Ka Wai Ola

We’re often asked how the Office of Hawaiian Affairs improves conditions for Native Hawaiians. How we respond is now more critical than ever, as communities on either end of the main pae ‘āina cope with catastrophic events and uncertain futures. Historic flooding along Kaua‘i’s north shore and an explosive eruption in the Kīlauea East Rift Zone on Hawai‘i Island call for distinctly different approaches. Collectively, however, they’ve forced thousands of residents to evacuate, and an untold number of homeowners and renters will have nothing to return to. We have a duty to respond to the staggering needs of these communities – of our people – and do what we can to help them resume a sense of normalcy.

We’ve hit the ground running in Kaua‘i, where an intense, record-setting deluge in April dumped 28 inches of rain on the Waipā ahupua‘a over a 24-hour period. At the time, some 300 homes were evacuated. While most of the island has recovered, the hardest-hit areas continue to suffer. OHA responded immediately by donating fuel, then followed up in the fi eld when our beneficiaries raised concerns that weren’t rising to the media’s attention. In May, a team from OHA’s administration and Trustee Dan Ahuna’s offi ce went into these remote areas to see the damage firsthand and talk with community members on the ground to assess how OHA can contribute in a meaningful way.

Hā‘ena, Wainiha and Hanalei residents have shown tremendous resiliency and initiative, coming together to help with the clean up, run donation centers and operate shuttles in and out of areas where highway repairs restrict access. But we need to meet them more than halfway, which calls for out-of-the-box thinking to cut through bureaucracy and address immediate needs. I will be working closely with our Board of Trustees to direct much-needed OHA resources to both Kaua‘i and Puna. Plans include $500,000 in relief aid; additional funding through our emergency, home improvement and business loan programs; and OHA staff outreach. We will be posting updates on our support efforts on oha.org/kauai and oha.org/puna.

The situation in Puna is still evolving. At the time of publication, the explosive eruption showed no signs of stopping. Thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate as the lava flow entered residential subdivisions, cut off highway access and sent toxic volcanic ash and gases into neighboring areas. There’s an immediate need for transitional and permanent housing, and we need to provide other types of support to help people cope mentally and emotionally during this traumatic time. As we did in Kaua‘i, we’ll be sending a team to Hawai‘i Island to hear directly from Puna beneficiaries.

In addition to relief dollars, OHA can invest time and leverage resources. We can work with service providers, such as Helping Hands and Catholic Charities, who administer the OHA-funded Pūnāwai Program that provides emergency fi nancial assistance for Native Hawaiians. We can advocate for our beneficiaries before state agencies and nonprofit organizations. We can put people on the ground to really understand and address the unique needs in each community. And we can commit for the long haul and go the extra mile to help residents kūkulu hou, to rebuild.

Beneficiaries on Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Island have set an example by coming forward to help their neighbors in these times of crisis. We need to follow their lead, step out of the box and step up to the challenge.