E Hana Kākou – Let’s Work Together for Hawaiian Charter Schools


Keli‘i Akina, Ph.D., Trustee, At-Large

Almost everyone in Hawai‘i knows the phrase E Pule Kākou – Let’s Pray Together. Whether at public or private gatherings, in church or in the marketplace, this phrase brings us together to seek the blessing of a higher power. What has always intrigued me about the saying is the word kākou, which means that when we pray, we do it together, including everyone. That includes you and me, and all people regardless of race, color, creed, gender, or political party. To me, that’s what makes Hawai‘i so great. It inspired me to coin the phrase E Hana Kākou – Let’s Work Together! This is more than a motto for organizations that I have led, it is my public service philosophy. Behind it is the belief that it’s time to stop dividing Hawai‘i’s people and start uniting!

When I first began talking about E Hana Kākou, a beloved kupuna asked me, “Keli‘i, don’t you mean laulima (cooperation) or kōkua (helping)?” I responded, “Yes, auntie, I definitely mean those things, but the word hana inspires us to do the actual work involved as we work together to build a better economy, government and society.”  Her eyes lit up and she gave me a bright smile.

Recently, there was a situation where the Hawaiian community was not working together, but instead was deeply divided. We at OHA had wrongly informed an organization that it would receive a significant contract award from OHA to administer grant funds for Hawaiian focused charter schools.  In reality, the Board of Trustees had never approved the award of the contract to this organization.  What erupted was a conflict that stirred emotions and caused hundreds of beneficiaries to write and call Trustees and give passionate testimony at our meetings.

I expressed my strong view that OHA owed an apology to everyone involved, from the stakeholders in our Hawaiian focused charter schools to the organization that was notified incorrectly that it would be given the grant.  In fact, that organization, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, had worked hard and played by the rules in its application process.

While many individuals involved in the conflict were outstanding models of dignity and courtesy, many others resorted to false accusations and even threats.  The conflict brought out the best and the worst of who we are as a people.  Ultimately, we found ourselves in a situation where no one was going to be completely happy with the outcome.

With the school year already upon us, the Board realized that something had to be done to immediately get funds to the charter school students. The Board then decided that OHA will send the money directly to each of the 17 charter schools involved, eliminating the need to choose one organization over another to distribute the funds.

I remember turning to my fellow Trustees and remarking that the solution will require of us the wisdom of Solomon.  It was at that point I felt proud of my colleagues on the Board as we all realized that in the end something united us and all Hawaiians, namely the welfare and education of our keiki. Like Solomon’s solution, this plan will not immediately please everyone, but it is what is best for the keiki.

Clearly, OHA owes our beneficiaries a sincere apology and a commitment to change our practices internally. 

It’s definitely time to stop dividing Hawaiians and start uniting!

E Hana Kākou!

Trustee Akina welcomes your feedback and always enjoys visiting or speaking to groups and organizations. To reach him, call (808) 594-1976 or TrusteeAkina@oha.org.