Ka Wai Ola

The 27th Annual Native Hawaiian Convention, hosted by the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, was held at the Prince Waikīkī on October 8 through October 10. With a reduced registration fee, a record number of people – more than 650 – were able to attend and participate.

I had the opportunity to kick the convention off as one of the very first speakers during the opening plenary. I shared news of the good work that OHA continues to do in our communities statewide. I then educated attendees about the continued shortchanging of Native Hawaiians by the state with the underpayments from Public Land Trust revenues. State law provides that 20 percent of PLT revenues are for Native Hawaiians. However, recent state data indicates that 20 percent of PLT revenues is $35 million a year, far more than the current $15.1 million OHA currently receives annually. When I asked the convention attendees if they felt this was just or unjust, they unanimously agreed with a loud, “unjust!” OHA will continue in advocacy efforts with the Governor and Legislature to increase OHA’s share of PLT revenues. This is long overdue. Having the community fight alongside us to make this happen will be crucial.

I was honored that OHA received the 2018 Native Hawaiian Housing Award from Hawaiian Community Assets and CNHA during the convention in recognition of OHA’s long-term commitment to addressing the housing needs of the Native Hawaiian community. While I am proud that OHA supports housing and housing stability programs for Native Hawaiians, I understand that much more needs to be done. One of the highest priorities for our beneficiaries is to be able to live and raise their ‘ohana at home in Hawai‘i, and I am grateful that OHA can contribute to making that a reality.

Another favorite part of the convention was the luncheon commemorating the 100th anniversary of the first Hawaiian Civic Club, established by Prince Kūhiō. Prince Kūhiō himself was recognized during a plenary session called “Cigars and Smiles: The Exemplary Life and Accomplishments of Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana‘ole.” Prince Kūhiō’s ability to navigate Congress as Hawai‘i‘s non-voting territorial delegate, and to achieve legislative success with the passage of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, is an unrivaled feat, especially if you consider that this was all done nearly a century ago.

Listening to Julie Kitka, President of the Alaska Federation of Natives, talk about the relationship Alaska Natives have with their Alaska lawmakers was especially encouraging and motivating. Alaska Natives are a major voting block and important constituency for Alaska lawmakers at the state and federal levels. This is political capital that Native Hawaiians are missing out on. If you consider our history, we have been states for the same amount of time. Yet, Alaska Natives carry more political influence in their state than Native Hawaiians do here in Hawai‘i.

I have emphasized this before, but now that the general election is upon us, Native Hawaiians need to get out and be informed voters. We need our lawmakers to realize that we are an important constituency that all lawmakers turn to for decision-making. We need to make our voices heard, and there is a great opportunity for us to do this at the polls.

Ke Au Hawai‘i is not just a recognition of a single year, but rather a time period, a new dawning, for us as Native Hawaiians. We celebrate the accomplishments we have had so far, but we should not lose sight of the horizon for where we need to go to holo imua and continue to thrive as a lāhui.