Z. Kaapana Aki

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Photo: Zuri Aki

At-Large candidate

  • Age | 40
  • Occupation | Public Policy Advocate
  • Where did you grow up | Mililani, Oʻahu
  • Schooling | Kamehameha Schools Kapālama, UH Mānoa, William S. Richardson School of Law
  • Current residence | Mililani, Oʻahu
  • Website | www.aki4oha.com
  1. For the greater part of my life, I have dedicated service to the lāhui in many countless different ways, from grassroots organizing around key Hawaiian issues to advocating on behalf of Native Hawaiian interests before executive/administrative and legislative bodies at the local, state, and federal levels. I have served the lāhui in an official capacity within the public sector as a public policy advocate at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs as well as an OHA trustee aide. I have also served the lāhui in the private sector as a public policy manager for the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement. I am the founder and current board chair for ʻApoakea Native Hawaiian Innovation Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the lāhui, while at the same time addressing so many of the systemic problems that we continue to face. To date, ʻApoakea has been funded to advance projects dedicated to workforce development and financial empowerment of wāhine, Native Hawaiian-led food systems economic development, and uplifting and elevating the socio-economic status of individuals on the autism spectrum.
  2. As an OHA public policy advocate, I took the initiative to address the deficit in Native Hawaiian-owned land by drafting a bill that would require a set-aside from every major real estate development project for the purpose of developing uses benefiting Native Hawaiians. These set-asides were intended to be used to bolster Native Hawaiian cultural practices, develop Native Hawaiian business/entrepreneurship/economy, space for education, and of course, housing. The bill was submitted to the legislature as part of OHA’s package, but was effectively killed in the House by the Hawaiian Affairs and Water and Land committees and in the Senate by the Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health committee.
  3. The essential function of a public policy advocate is to advocate for or against issues concerning public interest. Successfully navigating this theater to advance public policy into rules/laws often requires convincing lawmakers, and more often than not for Native Hawaiian interests, which are not always held in favor by the general public (or are not well-known), it may require galvanizing community and stakeholder support to evidence the need. Advocating for public policy is all about working collaboratively with other professionals to establish policies.
  4. When it comes to the economic stability of the lāhui, OHA can and should collaborate with anyone who will help the organization to achieve that endeavor. Imagine what OHA could achieve if it convened an annual summit with the purpose of developing an economic strat-plan for Native Hawaiians – use some of the most brilliant minds in business, finance, and economics, guided by community aspirations and interests, working together to develop something the world has never seen before. Invite Amazon and Space-X to participate, have the USDA and FAO sit in, rally social media influencers to hype up the event, make it a big thing – the sky is the limit. Imagine what could be done for Native Hawaiians. Imagine what could be done for all the people of Hawaiʻi.
  5. OHA can and should collaborate with anyone who will help Native Hawaiians afford housing and anyone who will help to reduce Native Hawaiian houselessness. More often than not, what’s typically labeled as ‘affordable housing,’ here in Hawaiʻi, isn’t actually affordable to the average young family, working single, kūpuna, etc. It is entirely possible to construct a livable, safe, and secure home for less than the price most pay for an average brand-new vehicle. So, why isn’t this happening? Because we exist in a place where insane amounts of money can be made from the sale of something – and someone will buy it – so, the market reflects that. OHA has the capacity to break free from that.

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