The Aug 8, 2023, Maui wildfires have impacted hundreds of beneficiaries and changed the lives of our Maui community.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) has been on the ground on Maui from the beginning, with an OHA team working very long days to bring aid directly to those who have lost their loved ones, lost their homes, and lost their businesses. Hundreds have lost their jobs and have been left with no source of income, while still in shock from the tragedy.
OHA’s Board of Trustees has dedicated $5 million in aid to beneficiaries. In cooperation with Native Hawaiian leaders on Maui, OHA trustees are currently assessing the needs of beneficiaries to ensure that these funds provide the greatest assistance possible.
On Oʻahu, OHA has made our warehouse at Hakuone available as a distribution site for much needed donated supplies. OHA also assisted charitable nonprofit Global Empowerment Mission (GEM) by providing office space and reached out to hundreds left houseless by the fires. More than $2 million in GEM-issued Airbnb short-term housing vouchers and gift cards were provided to 420 families.
I humbly share this to fully appreciate OHA’s unique role as the only organization led by democratically elected officials and charged with fulfilling the sacred trust of ensuring the wellbeing of Native Hawaiians.
We applaud the efforts of other organizations doing good work and which have been much in the news. This is not a recommendation to compete, but to collaborate and build alliances with those working toward similar ends – but who lack OHA’s unique mandate.
This is not a recommendation to pursue media coverage for its own sake, but for the sake of educating the public. This is critical to ensuring that there is a clear understanding of, and support for, OHA as it moves forward to fulfill its mission of delivering concrete benefits to its beneficiaries.
Without that visibility and understanding, it will be very hard to rally the lāhui to become more civically engaged, more attentive to politics, and to understand its kuleana to vote for leaders who will honor the rights of Native Hawaiians as enshrined in the state constitution. Too often we have seen those rights being given short shrift. OHA’s beneficiaries must see that OHA is leaving no stone unturned to protect their rights and deliver what they need to thrive in their native land.
There is much to do. The need to make sure OHA is seen and heard in the public square has been made more urgent by the public preoccupation with the Maui tragedy and the clamor for anything that can reduce the pain it has inflicted on so many. There is a great deal of distrust of the usual structures of power. OHA’s visibility and positive standing with the public will be essential in moving forward to fulfill its mandate.
At our quarterly meeting of Maui Hawaiian Organizations this week, it was heartwarming for me to share space with these leaders and to hear about the different grassroots efforts to support our Lahaina community.
Common sentiments shared included the need for the community to be given space and time to grieve over what has happened and to allow them to determine how we move forward.
We also need to hoʻolohe. We need to stop focusing on what we think needs to be done and listen. Listen to our community and their leaders. Let them tell us what they need and how to help. And we must pace ourselves so that we can be there for the long haul.