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OHA leaders confident Akaka Bill will be approved soon


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POSTED: Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is “;fine-tuning”; itself and its mission amid tight economic conditions and the potentially historic passage of federal legislation to recognize a native Hawaiian governing entity.

Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona outlined the agency's strategic vision for the immediate future yesterday in the seventh “;State of OHA”; address at St. Andrew's Cathedral.

After working the last nine years on passage of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, better known as the Akaka Bill, OHA heads into 2010 with expectations of finally seeing the bill signed by President Barack Obama.

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With Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress and a previous declaration of support from the president, Apoliona said the agency will work with the native Hawaiian community to build readiness for “;when”; the bill passes.

“;When enacted, it will be up to all native Hawaiians, whether residing in or outside Hawaii, to ensure the enabling process is one that includes all native Hawaiians who wish to participate,”; Apoliona said.

OHA Administrator Clyde Namuo said he expects the U.S. Senate to take up the matter early next year, with a vote by late January or February. The bill still would require approval from the House, which passed a similar version of the legislation last year.

“;I think right now it's an issue of fine-tuning language,”; Namuo said.

He said communities and organizations will have to cooperate on implementing the bill.

“;I think, given the fact that the bill probably will not include an appropriation, the only way that that issue could move forward is through agencies, such as OHA, coming up with some resource to move it ahead,”; he said.

Apoliona also spoke of the agency's new strategic plan for the next six years.

OHA announced the plan in September, saying it would focus on improving six areas for Hawaiians: education, health, culture, governance, economic self-sufficiency, and land and water.

The plan eliminates 28 of 178 positions, including 16 vacant positions, and saves about $500,000 a year. Namuo already has selected a chief operating officer and four business directors. The restructuring is expected to be completed by January.