Akaka Bill's opponents don't understand Hawaiians' needs
AFTER ALL that has been said and written about S. 147, better known as the Akaka Bill, after the U.S. Senate vote to table the bill, I am compelled to add my two-cents' worth. Setting politics aside, I was most disappointed to hear speeches by senators opposing the bill articulating their reasons for opposition. It was disheartening to hear these supposedly intelligent leaders repeating rumors, untruths and manufactured "facts" to support their positions.
Adding to my disappointment and frustration were issues raised by Kaleihanamau Johnson in her column that ran on this page in the Star-Bulletin on June 11, followed by Ken Conklin's tirade that appeared in the Hawaii Reporter. Thurston Twigg-Smith's letter to the editor in the Honolulu Advertiser on June 15 added to my frustration.
With regard to Johnson's column, I would first like to point out that Hawaii is not Venezuela, and each represents its own distinct culture and form of governance. Having "well-to-do" parents, she probably never experienced being homeless or living in a dysfunctional family, living in poor conditions or having to depend on welfare to make a life for herself. Her lifestyle, her age and living in Venezuela for the past 10 years and sailing Polynesia hardly qualifies her to make judgments on the plight of our Hawaiian people.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is not hoarding its millions, as she believes; those dollars are affording OHA the ability to help more Hawaiians than we've been able to help in the past.
Conklin unequivocally states that the Akaka Bill will make the Hawaiians wards of the state and offers that non-Hawaiians know what is best for Hawaiians. Twigg-Smith continues to complain about OHA's choice to hire lobbyists to garner support for the Akaka Bill. As I have said time and again, the $1 million spent on lobbying for the Akaka Bill to save OHA's approximately $400 million and more is well worth every penny. OHA strongly believes that the Akaka Bill is for the benefit of all who live in Hawaii, not just Hawaiians. Perhaps Twigg-Smith would like to share with all of us how much he and the Honolulu Advertiser spent to lobby Congress to allow the now-dissolved merger between the Honolulu Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin.
Adding to my disappointment is that everyone keeps making our efforts to improve the quality of life for our Hawaiian people a racist issue. This is not a racist issue; this is a political issue.
My support for the Akaka Bill is that it would have given a measure of protection to the entitlements that benefit Hawaiians (i.e., federal funding for education, health, economic programs). Our Hawaiian organizations such as Kamehameha Schools, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Alu Like, Queen Lili'uokalani Trust and OHA also need a measure of protection because they offer programs that are important in reversing the poor social and economic conditions that plague Hawaiians.
Those who challenge these entitlements -- Burgess, Conklin, Twigg-Smith, Arakaki (and those just like them) -- say that these entitlements will make Hawaiians wards of the state. Well, they haven't been paying much attention because Hawaiians already are wards of the state. Hawaiians are ranked lowest on the scales of education and health; Hawaiians are ranked highest in substance abuse, welfare and imprisonment.
These entitlements have proven that many Hawaiians have become productive citizens of our state. I am one of the many who have educated and worked ourselves out of the dungeons of poverty. We could not have done it without these entitlements and programs. For every Hawaiian we rescue from the dungeons of poverty, we save the rest of Hawaii's population from the costs of supporting them as wards of our state.
I say again that this is not a racial issue but rather about the survival of a race -- the Hawaiian race.
About the author: Oswald Stender is an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee.