Bettering the Conditions of Native Hawaiians


Mālama (nvt. To take care of, tend, attend, care for, preserve, protect, beware, save, maintain.)

Photo: Sylvia Hussey

Aloha mai kākou,

Iʻm half Hawaiian and half Japanese and growing up in Kohala, one of our responsibilities was to clean the graves of our kūpuna.

My dad’s family was buried at the Japanese cemetery on the way to Kēōkea Beach Park and once a month we’d go and sweep away the debris that had collected and pick fresh flowers to place on the graves. We did the same thing at the old Mormon church mauka of our house where my mom’s ‘ohana rested. This simple, routine childhood experience helped to shape my present understanding of mālama.

This concept of “mālama” is physical, mental and spiritual. It extends generationally and often involves pule. We do not just mālama for ourselves and our ʻohana today. We mālama our past and we mālama to prepare for those who will follow. Mālama is how I view OHA’s kuleana to Native Hawaiians.

OHA was created to better “the conditions of Native Hawaiians,” one of the five public purposes for which the State of Hawaiʻi’s Public Land Trust (PLT) revenues are to be used, per section 5(f) of the 1959 Admission Act. And for the past 42 years, this is what OHA has attempted to do – albeit imperfectly at times.

With a PLT bill currently moving through the legislature, OHA hopes to increase its share of PLT revenues from about 4% to the 20% Native Hawaiians are entitled to by law – a potential 422% increase in the funds available to mālama our lāhui.

This raises the question: what is OHA currently doing, and how might that change if OHA has more money to spend?

Unfortunately, some people seem to think that OHA is just sitting on a pile of money and not sharing. I am not deaf to the harsh words of OHA’s detractors who do not see, understand, or value OHA’s work.

However, that may be because so much of OHA’s work is invisible to the public. OHA doesn’t build houses like DHHL – but OHA has given DHHL millions of dollars to support infrastructure projects that help them get more Hawaiians in homes faster.

OHA provides millions in funding each year to organizations that provide direct services to Native Hawaiians in areas like education, health, mental health, culture, ‘āina protection, and housing.

But the core of OHA’s work is in advocacy and public policy.

Supported by in-house research, OHA’s advocacy efforts help to change laws and regulations, and obtain federal funding that benefits Native Hawaiians. OHA is actively advocating for Native Hawaiians in areas like criminal justice, burial site protection, Maunakea, and on the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls task force. OHA’s advocacy recently helped pass Maui County’s landmark ʻĀina Kūpuna tax relief bill.

OHA is a problem-solver. The needs of our people are great, but so are our strengths! So OHA collaborates with other Native Hawaiian-serving organizations because when we work together, we are better able to leverage the mana of our ʻohana, moʻomeheu and ʻāina to mālama our people and achieve our collective vision of a thriving lāhui.

Sylvia M. Hussey, Ed.D.
Chief Executive Officer