OHA’s New Board


Photo: Brendon Kalei'aina LeeI have been asked by beneficiaries what happens after the election to the positions on the Board of Trustees at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Let me see if I can break it down for you.

After the state election that takes place every two years, the BOT leadership is disbanded with the exception of the chairperson. The purpose for the chairperson remaining is that, while the board does not conduct any business until the new trustees are installed and take their oaths of office in December, the agency itself continues its work for the Native Hawaiian people. The chairperson must approve certain things for the CEO. Should the current chairperson not return to OHA, per the Trustee’s by-laws, the vice-chair becomes interim chairperson until the reorganization meeting of the BOT in December.

Why December you may ask? By state law, there is a two-week period for someone to challenge the results of an election. Every state handles this differently and we have seen this played out across the country. Also, given that Hawaiʻi has moved to an all mail-in election, it takes several weeks to validate all the ballots. So, the actual final results are not posted until almost the end of November. This year that date was November 23.

Here is where it will get interesting for a lot of our beneficiaries.

There is only one occasion that trustees can meet, up to four trustees, without notifying the public, and that is for the purpose of discussing board leadership reorganization. This has been going on in earnest by several sitting trustees and one of the candidates for months now.

Since the election, trustees have met in some form to discuss the reorganizing of the board as well as the two newly elected trustees. Make no mistake – it is political campaigning, and for some, it is about power. In 2018, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs was fortunate enough to have a strong board that was able to unanimously put into place board leadership that had the beneficiaries’ best interests in mind and not their own political gains. Sure, a few political concessions were made to make this happen, but safety measures were put in place, such as a strong vice-chair of a committee, or a seasoned trustee as the chair of a committee and an inexperienced trustee allowed to be vice-chair of that committee rather than chair it.

This year, however, is a different story. While there was a reorganizing of the governance of OHA, the BOT by-laws updated, and important policy work begun, the work is not complete. Absent a strong foundation, the hard work yet to be accomplished may be hampered – or not done at all. With all that Hawaiʻi has suffered this past year we need, more than ever, for OHA to address these policy issues.

Time will tell if OHA will become the endowment it can be and change the perception beneficiaries have of their Trustees.

Your new Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees leadership (subject to ratification):

  • Chair: Hulu Lindsey
  • Vice-Chair: Lei Ahu-Isa
  • Resource Management Chair: John Waiheʻe IV
  • Resource Management VC: Keliʻi Akina
  • Beneficiary Advocacy and Empowerment Chair: Kalei Akaka
  • Beneficiary Advocacy and Empowerment VC: Luana Alapa

I encourage beneficiaries to let OHA hear their manaʻo at the BOT meeting on Dec. 10, 2020. Testimony can be submitted via email at BOTmeetings@oha.org or by attending virtually.