It is Time for the State to do What is Pono

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Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey, Trustee, Maui

In order to understand OHA’s push to have the state do what is pono in meeting its financial obligations to Native Hawaiians set forth under the Admission Act, the Constitution of the State of Hawaiʻi, and state law, we must start with the forcible overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi by the United States.

Imagine someone (i.e., the United States) forcibly entering and taking control of your home, your property, and your government.

Years later, after your property was passed from one wrongdoer (i.e., the “provisional government” assisted by the United States) to another wrongdoer (i.e., the United States), and then finally to another wrongdoer (i.e., the State of Hawaiʻi), and that wrongdoer then passes a law stipulating that you are to receive 20% of the income and proceeds from the land you previously owned in full.

Imagine further that of the 20% of revenue that you were promised by state law, you actually received less than 4% of what is owed to you from the state on a yearly basis.

Then, finally, imagine that the United States apologizes to you (i.e., Native Hawaiians) for the historical wrongs it committed. Meanwhile, the state continues for nearly three decades to shirk its responsibilities to Native Hawaiians, choosing delay and inaction rather than fulfillment of its constitutional and legal obligations.

The horror is that these “imaginings” are the present situation facing Native Hawaiians.

This is not pono, and OHA has introduced legislation calling out this unfairness and holding the State to account for and live up to its obligations. The state generates about $394 million dollars each year in public land trust revenues, of which Native Hawaiians are entitled to 20% ($78.9 million annually), not the $15.1 million per year now being paid by the state. Over the last 10 years, the cumulative amount that Hawaiians have been underpaid amounts to $638 million.

OHA’s mission is to “better the conditions of Hawaiians” and we do this through the grants, programs, and services we provide directly to Native Hawaiians and indirectly through funding our community partners. The amount of money we are able to provide to our beneficiaries is tied directly to the amount of Public Land Trust (PLT) revenues OHA receives from the state.

A look at the aggregate picture of the wellbeing of Native Hawaiians painted by annual statistics shows that Native Hawaiians are in need of more housing, more education, more health services, and more economic programs at a disproportionally higher rate than any other group in Hawaiʻi, a direct result of the trauma Hawaiians have collectively suffered by the overthrow of the Hawaiian government and the resulting marginalization of the Hawaiian people that occurred in the aftermath.

When I reflect on all of the Native Hawaiians who are struggling to keep a roof over their head, who are struggling to financially survive in Hawaiʻi, and who are struggling to remain in their homelands rather than leaving to live on the mainland, it makes me sick to my stomach.

Last year OHA pumped 100% of the $15.1 million it received in Public Land Trust revenues from the state into programs assisting Native Hawaiians. Imagine what might be possible if we were to receive all of the funds we are actually owed by the state?

In order to fulfill its constitutional obligation to its Native Hawaiian beneficiaries, OHA requires payment of the Public Land Trust funds it is owed. It is time for the State of Hawaiʻi to do what is pono.