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Friday, January 12, 2001

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OHA trustees hope
to create ‘haven’ for
native Hawaiians

By Pat Omandam

Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Colette Machado has "terrible memories" of the downtown post office building and former federal building.

In the early 1970s, she watched as Kahoolawe protesters were prosecuted in its courtrooms for their activism.

But the Molokai trustee said the historic building could serve as a pu'uhonua, or haven, for Hawaiians, especially during these tumultuous times when native rights are being challenged.

"You need to start building a sense of safekeeping or haven where people might feel safe in the everyday turmoil, tormented by everyday issues and day-to-day struggles," she said.

"And, you know, possession of a property that has ownership to a Hawaiian entity goes a long way when you have nothing."

The OHA board continues to discuss purchase of the post office building. The interim OHA board started work on the proposal after a developer failed to build a shopping center/restaurant complex.

While no action was taken at yesterday's board meeting, OHA Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said she'll discuss with her committee chairpersons how they should handle the proposal.

So far, the purchase is being supported by former Lt. Gov. Jean King and retired City Clerk Ray Pua. Both told trustees yesterday not to act in haste and to look for ways to get federal funding for the renovation.

King envisions the building as a home-based Hawaiian center, where various Hawaiian agencies could sublease office space from OHA. She urged the board to form a committee to take a hard look at the cost to buy the building.

Pua said it is significant that OHA's headquarters be on Palace Square, next to Aliiolani Hale, the Territorial Building and across from Iolani Palace because these sites serve as monuments to the Hawaiian kingdom.

He said OHA should vigorously negotiate for a much lower purchase price and the U.S. Postal Service, the building's owner, should be responsible for removing any asbestos before putting the building up for sale.

"There is a vacant gap on Palace Square," Pua said. "I believe this gap was meant for the return of our people as a new sovereign body to once again stand proudly representing our new Hawaiian nation."

Trustees Rowena Akana and John Waihee IV have publicly stated their opposition to the idea, while trustees Clayton Hee and Charles Ota, former interim trustees, favor it.

Despite a price tag of possibly $100 million to buy and renovate, trustee Linda Dela Cruz believes the building is worth it.

"We would have some place for us Hawaiians to congregate, to talk about and we would own it," Dela Cruz said.

Trustee Oz Stender said he urged OHA 20 years ago to acquire its own property and said the post office is among half a dozen sites in downtown that could serve as OHA headquarters. Initially discouraged at the idea, he thinks the plan is worth pursuit if outside funds can be found to renovate the building.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs

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