Taking Pride in Our Culture and Addressing the Need for Affordable Housing

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Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey, Trustee, Maui

As many of you now know, OHA’s plans for Hakuone include a Hawaiian Cultural Center. We think it’s time that the Native people of these islands have a place to showcase their treasured expressions of culture in mele, dance, design, painting, sculpture and other creative expressions of art – as well as our spectacular voyaging success.

Isn’t it ironic that the Japanese, the Filipinos, the Okinawans, the Chinese and others can point to their community and cultural centers, but Hawaiians cannot? Yes, we greet arrivals with lei and we entertain them with hula to keep tourists happy. But where do locals look to as the signature place for authentic Hawaiian culture that they can point to and visit with their families?

It is our dream to address that lack by creating a Hawaiian Cultural Center as the jewel of Hakuone. A place where our cultural practitioners can demonstrate what they have to offer, not just for tourists to gawk at, but for our community to take pride in. We reject being defined by the legacy of being a colonized people that includes over-representation in indices of crime, poverty and illness.

One of the things that saddens me every time I return from a trip is driving past our ever-growing houseless population. The overloaded shopping carts, the tent encampments, the people begging at the traffic lights, breaks my heart. Our sit-lie bans and so-called clean-up efforts simply result in the relocation of the houseless from one neighborhood to another. We can do better. We must do better.

And too many of our beneficiaries are among that houseless population.

Kūpuna make up nearly half of Hawaiʻi’s houseless population. Oʻahu has the highest number of houseless persons – nearly 4,000. Oʻahu also has the greatest per capita homeless population: 49 homeless per 10,000 residents.

I agree with Samar Jha, the American Association of Retired Persons’ (AARP) national government affairs director who visited Hawaiʻi in Nov. 2022 to present research findings at an affordable housing conference. He pointed out that “we need to address the housing problem through various legislative remedies, including increasing housing supply and options, zoning reforms, and funding affordable housing.”

OHA’s bill before the legislature this year once again called for lawmakers to lift the discriminatory legislation that keeps Hawaiians from building on Hawaiian land – the nine parcels given to OHA in partial settlement of the long overdue share of ceded land revenues for which the state had been delinquent.

OHA’s land constitutes just 14% of Kakaʻako Makai’s 221 acres. All OHA wants is the freedom to build three towers with homes that are truly affordable for working families.

In her essay, “Unearthing ʻAuwai and Urban Histories in Kakaʻako” in Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawaiʻi, Tina Grandinetti writes that the Hawaiʻi Community Development Authority (HCDA)’s 1982 Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) reflect the decision to put profit above community need.

HCDA’s EIS noted that “New Kakaʻako residents are expected to be predominantly Caucasian and Japanese…Because they tend to have lower incomes, part-Hawaiians, Filipinos, and most other ethnic groups are not expected to be represented in proportion to their share of Oʻahu’s population.”

Translation: Kānaka Maoli and working-class families are undesirable.

We take the opposite view. We pray, as Kahu Ken Makuakāne citing the prophet Amos said in a recent OpEd, that “justice will indeed roll down like a river.”

We pray to be freed from the restrictions that keep OHA from making a modest contribution to creating a neighborhood where Hawaiians and others can indeed live, work and play.