Community Voices

OHA’s Mana i Mauli Ola Strategic Plan, developed with input from the Native Hawaiian community and approved by the current BOT in 2020, identifies four strategic directions of critical importance to our lāhui: educational pathways, health outcomes, quality housing and economic stability.

To provide context by which to consider candidate responses this election year, particularly OHA BOT candidates, OHA reached out to ʻŌiwi leaders in the areas of education, health, housing and economic development and asked for their manaʻo about what OHA can realistically do to affect positive change in these crucial areas.

Photo: Jon Osorio

Education | Dr. Jon Osorio

Dr. Jonathan Kay Kamakawiwoʻole Osorio is dean of the Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at UH Mānoa. We asked him to comment on the fact that there are currently only 25 public/charter schools across the pae ʻāina (out of 294) offering Hawaiian language immersion education – which presents an access issue for parents seeking a Hawaiian-focused education for their keiki.

Osorio notes that the core problem is “supply and demand” and that, despite efforts by the UH system, far too few Hawaiian immersion teachers have been recruited, trained and certified. “In 2018, we were informed that there were 50 vacancies in kula kaiapuni statewide,” he said.

Inadequate, unreliable funding is the biggest problem, according to Osorio. Despite the existence of BA/MA pathways between Hawaiian Studies, Hawaiian Language and the College of Education, many potential students simply cannot afford the tuition. Without full financial aid, they are forced to take on student loan debt which is a disincentive to pursuing a teaching career. “A first-year teacher at Pūʻōhala or Ka ʻUmeke should not have to face $50,000 in indebtedness as they prepare to take on this career,” said Osorio.

He would like to see OHA work directly with UH to strengthen the pipeline of this generation of Hawaiian immersion teachers for all grade levels by providing financial aid for these students as well as funding for the training programs in Hawaiian literacy by faculty like Dr. Hiapo Perreira of Ka Haka ʻUla at UH Hilo and Dr. Ipo Wong of Kawaihuelani at UH Mānoa that have been developed for immersion kumu.

Photo: Sheri Daniels

Health | Dr. Sheri Daniels

Papa Ola Lōkahi Executive Director Dr. Sheri-Ann Daniels says that improving health outcomes for our lāhui takes everyone, noting that we continue to deal disproportionately with chronic illnesses, lower life expectancy and increased mental health needs. She also points out that social determinants of good health (e.g., education, housing, employment) intersect with other areas of our lives and impact every aspect of our health and wellness.

Daniels believes that one way for OHA to meaningfully address these issues is by strengthening partnerships with community-based organizations dedicated to health and wellbeing and by sponsoring community-focused activities. She would like to see OHA conduct talk-story sessions and engage people in their communities at gathering opportunities.

“A successful engagement plan would need to be strategic, multi-pronged and long-term,” said Daniels. “We need to take the time to engage as many as possible in multiple ways, across demographics and accessibility to create real and achievable goals that fit us now and still offer flexibility as conditions and the environment evolve.”

She says that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the health issues facing Native Hawaiians, but believes that we need spaces to talk, listen and learn to better understand the needs of our people in order to develop better programs and services.

Adds Daniels, “addressing Hawaiian health and wellbeing enables us to have active cultural practitioners, dedicated ʻāina protectors, and whole and functional families that together will comprise a thriving and abundant lāhui.”

Photo: Kali Watson

Housing | Kali Watson

Kali Watson is the president and CEO of the Hawaiian Community Development Board, a nonprofit development firm that specializes in developing projects to provide low-income families with homes. He believes that OHA should collaborate with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) and private developers regarding the development of affordable housing for Native Hawaiians.

He notes that with DHHL receiving $600 million from the state and another $22.3 million in new funding from the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act, the Hawaiʻi Housing and Finance Development Corp receiving $320 million in funding, and the State of Hawaiʻi receiving $2.8 billion in federal infrastructure funding, “the time is now for a coordinated collective effort to aggressively build housing for Native Hawaiians.”

Watson believes that OHA’s Iwilei and Kakaʻako Makai properties should be master-planned to provide both commercial space and housing with DHHL facilitating the entitlement process with its trust land status under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act. He points out that DHHL has already identified 17 sites for the development of more than 3,000 residential and agricultural units and that DHHL is also authorized to acquire private land for housing development.

“Working together, OHA and DHHL can not only become the biggest developers in the state, but [they can] realistically reduce, if not eliminate, the [DHHL] waiting lists within 10 years,” said Watson.

Photo: Noe Noe Wong

Economics | Dr. Noe Noe Wong-Wilson

Dr. Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, executive director of the Lālākea Foundation, is an educator and cultural practitioner who helped to craft the ʻĀina Aloha Economic Futures initiative, a Hawaiian-led framework for Hawaiʻi’s economic recovery, post-pandemic.

The abrupt disruption of tourism in the early days of the pandemic, while providing a needed respite for the ʻāina, wreaked havoc economically as thousands of residents lost tourism-related jobs while supply chain disruptions threatened Hawaiʻi’s food security.

“Food sovereignty depends on viable distribution pipelines and access to the marketplace,” said Wong-Wilson. “Most importantly, there must be access to ʻāina and wai resources for small farmers. OHA, state and county governments can work cooperatively to convene the discussion and provide support. It must be a whole system transformation to succeed.”

Wong-Wilson believes it is time for OHA to take a leadership role in collaborating with government, business and community leaders. She says that although Hawaiians are a minority in our homeland, we nevertheless retain strong connections with the ʻāina, our language and culture and that this pilina is important to a strong economic foundation for Hawaiʻi.

“The lāhui’s economic stability is reflected by the economic stability of the larger community – so OHA’s voice in the welfare of the entire community is vital and important. OHA can provide a strong, culturally rooted foundation for everyone to build upon. This is an important strategy to ensure the longevity and viability of our lāhui into the future.”

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