By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Kali Watson yesterday joined the OHA team negotiating
with the state over ceded-lands revenues. He is the former
head of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
to resume Friday
OHA trustees say they'reBy Pat Omandam
ready to meet with the state's
team every week until a
settlement is reached
Negotiators at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs say they are ready to meet every Friday until an agreement is reached on what the agency is owed in ceded land revenues.
But one OHA trustee, however, complained that such actions by OHA's new leadership come too late to show any urgency before the Hawaii Supreme Court, which last week publicly scolded the state and OHA for dragging their feet in the talks.
OHA Chairwoman Rowena Akana yesterday said formal talks will resume Friday, more than two months after the last face-to-face meeting Oct. 30.
The OHA negotiation team has reviewed the financial data of the state's 1.8 million acres of ceded lands, but are not saying what lands may be part of any proposed settlement. Still, OHA is ready to meet with state negotiators every Friday until the issue is resolved, Akana said.
Akana said OHA has been eager to resume negotiations. For example, trustee Mililani Trask last month wrote Gov. Ben Cayetano and urged him to move forward with his team, she said.
Nevertheless, trustee Haunani Apoliona told Akana and OHA Vice Chairwoman Hannah Springer she finds it unacceptable they did not seize the opportunity to promptly resume negotiations after the OHA reorganization in late November, an issue raised by Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert G. Klein during last week's court appearance.
The lack of action, Apoliona said yesterday, means OHA "missed the boat" in being perceived as the leader in the negotiations. Instead, it has been cast with the state as having no sense of shared urgency to resolve the issue outside of court, raising the specter of mediation.
"Therefore, by default, the court may now place the process into the hands of a third-party mediator and forgo any more opportunity to allow OHA and the state to deal directly without someone in the middle," Apoliona said.
Meanwhile, joining OHA's negotiation team yesterday was Kali Watson, former director of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
Akana said Watson is one of the Hawaiian community's most distinguished and dedicated leaders, whose three years in charge of the Hawaiian Homes program has put more Hawaiians on homesteads than anyone before him in the same span of time.
"Kali knows what is important to Hawaiians, and he knows the value of land to our people," said Akana, who added that his value will not go unappreciated by trustees.
Watson praised the diverse OHA board, saying the experience of the nine trustees makes it the best board in the history of OHA. He has given a one-year commitment to OHA as its staff attorney, and will also provide legal support for its negotiation team.
Although Watson has had differences with Cayetano on priorities for the Hawaiian Home Lands program, he said their relationship will not hinder the talks.
"I think what's at hand is a mutual searching for a solution that will not only benefit the Hawaiian people, but would be something that the community can live with and accept," Watson said.
OHA Ceded Lands Ruling