Makaʻala for the OHA Election


Photo: Brendon Kalei'aina Lee

With the primary election upon us it is a good time to remind everyone of the importance of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections. Most Hawaiʻi residents are unaware that they can vote for candidates in this race or feel uneasy casting their vote because they feel it is a “Hawaiian” issue and not theirs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In 2018, of all the ballots cast in the primary, over 300,000 left the OHA races blank. With some of the OHA races being decided by less than 10,000 votes, you can see how important these numbers are.

Not included among the number of blank ballots are those who believe Native Hawaiians are not entitled to any rights; these people actively campaign against Hawaiians and continuously file lawsuits, not just against OHA, but against all Native Hawaiian rights.

These groups campaign for their followers to vote in the OHA elections and support candidates who actively work to force OHA to spend revenue from the Native Hawaiian Trust on redundant audits and frivolous lawsuit defenses, rather than on its mission to better the condition of Native Hawaiians. These right-wing ultraconservatives believe that any Native Hawaiian program is an illegal and unconstitutional race-based program that must be shut down or be opened to all State of Hawaiʻi citizens.

The most influential of these groups here in Hawaiʻi is the Grass Roots Institute. This nonprofit was founded by, and receives significant funding from, no less than three right-wing ultraconservative organizations on the continent, either with ties to – or were themselves founded by – the Koch brothers. (Donors Trust, Donors Capital Fund, Cato Institute {})

Grass Roots financed a 2015 lawsuit against OHA, then went on to actively campaign to remove Trustee Haunani Apoliona by publishing half-truths about the Board of Trustee’s dealings saying that OHA needed to be held “accountable.” How, exactly, is OHA not being held accountable? OHA is audited every two years, just like any other state agency, and publishes an annual financial self-audit. Misleading the public into thinking that OHA is reckless and fraudulent is how Grass Roots was able to get those who would seek to further diminish Native Hawaiian rights to vote in the OHA race and start to tear the agency down from within.

Having been successful in 2016, they seek to boost their influence and try to complete the task of dismantling all Native Hawaiian rights. There is a coalition running for multiple trustee seats in 2020. If they are successful, we should all be worried about what is to come: efforts to erode native gathering rights, water rights, iwi kūpuna protections, zoning laws to protect cultural and historical practitioners and sites, and so on. As well as the continuous assault on the Native Hawaiian Trust.

The $400 million dollars, hard fought for by former trustees, is just a drop in the bucket of what is owed to Hawaiians after more than two centuries of injustice. We desperately need to help our people with housing, education, health care and economic development. We cannot afford to have these monies actively whittled away by those who believe Native Hawaiians are not entitled to anything despite having our lands stolen.

We need to makaʻala!!! Do your research about the candidates; who they support and who supports them. More importantly, reach out to your friends. Let them know that Hawaiians need their support and help. Tell them to cast their vote in the OHA race and help educate them about the candidates. I promise you, those who would stand against Native Hawaiians are voting.