Kānaka Influence

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Photo: Brendon Kalei'aina Lee

Never before have Native Hawaiian voices been so prominently poised in Washington, D.C.

Once again, we have a Kanaka Maoli in the halls of Congress with Rep. Kai Kahele, but now we also have many other Kānaka voices in places of influence. President Joe Biden has made it clear that his administration is, at the very least, willing to hear the voices of the Indigenous peoples of this country and in doing so, is making sure Native Hawaiians have a seat at that table.

With the appointment of Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo as the Secretary of the Interior, native voices are now in positions to effect real change. Following up on this appointment, President Biden’s administration appointed Krystal Kaʻai as executive director of the newly created White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.

The list of Kānaka Maoli continues, including: Kaʻiʻini Kaloʻi as director of the Office of Native Hawaiian Relations, U.S. Department of the Interior; Keone Nākoa, deputy assistant secretary for Insular and International Affairs; and most recently, Summer Sylva as the newly created senior advisor for Native Hawaiian Affairs at the Department of the Interior.

To follow up on these appointments, Kūhiō Lewis, CEO for the Council of Native Hawaiian Advancement, was asked to attend a meeting at the White House and brief President Biden on Native Hawaiian issues.

With all of these voices advocating for Native Hawaiians, and the efforts of Hawaiʻi’s Congressional Delegation, $2.275 billion was secured from the $1 trillion bipartisan build back better bill.

Papa Ola Lōkahi and the Native Hawaiian Health Care system statewide will be receiving $50 million. Another $50 million will go to climate resiliency and adaptation activities that serve the Native Hawaiian community. And $60 million will go the Department of Hawaiian Homelands to provide high-speed internet access to more Native Hawaiian families.

Although the rest for the funds do not address Native Hawaiians directly, many of these projects will take place on Public Land Trust lands and in Native Hawaiian communities, especially in rural areas around the pae ʻāina.

There will be $1.2 billion allocated to address reconstruction, resurfacing and rehabilitation of our highways – which I am sure everyone would all agree is sorely needed and was highlighted after last month’s Kona low passed through the state with torrential downpours that tore up our already pothole-filled roads. Another $339 million will go to bridge replacement and repairs; $246 million will go to infrastructure development for our airports; $312 million will go to improve public transportation options across the state; and another $18 million will support the expansion of an electric vehicle charging network.

After proving their capacity to scale-up and support both government, private, and nonprofit organizations to distribute and deploy funds across the pae ʻāina, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement is well-positioned to support these efforts from Washington, D.C., and help to best be the conduit for these funds to better all of our lives here in Hawaiʻi.