Ceremonial lessons in standing firm

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Office of Hawaiian Affairs 2018 Investiture of the Board of Trustees • December 11, 2018

OHA investiture issues a call for Native Hawaiian unity

The December 11th investiture for the newly elected board of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs resounded with messages of unity. Along with the in swearing in of the nine-member OHA board for 2019, the ceremony centered on a tribute to U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka and Queen Liliu‘okalani as the embodiments of unity in Native Hawaiian leadership filled with aloha – even when the going gets tough.

“We may not always see eye to eye, but may we always see heart to heart. That’s what we are talking about today,” said Kahu Kenneth Makuakāne, who presided over portions of the emotion-laden program. The two-hour program offered mele, speeches and Scripture readings, and the theme of the ceremony was the ‘ōlelo no‘eau, “He manu ke aloha. ‘A‘ohe lālā kau ‘ole” (“Love is like a bird: there is no branch that it does not perch upon”).

The proverb likens love to the power of aloha in binding Hawaiians together for the purpose of realizing the common goals of protecting native rights and natural resources, perpetuating cultural practices and advancing health and prosperity for the future, said OHA Chief Executive Officer Kamana‘opono Crabbe in his opening remarks, delivered first in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i and then in English. Several hundred people attended the event, which was held for the first time at Washington Place. The gathering included representatives of royal benevolent societies, Native Hawaiian trusts, government dignitaries and well-wishers from across Hawai‘i nei.

Two new board members were presented – Trustee At-Large Brendon Kalei‘āina Lee and O‘ahu Trustee Kaleihikina Akaka. Both won their seats following competitive campaigns that drew a flurry of widespread public interest, in the wake of high profile media reports about ongoing clashes between board members and a state auditor’s report critical of OHA. Asked if he felt that the circumstances had prompted a mandate for change, Lee replied change is already underway at OHA. He said that OHA leaders had taken steps to address the auditors’ concerns before the report became public last year. Lee also noted that on the day before the investiture, the newly formed OHA board voted 9 to 0 to retain Trustee Colette Machado of Moloka‘i as board chairperson.

“I believe this show of unity by OHA leadership is unprecedented in OHA’s 40-year history,” Lee said, adding that numerous televised forums featuring OHA candidates helped stir voter interest in the recent OHA election. “This shows how important OHA leadership is and the fact that what affects Native Hawaiians affects all of Hawai‘i.”

In spite of what was happening to her, the queen was steadfast. She stood for onipa‘a. She stood for hope. She just said, ‘Lord, help me that there will be no bloodshed.’ And when she lost her Kingdom, she fought her entire life to have it restored. So in some ways, we as trustees have that kuleana to carry on that devotion to governance.”

— Colette Y. Machado, Chair, Trustee Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i

Kaleihikina Akaka, elected in November as O‘ahu trustee, is the other new face at OHA, though her name is hardly new: she is the granddaughter of the late U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka. “Having the opportunity to serve our people has been my family’s work, something I have born into,” she said, adding, “This means doing the right thing, even if it is the toughest thing.” Pleased with the investiture’s emphasis on unity, Akaka said she looks forward to working with the board on extending the reach and role of OHA into the community through diverse partnerships, particularly in the public sector. “I also believe in balance in leadership. The main thing is we apply the wisdom of our kupuna, even as we bring a fresh perspective to OHA priorities.”

Joining the two newly seated trustees at the investiture were three incumbents: Trustee At-Large Leina‘ala Ahu Isa, PhD; Trustee At-Large John Waihe‘e IV; and Maui Trustee Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey. All five received finely crafted lei hulu, a longstanding OHA investiture custom. Also at the podium for the lei hulu presentation were the four board members who not up for re-election this term: Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau Trustee Dan Ahuna, Trustee At-Large Keli‘i Akina, Hawai‘i Island Trustee Robert Lindsey, Jr. and Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i Trustee Colette Machado.

Speaking publicly for the time since being awarded the chair position for 2019, Trustee Machado, first elected to OHA in 1996, took the opportunity to point out the significance of holding the investiture at Washington Place, the home of Hawai‘i’s last monarch Queen Liliu‘okalani and the site of turmoil in the waning days of the Hawaiian Kingdom. “In spite of what was happening to her, the Queen was steadfast. She stood for onipa‘a. She stood for hope. She just said, ‘Lord, help me that there will be no bloodshed.’ And when she lost her Kingdom, she fought her entire life to have it restored. So in some ways, we as trustees have that kuleana to carry on that devotion to governance,” said Machado, adding. “That’s just the good stuff. We have a lot to do, because, as you know, no political system is perfect.”

Injecting a touch of levity, Machado noted that activist Walter Ritte, Jr. was in the audience as her guest, in contrast to many years ago when he showed up at an OHA investiture as a protester. While Machado said it is no secret that she has had disagreements with Ritte – a fellow Moloka‘i native – she was quick to add, “There are times we stand together for Moloka‘i, when we have a common goal that is bigger than me and him… So with my brother back there today,.. I feel the winds are changing. ”

Bursts of applause greeted Machado’s remarks, which also included her sharing a memory of revered kumu hula Edith Kanaka‘ole, providing this mana‘o on Native Hawaiians: “In all that we do, we have to work together as one people.”

It was left to keynote speaker Millannie Mattson to illuminate the lessons handed down to today’s Hawaiian leaders by the man she simply called “Dad.” She spoke of the epic rise of her father – the late Senator Daniel K. Akaka – from a humble Hawai‘i educator to the first Native Hawaiian to represent the State of Hawai‘i in U.S. Congress, where he was not only a statesman from 1990 to 2013, but also a beloved exemplar of aloha.

“It took courage to be like this in Washington, D.C., where kindness was often mistaken for weakness. But Dad prevailed. He was persistent and polite and his style worked,” said Mattson.

Because he “respected people for who there were despite political differences,” the late Senator Akaka became known for bringing together opposing sides, said Mattson. She said he parlayed his reputation for “authenticity” into passing legislation, which strengthened public services and protections for military veterans, environmental conservation, sustainable agriculture, equal opportunity in education, healthcare, and financial literacy, and more. With the reins of power and influence in his hands, he never lost sight of love for the ‘āina and the wisdom of his ancestors.

“Dad understood the indigenous world; the view that everything is connected and integrated; the view that it is best to plan for the future; the view that acknowledges, appreciates and seeks to understand the connection between the spiritual and the physical; the view that starts with teamwork as opposed to the individual,” said Mattson.

Senator Akaka strove to engage Hawaiian unity in shepherding the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009 through Congress, and his work on the measure began with President Bill Clinton’s resolution issuing an official apology for the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by American business interests, according to Mattson. “Dad was focused on the second provision of the resolution of a commitment by the U.S. to engage in a process of reconciliation with Native Hawaiians,” said Mattson, describing the Akaka bill’s push for U.S. federal recognition of a Native Hawaiian governing entity.

“Dad saw this as a step forward in a continuous process of resolving many issues resulting from the overthrow… and a way to bring down the silos that have continually divided our communities,” said Mattson.

When the bill ran headlong into attacks from all sides, Mattson said her father would not quit. Too much was at stake. She saw her father persevere and battle hard for the bill, because – without it, he maintained, hard-fought federal programs that give Hawaiians a chance at equal footing are exposed to court challenges and are in deep jeopardy of a total demise.

Mattson noted that since the bill failed in 2010, threats to Native Hawaiian rights have continued to rise, with the latest coming from Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanuagh reportedly expressing doubt that Native Hawaiians are indigenous to Hawaiian lands. Stressing that the stakes are higher than ever, she asked the audience rhetorically, “Isn’t it time to pick up the pieces for the reconciliation and use them for what they were intended – a process of healing?” Mattson implored those present to take up her father’s kuleana and stand together with aloha to “preserve and perpetuate our identity, our language, our culture. Too much is at stake not to try, so let’s do it!”

It’s unknown whether OHA unity will coalesce around an initiative similar to the Akaka bill in the coming year, but the import of unity in Native Hawaiian leadership, as it was invoked at the investiture, drew upbeat responses, starting with internal reaction from many OHA trustees. “If I am going to be effective, I won’t think of my own success. I think in terms of value to others,” said Kaua‘i Trustee Dan Ahuna.

“This means we (as trustees) go out and talk with families (in our constituencies). We are approached for support on so many different issues. But before we prioritize, we need to learn as much as possible our communities and really listen as the basis for unity,” Ahuna said.

Walter Ritte, Jr. called the day’s themes “a fresh start.” Noting that he, too, stands for aloha in leadership, he said, “I came here today to bring a message from the people of Moloka‘i. We are on the track to become self-sufficient with (natural) resources and we want to count on OHA’s partnership. We are a very Hawaiian Island, culturally speaking. I would like to make sure that OHA continues to focus on developing a Hawaiian system of governance. This is where Hawaiian leadership will make a huge difference to us.”


Reader’s Response

Where do you believe that the OHA board should focus its efforts in advocating for the betterment of Native Hawaiians in the coming year?

This was a question asked by Ka Wai Ola at the December 11th investiture ceremony. Here are a few responses.