Name on ballot:
Shane Akoni Palacat-Nelsen
OHA At-Large Trustee
Community Outreach Advocate, Office of Hawaiian Affairs
Previous job history:
Office of the Governor (West Hawaii), Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, Orchid at Mauna Lani/Fairmont Orchid, Kona Village Resort, Shell Management Hawaii, Inc.
Previous elected office, if any:
No answer submitted
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.
OHA’s boardroom needs leaders with skills who will balance the needs of both our culture and economy, assert our rights as we navigate this “new normal,” and restore the relationship between the beneficiaries and the trust’s decision-makers. The skills I’ve gained in the decades of doing community work in Kona, 15 years of working in hotels and tourism, and nearly eight years working at OHA will contribute to this. I commit to applying knowledge of key issues of concern in communities across Hawai’i, the ability to facilitate difficult discussions on complex matters to seek resolution, effective grassroots advocacy strategies, strategic thinking and execution, and team- and relationship-building to the board.
What will be your top priority if elected?
Restoring trust between OHA and the community it serves is paramount. If there is no trust, little else matters. Trust means OHA can be more responsive and effective in targeting needs and deploying resources, focusing its advocacy efforts, and driving its role in rebuilding the economy. Trust means OHA can better facilitate discourse, and sometimes resolution, on topics like astronomy on Mauna Kea, commercial activities near other significant sites, capitalism versus aloha ‘āina, tourism impacts on cultural and natural resources and balancing cultural practitioners and economic development. Trust means everything.
What is the most pressing need for the people you seek to represent and what can the Office of Hawaiian Affairs do to address that need?
Our local economy is the most pressing issue for our community. As the economy evolves, OHA’s leadership must direct and steward OHA’s resources — its funding, land holdings, and staffing — in ways that are sure to lift our community so that we all thrive as Hawai’i rebuilds and recovers.
The current conditions remind us that our community’s future economic security cannot continue to rely so heavily on tourism and the visitors and businesses who do not always act in the best interest of Native Hawaiians. This change is needed now. Having worked in this industry for over 15 years, I know it has not done well for everyone. The high cost of living in our homeland requires many Native Hawaiians in the service sector to work multiple low-paying jobs to make ends meet, and the high-paying jobs are not filled with well-qualified, local industry professionals.
The new economy must flip the status quo and be sustainable and innovative; it must create jobs aimed at local talent and skills, provide opportunities for higher earnings, and allow everyone to thrive. A strong economy means a reasonable cost of living, abundance of well-paying jobs, and available affordable housing, along with reduced unemployment and homelessness.
What is one specific change you would like to see in OHA’s operations and what would you do to make it happen?
One change I’d like to see is OHA’s board and executive leadership increasing the trust between themselves and the beneficiaries they are responsible to serve. In improving this relationship, OHA can more accurately assess needs and respond to them, provide appropriate resources across and throughout the Native Hawaiian community, and advocate for policies at federal, state, and county levels to address those needs.
If OHA is positioned as a trusted and unbiased organization that deploys resources and advocates on behalf of its beneficiaries, it will be better able to mediate conflicts in the Native Hawaiian community and facilitate relationships with other government entities that make decisions that impact our community. We could spend less time in courtrooms and spend more time investing in and developing our community. As a trustee, I would work earnestly with fellow trustees and the CEO in establishing and implementing a framework to improve communications internally and externally, to increase meaningful engagement with the community members across the islands, and key decision makers who directly impact Native Hawaiians.
Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and what should OHA’s role be in the process?
I do not support the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea because I do not think the process through which the project was approved appropriately accounted for all impacts and costs, or the interests of Native Hawaiians.
What is OHA’s role in easing the overrepresentation of Native Hawaiians in prisons?
A number of factors and reasons contribute to the large number of Native Hawaiians entering the criminal justice systems. However, the lack of sufficient programs and effective services that are culturally appropriate to prepare prisoners for reintegration lead to recidivism and a high incidence of Native Hawaiians returning to prison. Across the board, these programs are understaffed and sometimes not available, and can prevent inmates from being eligible for the earliest possible release date. In out-of-state facilities, the programs are not culturally sensitive or meaningful. In some instances, prisoners are released without completing the programs.This is especially true of access to these programs and services should be readily and available for all prisoners to fully complete them prior to their release date. The state and OHA must collaborate and rethink how we house our inmates and support rehabilitation with the focus on eliminating recidivism.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
In the decades of doing community work in Nāpo‘opo‘o and South Kona, and nearly eight years working at the OHA, I’ve learned the value of this organization as it deploys resources and funding across Hawaii. OHA serves an important role as it serves our community. Hawai’i’s voters should elect trustees who desire for OHA to thrive. Ola kanaka, ola Hawai’i, if Hawaiians are thriving, all of Hawai’i thrives.
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