Fortifying the Foundation of ʻOhana through Federal Policies and Law


By Christiane Cardoza and Sarah Kamakawiwo‘ole

‘Ike aku, ‘ike mai, kōkua aku kōkua mai; pela iho la ka nohona ʻohana.
Recognize and be recognized, help and be helped; such is family life.

Ohana are the center of the Native Hawaiian community and advocating for policies that support ‘ohana by maintaining healthy and safe environments for our keiki ensures the continued successes of Kānaka Maoli.

Over the past five years, emergent data began to suggest Native Hawaiian children may be disproportionately represented among child sex trafficking survivors and missing and runaway children.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz presented findings to his colleagues at a 2017 U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing. Additional data further confirmed that Native Hawaiians are disproportionately impacted by sexual violence. The State Department of Human Services reported that Native Hawaiian children make up 33% of all human trafficking cases referred to the State Child Welfare Services, which include commercial sex trafficking and familial sex trafficking.

An Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) study also revealed that Native Hawaiian girls are vastly overrepresented as juvenile runaways, and data shows one-third of runaway youth are approached for sexual services within 48 hours of being on the street.

Federal policies to protect keiki, ‘ōpio, and ‘ohana continue to advance. Schatz passed the End National Defense (END) Network Abuse Act in 2019 to address evidence that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) networks ranked among the top networks used for file trading of child pornography.

This bill aimed to help the Pentagon stop this network misuse by upgrading training and technical capacity of military criminal investigative organizations. It required DoD to enter into collaborative agreements with law enforcement, trauma-informed health care providers, and social services, among others.

Given the high number of active-duty military members in Hawai‘i, Schatz also secured $1 million through the Victims of Child Abuse Act program for a pilot program to facilitate better coordination between child advocacy centers and military bases. The pilot included Hawai‘i and led to a successful collaboration between the Hawai‘i Children’s Justice Centers, law enforcement, and all military branches on O‘ahu.

More federal support is necessary to honor the trust responsibility owed to Native Hawaiians and to expand the limited federal programs that currently serve Native Hawaiians. Federal partnerships with existing Native Hawaiian health organizations could increase to support a wide range of culturally appropriate and community-based services for the Native Hawaiian community, as well as solidify networks of health organizations so that the continuum of care of Native Hawaiians is strengthened.

Contemporary mauli ola must address holistic health, including the intergenerational effects of historical trauma by colonization and forced assimilation. Many aspects of health that are not well-integrated into the modern health industry can be added into federal programs to protect our ‘ohana and guard the safety and wellbeing of our keiki.

The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act is legislation where increased inclusion of Native Hawaiian programs could directly benefit Native Hawaiian survivors and stop future victimization. The bill already supports community-based domestic violence programs and provides shelter to survivors. While this bill is expected to progress this Congress and some Native Hawaiian provisions tentatively appear, additional advocacy is needed to ensure Native Hawaiian programs receive this critical support to protect our keiki and our future.

Christiane Cardoza is the federal public policy advocate and interim Washington, D.C. bureau chief for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Sarah Kamakawiwo‘ole is the policy and compliance coordinator at Papa Ola Lōkahi.