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New Hawaiian Affairs trustee foiled Native Hawaiian election

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / 2015

    Kelii Akina

The man who thwarted an effort to hold an election for Native Hawaiians is the newest trustee of the public agency that provided $2.6 million for the failed self-governance vote.

Kelii Akina was elected in November as an at-large Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, unseating Haunani Apoliona, who was a trustee since 1996.

Akina’s win came as a shock to some in the Native Hawaiian community who wonder if his views are consistent with the office’s aim to improve Native Hawaiians’ wellbeing.

“I’m a little concerned because of his rhetoric during the campaign,” said Oz Stender, a Bishop Estate trustee in the 1990s and an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee from 2000 to 2014. “The money that OHA gets to carry on its programs to better the lives of Hawaiians, he says should be used for everybody and not only Hawaiians.”

Akina’s campaign slogan was “OHA for everyone.” His campaign material quoted from the 1840 Hawaiian Kingdom constitution: “God hath made one blood of all nations to dwell on the earth, in unity and blessedness.”

Akina, a 1976 graduate of Kamehameha Schools, said his views on Hawaiian issues are often misunderstood. People interpreted his slogan in their own ways, he said, adding that he will protect “foundational Hawaiian entitlements as secured by law,” including Hawaiian Homelands and ceded lands trusts.

He believes OHA’s role in helping Hawaiians embrace self-determination should be limited.

That was the premise of a lawsuit he and a group of Native Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians filed to stop an election for Native Hawaiians that was to select delegates for a constitutional convention. Their challenge reached the U.S. Supreme Court and prompted organizers to call off the election and send all candidates to the gathering. Lawyers for the plaintiffs withdrew the lawsuit in October.

Akina said the lawsuit doesn’t speak for his thoughts on self-determination for Native Hawaiians. “So long as public funds are not being used, I encourage all fellow Native Hawaiians to take part as they choose in the process of self-determinism, a right … afforded them by the First Amendment of the Constitution,” he said.

Akina is mostly known for his role as president of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, a public policy think-tank. Before entering Kamehameha in the 7th grade, Akina started his education at Wahiawa Elementary, where his first-grade teacher thought he spoke too much Pidgin. His Chinese-Hawaiian mother put a stop to his Pidgin, yet he still easily slips into the language when talking to a fellow Pidgin speaker.

“It’s part of our culture,” he said, adding Pidgin allows Hawaii speakers to communicate with each other with a unique “warmth.”

After graduating from Northwestern University, Akina spent the early ’80s living on the Waianae Coast while doing educational outreach for Youth For Christ.

He supports the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope project. “Losing the TMT will harm Native Hawaiians,” he said.

As trustee, his first priority will be fiscal sustainability, he said.

Even before he was sworn in as trustee, the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs adopted a resolution expressing concern over Akina’s position with Grassroot Institute. The resolution calls on him to resign from Grassroot Institute or decline the trusteeship to eliminate any perception of a conflict of interest.

In a written response to the group, Akina said there’s no conflict and that the OHA administration hasn’t taken issue with it. “The Grassroot board’s decision to appoint me as president and to affirm my leadership of their policies going forward is an affirmation of their willingness to support the Hawaiian community in new ways,” his letter said.

The association is concerned because Grassroot Institute has “taken a number of positions against what they call racial entitlements of Native Hawaiians,” said the group’s president, Annelle Amaral.

“The Grassroot Institute only opposes the unconstitutional use of public funds for discriminatory purposes but does not oppose the rights of individuals to pursue different visions of sovereignty,” Akina said.

Michelle Kauhane, president of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, which supports federal recognition, said she wonders how much of his support came from the non-Hawaiian vote. A 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows all Hawaii voters— not just Native Hawaiians— to vote in OHA elections.

“I was surprised that he did win because it’s not easy to beat the incumbent, in any race,” she said.

Akina’s trusteeship may help unify other OHA board members, she said.

Hawaiian sovereignty activist Mililani Trask seemed like an unlikely Akina ally: “We crossed swords on many, many issues,” she said.

While not quite a team, they ran on similar platforms related to OHA’s financial accountability and transparency, said Trask, who lost her trustee race.

While Trask expects disagreements with him in the future, she said, “I think we badly need change.”

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  • OHA’s money comes from a percentage of ceded land revenue received by the state.I disagree with Akina’s interpretation of “public funds”. I believe his true purpose is to prevent Hawaiians from receiving federal recognition. If that happens it’s likely the new Hawaiian government will seek the return of ALL ceded lands since they rightfully belong to the Hawaiian people.

    • There are NO race-based rights to ownership of the ceded lands. Those lands rightfully belong to all the people of Hawaii, with the government of Hawaii acting as trustee. That was true for every government from Kingdom to Provisional Government to Republic to Territory to State. The ceded lands are passed from government to government whenever the government changes, and race has nothing to do with it; just like on January 20 the national parks of the U.S. will change from Obama’s control to Trump’s control but will remain public lands of the government held for the benefit of all Americans regardless of race.

      Before 1848 all the lands of Hawaii belonged to the King in fee simple absolute because of conquest by Kamehameha The Great. In the 1848 Mahele the King divided the lands into crown lands which were the personal property of the King which he could sell or mortgage or whatever he wanted; government lands belonged to the government for schools, roads, harbors, etc. The King gave the chiefs huge parcels of land as their own private lands in fee simple which they could sell or mortgage whatever they wanted. The commoners had the right to claim their own fee-simple lands where they had homes or had been farming, by carving those lands out of what their chief had been given and staking a claim with the government which then gave them their land through a royal patent deed.

      Although the crown lands belonged to the King personally, as time went by one of the Kings mortgaged his crown lands to pay gambling debts. The crown lands were in danger of foreclosure by the mortgage holder. So the legislature passed a law issuing government bonds to pay off the mortgage, in return for the King giving ownership of the crown lands to the government — and the King was very happy to sign that law. Forevermore the government of Hawaii owned both the crown lands and the government lands from the Mahele, with the only difference being that revenues from the crown lands were automatically given to the King in his official role as head of the government, for the purpose of running his palace, having crown jewels (which belonged to the government and not to him personally), throwing parties, traveling, and maintaining the “dignity of head of state.”

      The ceded lands, also known as the public lands (as opposed to the private lands owned by individuals and corporations), are the same as the combination of the government lands and the crown lands. The lands were owned by the government on behalf of all the subjects of the Kingdom of Hawaii regardless of race.

      At annexation in 1898 the public lands were ceded (given) to the United States with the restriction that they would not be added to the lands of the U.S. but would be held in trust for the people of Hawaii of all races, and that the revenue from the ceded lands must be used by the people of Hawaii for “education and other public purposes.” In return for Hawaii ceding the public lands to the U.S., the U.S. agreed to assume (i.e., pay off) the national debt of Hawaii, most of which had come from Kalakaua’s profligate spending on building the palace and traveling around the world.

      At Statehood in 1959 the ceded lands were given back to the Territory of Hawaii except for lands the federal government kept for military bases and national parks. Thus the ceded lands (crown and government combined) have ALWAYS belonged to government for the benefit of all the people regardless of race. The ceding of the lands back to the State of Hawaii said that revenues from those lands could be used for any one of more of 5 purposes, one of which was public education. Nearly 100% of the money was allocated to the public schools and UH from 1959 to 1980, benefitting children of all races (and since ethnic Hawaiian children were 26% of the kids in public schools, ethnic Hawaiians ended up getting 26% of ceded land revenues if you want to look at it in racial terms).

      When OHA was created in 1978 as an agency of Hawaii’s state government, the question arose how to pay for it. Instead of the legislature making annual appropriations from the general fund in the same way as all other departments were funded, the legislature decided to give OHA 20% of revenues from the ceded lands, because one of the 5 purposes for ceded land revenues was “for the betterment of Native Hawaiians as defined in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920.”

      That was a terrible mistake, resulting in numerous lawsuits over how much revenue is created by the ceded lands. It was also a terrible mistake because 20% of gross revenue is more than 100% of net income after capital expenses and operational costs needed to create the revenue in the first place — the public pays all the costs of constructing buildings and roads and paying salaries enabling income to be generated, but OHA ends up getting the income.

      The legislature has the power to change that 20% allocation to zero anytime it chooses to pass a law to fund OHA from the general fund rather than from ceded land revenues. Legislature also has the power to change the 20% to 20% of net income after expenses rather than gross revenue. But so long as any kind of 20% law stays on the books OHA has a right to complain that if any parcel of ceded lands is sold, that deprives OHA of future income; and therefore OHA has standing to sue the state to block the sale. Such a lawsuit went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009, which ruled that the State owns all the ceded lands in fee simple without racial restrictions, and can sell the land or re-allocate the revenue however it wishes. The Court also ruled that the 1993 apology resolution is moot and irrelevant to this issue. So blame the legislature for failing to change the 20% law.

      That law for 20% of ceded land revenues is NOT part of the Hawaii constitution, only an ordinary law that could be changed whenever the legislature chooses to do so. To summarize: the ceded lands belong to the government of Hawaii as a public trust on behalf of all the citizens of Hawaii regardless of race, and the government has the right to spend ceded land revenue however it chooses, for education, roads, harbors, the general welfare of the people including Native Hawaiians as part of everyone. It is probably unconstitutional to set aside a stream of revenue exclusively for one racial group, and clearly it is morally wrong to then allow that racial group to also participate in the benefits from all the rest of the revenue thereby “double dipping.” It’s just as legally and morally wrong as having one drinking fountain labeled “whites only” while another fountain next to it is labeled “everyone can drink here [including whites].

      • Thank you Dr C: one slight little factual error. Dr C wrote: “for the betterment of Native Hawaiians as defined in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920″. The actual language is “for the betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians, as defined in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act”. That Act uses the metric of 1778. Royal Hawaiians use the date of the alleged overthrow, 1893. Note the small n. And that definition is “from 50-100 percent blood quantum of the races inhabiting the Hawaiian islands in 1778. The second part of the post is not 100 percent accurate, just from memory.

    • It’s irrelevant what he thinks or you think about it, the law suit leading to the return of all the lands taken is already in the pipeline, and that includes the lands the ali’i trusts own – be careful what you wish for.

      • Mythman,
        No kidding about be careful what you wish for. One wish was hoping Akina would be an asset to the BOT and bring some down-to-earthiness. WRONG. Horribly wrong. Sad for all.

    • From what I have read, they never did belong to the Hawaiian people, they belonged to the chiefs and the kings.
      The king sold a lot of it off, and the rest passed from one government ownership to the next.

      • The ali’i ruled, to a certain degree, by the consent of the governed even though it was no democracy as we now define it. Likewise, they “owned” the land more as trustees, with the implicit charge to govern it for the benefit of all.

        Their charter came as much from ke akua as from any might or hereditary right. So, no, the land didn’t “belong” to the maka’ainana — but nor did it truly “belong” to the ali’i. Beware of imposing Western definitions and concepts on ancient Hawai’ian society. Many times it’s a poor fit and therefore paints a deceptive picture.

        • The ali’i ruled by consent of the governed? Haha! No, the ali’i ruled by threat of death to the commoner who would dare to challenge it. It’s funny how people want to romanticize a brutal and bloody “government” because they so want to hate modern the existing government (USA).

    • Hawaiians are not a tribe. Most “Hawaiians out here are caucasian and/or Asian-American. I think Mr., Akina is right: let us cut out the racial shibai and work for harmony among all people. OHA is corrupt and has been ineffective for a long time.

      • Kindly define the appropriate blood quantum for us, and don’t forget to assert why you feel you have the authority to do so. You’re a member of another First Nation. How would you feel if we kanaka maoli attempted to impose a specific definition of “membership” on your tribe?

      • Allie, what you will never see or relate to is that no matter the cultural mix, there is one key element that ties the group together…Hawaiian lineage. Its the culture and identity of this state. When it all boils down, it’s what the economy depends on. Sure there are Hawaiians that are more emotionally invested than others, but it is those focused individuals that will fight to keep the fire going, and I for one, am truly appreciative of their efforts. Not always effective as you put it, but still fighting for survival of culture and rights. I am all for it. Without it, this state becomes a piece of land with no cultural base. Tourist will disappear. Economic devastation is imminent. I don’t always agree with OHA’s agendas, but I know that they are needed.

    • My reply to saywhatyou think has been “awaiting moderation” for several hours. Maybe because it’s too lengthy. So I’m going to try breaking it up to get the pieces posted.

      There are NO race-based rights to ownership of the ceded lands. Those lands rightfully belong to all the people of Hawaii, with the government of Hawaii acting as trustee. That was true for every government from Kingdom to Provisional Government to Republic to Territory to State. The ceded lands are passed from government to government whenever the government changes, and race has nothing to do with it; just like on January 20 the national parks of the U.S. will change from Obama’s control to Trump’s control but will remain public lands of the government held for the benefit of all Americans regardless of race.

      Before 1848 all the lands of Hawaii belonged to the King in fee simple absolute because of conquest by Kamehameha The Great. In the 1848 Mahele the King divided the lands into crown lands which were the personal property of the King which he could sell or mortgage or whatever he wanted; government lands belonged to the government for schools, roads, harbors, etc. The King gave the chiefs huge parcels of land as their own private lands in fee simple which they could sell or mortgage whatever they wanted. The commoners had the right to claim their own fee-simple lands where they had homes or had been farming, by carving those lands out of what their chief had been given and staking a claim with the government which then gave them their land through a royal patent deed.

      Although the crown lands belonged to the King personally, as time went by one of the Kings mortgaged his crown lands to pay gambling debts. The crown lands were in danger of foreclosure by the mortgage holder. So the legislature passed a law issuing government bonds to pay off the mortgage, in return for the King giving ownership of the crown lands to the government — and the King was very happy to sign that law. Forevermore the government of Hawaii owned both the crown lands and the government lands from the Mahele, with the only difference being that revenues from the crown lands were automatically given to the King in his official role as head of the government, for the purpose of running his palace, having crown jewels (which belonged to the government and not to him personally), throwing parties, traveling, and maintaining the “dignity of head of state.”

    • My reply to saywhatyou think has been “awaiting moderation” for several hours. Maybe because it’s too lengthy. So I’m going to try breaking it up to get the pieces posted.

      There are NO race-based rights to ownership of the ceded lands. Those lands rightfully belong to all the people of Hawaii, with the government of Hawaii acting as trustee. That was true for every government from Kingdom to Provisional Government to Republic to Territory to State. The ceded lands are passed from government to government whenever the government changes, and race has nothing to do with it; just like on January 20 the national parks of the U.S. will change from Obama’s control to Trump’s control but will remain public lands of the government held for the benefit of all Americans regardless of race.

      Before 1848 all the lands of Hawaii belonged to the King in fee simple absolute because of conquest by Kamehameha The Great. In the 1848 Mahele the King divided the lands into crown lands which were the personal property of the King which he could sell or mortgage or whatever he wanted; government lands belonged to the government for schools, roads, harbors, etc. The King gave the chiefs huge parcels of land as their own private lands in fee simple which they could sell or mortgage whatever they wanted. The commoners had the right to claim their own fee-simple lands where they had homes or had been farming, by carving those lands out of what their chief had been given and staking a claim with the government which then gave them their land through a royal patent deed.

  • Let’s try to keep things in perspective. Oz was part of the most corrupt board in the estate’s history. Whatever his views on OHA’s path, they should be taken with a grain of salt. The late Billie Beamer showed us all what OHA was about. Corruption, and theft. OHA should be dissolved, and it’s funds returned to the taxpayers

    • Yes, Oz was on the board. At considerable risk personally, Oz stood up to Peters, Wong, Lindsey, et. al. and fought for their dismissal. And won. Then resigned. Although urged to stay on. Yes, his views should be looked at in that context. Not with a grain of salt, but with heart-felt gratitude for having the integrity to do the right thing. I’d save the grain of salt, or the whole mine, for your comments, peanutzgallery

  • The Grassroot Institute is not a “grassroots” organization, and although it claims to be for transparency, it will not reveal its funding sources (the Koch brothers).

  • Underlying this superficial glimpse of what is a complex situation, one can visualize a stack of press releases, each dedicated to building a fantasy into a perceived quasi reality, you know, quasi, like the OHA used to bill itself, as a quasi government over “Hawaiians”. That was before the Supreme Court ruled that those “Hawaiians” are a racial group, a royal racial group. That’s why they became capital N Native Hawaiians in another act of verbalism in line with that high stack of PR press releases, faithfully printed by the SA and now parroted by the lame AP. When did objective research get replaced by PR fake BS, which this story is a prime example of?

    • The Chinese are native to China, not Hawaii. The Chinese started to come after 1778. They are no more “native” to Hawaii than a heroic AJA tropper who won world war two single handedly while serving in the 442, led by the great war hero dan inouye, who puts general patton to shame.

        • And what do Hawai’ian contributions to WW2 have to do with the present situation at this late date?

          I offer the president-elect as a current example of how much importance voters now place on our leadership’s past heroic military service.

        • Wrong. As Uncle Herb, a leader in the Hawaiian community told us at the UH, Hawaiians were very committed to military service in WWII. Several were at pearl harbor when it was attacked. Don’t confuse the loud handful of sovereignty advocates with the Hawaiian people.

  • I don’t dispute that OHA has become somewhat “incestuous” over the years and is due for change. I’m just not convinced that Akina’s philosophy is what he now claims publicly it is. Change isn’t necessarily served by electing someone who might be flying a false flag.

  • Auwe, in order to be ethical, Mr. Akina has switched his forum from Grassroot Institute to Hawaii Free Press. He thinks we cannot see through his devious tactic, and he keeps insisting that the Ethics board does not see a conflict of interest.

    • Hawaii Free Press digs deeper than the lame AP and editorial board controlled SA. Of course, the deepest digger of all is our own adopted and beloved Dr Conklin – where is he today? Andrew Walden and Dr A did a pretty good job of discussing Rule 50 on youtube – Rule 50 acknowledged the native Hawaiian of 1921 is a T R I B E

  • Happy New Year, now being a good 2017, after Trustee Akina won the vote “fair and square” now we can relax/and get the done. Let me tell It a wakeup call to all the prior, Trustees who failed to protect the interest, monies, lands of the Hawaiian People, though I felt the prior, all Trustees should been replaced or fired!

    Not protecting the interest of the Hawaiian People! Outrages’ spending, lining their pockets, hand pick and choose who qualify for funding, running newspaper article for personal use, collecting bonus “when they’re getting outrages payroll” Shame on the prior trustee’s, for not allowing the audit/lucky you’re getting a second chance! Beside running into ground/by losing monies, yet not there’s! Thank you Akina for pushing self-governance and determination behind us. Now, let get to work!

    Lastly, OHA may want to consider joining together with DHHL, so every Hawaiian would have a chance to purchase a home, then given $10,000.00. startup/down payment, then look into purchasing condo/apartment buildings around the island and downtown area; for our single Hawaiians, Elders and One Parent household, not every Hawaiians into homes; some prefer condo style living…………

  • I’m Hawaiian and I voted for him because when it was time to fill out my ballot I couldn’t find anything on what Apoliona’s stance was on current issues. She didn’t fill out any questionnaires by any of Hawaii’s major publications. I felt like if she didn’t take the time to fill out basic questionnaires to let the public know why we should vote for her then she really didn’t want my vote. Just because you’re the incumbent doesn’t mean you’ll get my view without trying. I can’t speak for the rest of the voters but that was how I personally voted. I didn’t know all of Akina’s history which I wish more was published about it before the vote took place but the questionnaires he filled out on his stance on issues made sense to me.

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