Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, June 17, 1999

OHA leader
describes her goals

NOT everything has gone Rowena Akana's way lately. By 5-4, her fellow Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees voted to go back to court rather than negotiate any longer with Governor Cayetano over how much OHA should receive from state lands once held by the Hawaiian monarchy.

She and trustees Hannah Springer, Clayton Hee and Moses Keale thought a deal still was reachable. The others decided to tell the state Supreme Court, which encouraged negotiations, that this avenue is at a dead end.

OHA logo OHA further scored only one victory against 17 defeats on bills before the 1999 Legislature. House Speaker Calvin Say must have meant it when he said in January that OHA in its outspokenness must not be allowed to be the tail that wags the dog. Free University of Hawaii tuition for Hawaiians was among the casualties.

Is Akana downhearted or uneasy in her OHA chairwomanship? When I called at her office last week she seemed anything but as we ran through an agenda of other formidable challenges ahead. She had clear visions on all of them.

Bullet The "Rice" challenge to OHA's very foundations, scheduled for fall argument before the U.S. Supreme Court:

Rancher Freddy Rice's claim that he should be allowed to vote in OHA elections even though he has no Hawaiian blood is supported by national opponents of affirmative action. They see OHA's Hawaiians-only elections as discrimination based on race.

Akana went to Washington for briefings with OHA's defenders. She raises the counterargument that OHA deals with indigenous Americans, comparable to Indians and Eskimos, and is a meritorious effort to save an endangered culture. Two lower courts had a similar belief. Hawaii voters ratified OHA as a state constitutional agency for Hawaiians in 1978.

Bullet The former crown lands:

Akana says that once OHA reaches a settlement with the state over these land revenues its elections can be OHA-funded rather than state-funded. She is feisty about the settlement and calls Cayetano one of the most misinformed individuals in the state where Hawaiian affairs are concerned. His idea of a "global settlement" ruling out further litigation is popular with me but not with OHA.

Bullet Developing a consensus Hawaiian opinion on what is really meant by "sovereignty":

An OHA-funded puwalu, or coming-together discussion open to all, is planned for October. Factions with divergent views are expected to attend five days of ceremony, talks by distinguished speakers and discussions at the Neal Blaisdell Center.

Bullet Changing blood quantum requirements:

OHA and the Hawaiian Homes program are hobbled by laws limiting major benefits to people with 50 percent Hawaiian blood. Akana says 50 percent is an outmoded 1920 rule lobbied through Congress into the Hawaiian Homes Act by sugar and pineapple moguls who wanted to keep the program limited.

Akana has 25 percent Hawaiian blood. She would wipe out blood quantum requirements.

Public records, after all, are fuzzy at best. Birth certificates record only whatever parents say about ethnicity. I know parents who casually made different reports for different siblings and then were told no change is permitted.

Bullet More money to improve health:

Hawaiians have the poorest health results of any ethnic group in the state. Akana has been talking with the state's major health providers about OHA-funded insurance supplements for special Hawaiian needs.

January '97
OHA Ceded Lands Ruling

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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