Gathering Places


Monday, February 11, 2002

The betrayal of OHA trustees
and the grab for power


As I sat in an Hawaiian Affairs hearing at the Legislature on Feb. 5, listening to testimony being given by Hawaiians for and against the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, I saw the very reasons why it has taken us so long, as a people, to unite.

Some people testified with no real purpose except to be heard and noticed, while others had selfish and personal reasons. Most disturbing were those who testified that the native Hawaiian trust was only for them, those of 50 percent or more blood quantum who reside on Hawaiian homestead lands -- a position taken by the State Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations, an organization created to represent Hawaiian homesteaders.

These people fail to recognize that there are more Hawaiians living off the homelands than there are who reside on the homesteads.

This attitude will only create a greater distance between all Hawaiians and those who feel that they have special rights to entitlements because of their blood quantum. If these attitudes prevail, it will be impossible for all Hawaiians to come together to form a nation.

One only need look at history to know that a divided nation cannot stand. It is disheartening to see that within OHA, some of us are willing to work no matter who is in the leadership, while others have refused to serve on committees.

This has been the case at OHA for the past 4 1/2 months. While some of us use our columns in the OHA newsletter to discuss positive programs and issues, some trustees continue to focus on negative things.

These same trustees now want to overturn the board leadership again after refusing to work for the past 4 1/2 months while collecting paychecks. These trustees are Haunani Apoliona, Colette Machado and Oswald Stender.

In early January, the board of trustees passed OHA's package of bills to be submitted to the Legislature. At the Feb. 5 hearing, Stender supported Sen. Fred Hemmings' bill that would destroy the OHA public trust and create a private trust with OHA's assets to be put in a trust account. This position is contrary to the position taken by the full board last month.

How can these actions be explained to our beneficiaries? Is the community right about the grab for power being more important than providing services for our beneficiaries? Are critics right about some trustees trying to destroy OHA from within?

During this important legislative meeting, Apoliona was seen passing a note to the committee clerk; seconds later Hemmings waved a paper in the air and said that according to a press release he had just received, the OHA board would reorganize itself on Feb. 13, and he suggested that the OHA bills being heard that day may need no further action.

Amazingly, no one noticed as Apoliona slipped quietly out of the room. Stunned by the announcement after sitting for almost five hours trying to explain and defend OHA's position on various bills, I was immediately descended upon by members of the news media to comment on Hemmings' announcement.

A sick feeling hovered over me. I tried to appear composed to answer the questions being asked while I thought about how this folly would be perceived by the general public, the trust beneficiaries and the Legislature.

Does this move make our whole organization look foolish? Yes.

Is the timing bad because of the legislative session ahead of us and the importance of unity is imperative? Yes.

Is there a good reason for the change in leadership, and if so, what is that reason? Did these five members of the board think about the public reaction to this action and the possible repercussions? It is obvious to me that these questions are of no importance to them.

We need not worry about the Twigg Smiths, Conklins, Baretts and Burgesses. We need only to look among ourselves to see those who lay in wait for just the right moment to deliver us up to our enemies.

I wonder what is the fate of our people with this kind of leadership, and will it take another century before any sovereign nation is formalized, and, in the meantime, what will become of Hawaiian entitlements as we know them?

Will there be anything left of the spoils in a hundred years after the Hawaiians have picked each other's bones clean?

Rowena Akana is an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee.

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