Originally published as an OpEd that appeared in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on October 9, 2022.
It is common knowledge that the state has been seriously delinquent on its debt to the Hawaiian people for their ceded lands. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) specifically had waited for years for its share of income and proceeds from the public lands trust as provided for under the state Constitution.
Finally in 2012, the state offered a payment of $200 million. The state proposed to discharge this debt by turning over 30 acres within Kakaʻako Makai to OHA. This was progress, albeit limited, and OHA accepted the 30 acres of land. The deal was predicated on the expectation that these lands could be developed to realize the $200 million.
This would create sustainable and continuous income, thereby growing the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund and providing an economic engine benefiting our people for generations to come. That income would expand the ability to fund OHA’s mission: the betterment of the conditions of Native Hawaiian people in education, health, housing and economic development, in strengthening our ‘ohana, mo‘omeheu and ‘āina (land and water).
Since becoming chair of the board at OHA, it has become increasingly clear to me that we need to take stock and consider the best way to move forward and make up for lost time while ensuring that what we do is consistent with what the community expects and wants.
To that end we have assembled a Hawaiian-led, in-house team of advisors to revisit the Kakaʻako Makai land parcels, assess its merits and challenges, and perform extensive due diligence and meticulous financial analysis. That will put the OHA board in a better position to understand what we do next.
In the spirit of keeping our options open, we are currently revisiting the restriction on residential development of the Kakaako Makai parcels of land. While no decision has been made regarding residential development, the restriction on what OHA is permitted to build is glaring when across the street other developers have been allowed to build properties that yield the kind of profits that would go a long way toward OHA being able to meet the needs of our beneficiaries.
Whether and where and how OHA develops the lands under its purview remains under discussion as we gather more data and input. To that end, our team is overseeing a series of virtual and in-person community meetings, focus groups and polling over the next few weeks to better understand the hopes and aspirations of the Hawaiian people who have waited patiently for a very long time to see justice done relative to the seizure of their “ceded” lands.
OHA is also committed to listening to what the broader community has to say. We hope and believe that our thoughtful, data-driven and community-based approach to doing what is pono for our beneficiaries will engage the public’s attention and win their understanding and support. Stay tuned!