Aloha mai kākou,
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ priority is to maintain safe and healthy community and work environments for OHA staff and beneficiaries, while limiting disruptions in our services to the lāhui.
Following federal and state mandates, OHA closed all of its offices to the public and staff and Trustees are teleworking from home. Nevertheless, modified services to our beneficiaries, following federal and state guidance on social distancing, continue during this period via phone, e-mail, website and social media.
OHA’s response to this pandemic has focused on ensuring that emergency resources and services – from the government, the private sector as well as our own trust – are directed at meeting the critical needs of our communities and families. To this end, we are working directly with community members to assess beneficiary needs and support ongoing efforts. We are also in constant communication with partner organizations to ensure services are complementary and not duplicative.
Furthermore, we have been advocating for our lāhui at the local, state, and federal levels. For example, OHA is continuing to advocate for preventing eviction for non-payment of rent or mortgage; access to clean showers and bathrooms for homeless beneficiaries; criminal justice monitoring for our paʻahao; and access to federal dollars for education.
OHA is also releasing trust resources directly into the community. OHA’s emergency financial assistance grant is administered via the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s Kahiau Community Assistance Program and represents almost $1.7 million in community support over two years. OHA’s $3 million in support, also over two years, for 17 Hawaiian-focused charter schools throughout the pae ʻāina, enable schools to pivot and meet the educational needs of their communities during this COVID-19 time.
Another OHA-funded program is our Kaiāulu Meals program. Launched in early April, OHA’s $450,000 Kaiāulu Meals program is supporting 13 community-based service providers’ efforts to distribute enough food for three meals per week to Native Hawaiian kūpuna, ages 60 years and older. The groups have worked with their communities to identify kūpuna who demonstrate the most need. The program will distribute thousands of meals and more than 500 CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) food packages every week to kūpuna on every island.
The origin of Kaiāulu Meals is rooted in the self-sustainability of our communities. Early on during this crisis, a number of organizations assessed the immediate needs of their communities and identified food insecurity as a major issue facing ʻohana and especially kūpuna. These community groups, located on each island, quickly stepped up to provide prepared meals and local produce for their communities.
In addition, these service providers are working with Hawaiʻi small businesses and farmers to ensure that meals and the CSA include local products.
OHA is working for the lāhui and adapting to the changing times. We will continue to be strong champions for our ʻohana, community, moʻomeheu and ʻāina.
However, we must be vigilant and makaʻala as elected officials navigate their responses to this crisis. This is where the community comes in. We cannot let them neglect the kuleana they have to Native Hawaiians and Hawaiʻi. We need your voices. We need to pay attention.
Our people are strong and resilient. We have overcome hardships throughout our history. Like our ancestors before us, we must be steadfast, remain cautious, but never lose touch with our traditions, culture, and our spirit of aloha. Together, we will overcome this, as well.
He poʻi na kai uli, kai koʻo, ʻaʻohe hina pūkoʻa – Though the sea be deep and rough, the coral rock remains standing
Take care of yourselves and your ʻohana. Aloha kekahi i kekahi. Stay safe and healthy.
E mālama pono,
Colette Y. Machado Chair | Trustee Molokaʻi & Lānaʻi
Sylvia M. Hussey, Ed.D.