The Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations (SCHHA) and its key waitlist ally the Association of Hawaiians for Homestead Lands (AHHL), have opened an office in Washington, D.C., that will have a full-time presence.
For decades, Homestead leaders traveled several times annually to D.C. to advocate for improved administration and oversight of the Hawaiian Home Lands program – but in June 2021, leaders agreed to open a year-round office.
Mike Kahikina, AHHL chairman, pushed for the move saying, “It’s been 100 years since the federal enactment of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (HHCA), and more than 60 years since state government agreed to the day-to-day administration as a condition of statehood. Yet, on average, only 100 plots of land have been issued annually, with more than 28,000 languishing on the waitlist. It’s long overdue. We must directly represent the interest of beneficiaries, and promote major improvements by both our state and federal governments.”
SCHHA’s elected chair, Robin Puanani Danner, agreed to make the trek to Washington, D.C., to open and staff the office at least through the remainder of her term which ends in 2023. Danner also serves with several national advocacy organizations that focus on Native peoples, including American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians, as well as other underserved populations in the housing and economic opportunity spaces.
“We opened the SCHHA D.C. office on Sept. 13, 2021,” said Danner. “Under the leadership of KipuKai Kualiʻi, our Policy Committee chairman, SCHHA has consistently produced excellent policy priorities that represent the voices of its members from all five trust land mokupuni back home, so the work in D.C. is pretty well laid out, as it has been locally with state government.”
Affordable housing, farming and ranching, and mercantile issue areas top the advocacy list, along with executive branch reforms started in the Obama/Biden administration to continue in the Biden/Harris administration. In 2016, the Obama/Biden Department of Interior codified the intent of Congress in assigning three parties with duties under the HHCA; the federal government, state government, and beneficiaries, which includes a specific federal definition of representative Homestead Beneficiary Associations.
“This has always been the reality, that all three of these parties are key to the success of the Hawaiian Home Lands program. However, the invisibility of the people, of HHCA beneficiaries, to both the state and federal governments over decades, has created unnecessary suffering,” Kahikina continued. “In 2016, the federal government took a significant step by making it plain in the code of federal regulations and now all three parties must work together, especially our state and federal government officials, in bringing Homestead Beneficiary Associations from Hawaiʻi Island to Kauaʻi, to the table.”
SCHHA will work with D.C.-based nonprofit allies on housing, agriculture and economic development, and engage with key federal agencies like HUD and USDA to bring solutions forward for Hawaiians in trust land communities.