The Real OHA

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Photo: Brendon Kalei'aina Lee

When our beneficiaries think of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs the first person they usually think of is one of the nine (9) Trustees or the head of the organization, the CEO. The person most beneficiaries interact with though, is one of front desk staff members, Annie Kauhane and Danielle M. These wāhine are the real life-blood of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

I took some time today to have a conversation with the two of them about what they thought I should write about in this month’s Ka Wai Ola. I asked them, “if there was any one thing you could ask a Trustee about what would it be, anything.”

They proceeded to tell me story after story of phone calls, emails and letters they received and the questions that beneficiaries are asking. I expected this, and to be honest that is why I went to them. I hoped that because they get all the incoming phone calls to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs they might have some insight into topics of interest for my Trustee column this month. What I did not expect was how they handled these questions from beneficiaries. I listened to how they took the time to explain to a beneficiary that Trustees do not make hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary. I heard about the discussion they had over the phone about how the Hae Hawaiʻi is not the “real” Hawaiian flag. I learned of a beneficiary who was upset that the Trustees will not give her money and she is entitled to this money because she is Hawaiian. Or the concerned citizen who wanted to speak with the “Kānaka Maoli, you know the original people of this land”. This whole conversation took place as I watched them sort dozens of pieces of mail. Some addressed to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, some to Ka Wai Ola, some to individual employees or departments.

Trustees in the past have written many articles about beneficiaries whom they believe have contributed to the Lāhui. I am highlighting these wāhine for their invaluable dedication and contribution to the Lāhui. The two of them collectively have the real pulse of what our beneficiaries are concerned about because they speak to them every single day, from how to apply for emergency funds after the lava flow, floods and fires last year, to where do they get grant information. The Lāhui, in many ways, speaks to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs through these two wāhine. For all you do for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and for the Lāhui, mahalo Annie and Danielle.