support of the Hawaiʻi Community Development Authority to build-out our master plan of our lands. The key however, will be the state Legislature’s support of our plans, and their recognition of the contributions of our lands to make a better Hawaiʻi for our beneficiaries, the community and the business sector.”
Lindsey said she will advocate for a closer working relationship with the Department of Hawaiian Homelands.
“It’s my belief that OHA and DHHL will become ‘sister agencies’ working together to help our people,” she said. “I see OHA and DHHL signing a memorandum of understanding for a partnership to jointly support and develop more affordable housing and rentals, including apartments, housing and kūpuna units for the 28,000 Hawaiians on waiting lists and their children to serve the 50% and less blood quantum. I see these homes and units on both ceded lands and DHHL lands.”
When it comes to ʻāina resources, Lindsey is adamant about defending Hawaiian rights.
“My vision for implementing the OHA strategy to better ‘auamo our kuleana’ for ʻāina resources is to ensure OHA will defend and advocate for Hawaiian traditional and customary rights, including our constitutional rights to gather and worship. In this vision I see OHA supporting and strengthening the ability of our youth to become the cultural resource managers of our trust lands in the future – they will oversee the preservation of these resources for the moʻopuna of future generations,” she said.
“Critical plans are needed to ensure preservation and innovation for the sustainability of these valuable assets for time immemorial. Better stewardship and protection of our Hawaiian land resources is now a primary goal of OHA. Fulfilling our fiduciary responsibilities requires that OHA trustees protect traditional and customary rights, increase stewardship of trust lands and continue to defend our lands and waters.”
Finally, Lindsey said she will push for a better relationship with the state auditor and state Legislature.
“As OHA’s new chair, I will move to implement my vision to bring accountability back to OHA by working with state regulatory bodies including the auditor and our state Legislature. It’s my hope that OHA will work collaboratively with the state Legislature and auditor to meet our mandate,” she said.
“We will rely on the advisory opinion of the auditor in making corrective changes. If OHA’s in-house policies do not conform to our obligations as a state agency, then we should create policies that do.”
Lindsey understands that the best quality a trusted leader can have is the ability to bring people together toward a common purpose. Her goal is to unite, and her message, once again, is one of unity.
“I am not living in a dream. I know this vision and these goals can and will be achievable, but it will take everyone’s kōkua. Healthy Hawaiians mean a healthy Hawaiʻi Nei,” she said.
“If we holomua together, we can change the course of our own lives and history. We can make this dream come true, but we will all have to do this together.”
Forty years ago, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs opened its doors, born of the collective effort of delegates to the state Constitutional Convention in 1978. Then, and now, the purpose that drives the agency is to right the wrongs suffered by our people, and to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians. Pictured above, at their investiture on the steps of ʻIolani Palace on Jan. 17, 1981, are the members of OHA’s first Board of Trustees. L-R: A. Frenchy DeSoto; Thomas K. Kaulukukui, Sr.; Rodney K. Burgess, III; Roy L. Benham; Dr. A. Leiomalama Solomon; Joseph G. Kealoha, Jr.; Walter L. Ritte, Jr.; Peter K. Apo; and Moses K. Keale, Sr.