An Eventful First Year in Office

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Keoni Souza: Trustee At-Large

Aloha mai kākou. I hope this message finds you well. As I reflect on my first year serving as an OHA Trustee, I am excited to share some updates with you.

Throughout the past year, my staff and I have had the opportunity to visit your communities and attend site visits to many of the organizations supported by OHA. We visited each island, formally and independently, to hear and understand the community’s concerns and celebrations.

Your voice is crucial in these community meetings. They provide a great opportunity for you to present testimony, express concerns, celebrations, or suggestions directly to OHA. Face-to-face meetings with the community are vital, fostering collaboration among Trustees for success and a positive impact on our beneficiaries.

Photo: Chris West, ʻIlima-Lei Macfarlane, Trustee Keoni Souza, and Kūhiō Lewis
At CNHA’s Native Hawaiian Convention on Maui in November. (L-R) Chris West, ʻIlima-Lei Macfarlane, Trustee Keoni Souza, and Kūhiō Lewis. – Photo: ʻIlima Long

The Board of Trustees has chosen me as your commissioner to represent the OHA seat on the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC), committed to the restoration of the island and its surrounding waters. I’ve had the privilege of visiting Kahoʻolawe twice before – once with Kamehameha Schools and once with the University of Hawaiʻi, accompanying my wife, Mahina, who was hāpai with our first born at the time.

These two transformative experiences, working in both Hakioawa and Honokanaiʻa, have fueled my commitment and as the new commissioner, I am dedicated to being a passionate advocate for the ongoing cleanup and restoration efforts.

The KIRC Team successfully secured funding to support the preservation of the island and they are currently repairing the essential boat for transporting supplies and personnel to the Kahoʻolawe Reserve. They’ve also conducted safety training to ensure the safe removal of land debris and maintain individual safety regarding unexploded ordnance. Additionally, their focus includes revitalizing native plants and preserving natural habitats in and around Kahoʻolawe’s waters, including its marine ecosystem.

Lastly, we are committed to safeguarding and preserving iwi kūpuna and historical sites on the island. If you’re interested in contributing to any of these efforts, KIRC always needs volunteers for ongoing projects. Visit KIRC’s website for more information. Excitingly, the KIRC educational facility and office on Maui will break ground in 2024, serving educational, administrative, exhibition, and operational functions for Kahoʻolawe.

Also, this year I’ve dedicated my time to chairing the Ad Hoc Committee on Cultural Protocols and Practices. I’m eager to share our progress and future initiatives at the upcoming board meeting on Dec. 7, 2023. One notable event that we are gearing up for is the “Festival of the Pacific” in June 2024, featuring attendees from around the Pacific hosted in Hawaiʻi, fostering a meaningful cultural exchange.

It has indeed been an eventful first year in office. My commitment to equality and fairness in the boardroom, meaningful conversations, along with the encouragement of new ideas, has been a priority. Looking ahead to 2024, I am excited about learning more from each of you to make informed decisions for our people during board meetings.

In closing, I extend a heartfelt mahalo to our Ka Pouhana Kūikawā, Colin Kippen, for his invaluable guidance and support throughout the past few months. As we welcome Stacy Ferreira, our new Ka Pouhana, may her leadership inspire a future marked by collaboration and progress for us all.