Any economic recovery plan for Hawaii must ensure that those most impacted by the pandemic — hotel workers, farmers, fishpond and nearshore ocean stewards, and homesteaders — are included at the table with government and business leaders. With tourism on hold, Hawaii is at the same historic juncture as when agribusiness phased out and leaders made a pivot to invest in tourism.
Government at that time responded by partnering with labor to raise money to retrain agricultural workers and to provide the infrastructure for the tourist industry to develop. Without any doubt, Hawaii will have the opportunity to do the same here and possibly re-imagine a more sustainable future for everyone.
We at the Office of Hawaiian Affair (OHA) have been fielding inquiries from the public about what the agency has been doing to assist during these trying times. OHA’s response to the pandemic in the past six months was to provide emergency relief as quickly as possible even while the COVID-19 situation was unfolding. We recognized immediately that many of our beneficiaries who lost their jobs would need quick help with housing or utility payments. We partnered with other agencies and social service providers to get this relief out efficiently and swiftly.
More recently, OHA has been invited to sit on the state House of Representatives’ Select Committee on COVID-19 Financial and Economic Preparedness and will participate in the next meeting on Sept. 28. This is not an “us” versus “them” situation. We continue to believe that we are all in this together.
OHA was at the forefront in convincing the governor to establish the eviction moratorium that took effect last April and have successfully sought an extension through Dec. 31, 2020. As a landlord, OHA offered rent relief to its commercial tenants in Na Lama Kukui. And long before the first case was reported, OHA advocated for protection in prisons for both workers and those incarcerated to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
We also stepped in to provide support to those who were released by the state because of overcrowded conditions. We have supported efforts to increase public awareness that promote mauli ola (well-being). We were pleased when two dozen kumu hula set an example for us all to follow by announcing a monthlong kapu (restriction) for their haumana (students) as a way to encourage people to adopt safe and healthy practices during this pandemic: Stay at home, limit gatherings, wear face masks, ‘ai pono (eat healthy) and daily pule (prayer).
Going forward, we believe OHA has much to contribute to the reopening of the kamaaina economy for everyone. It will require a new mindset where more people can buy into what that future looks like.
As John De Fries, the new head of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), once paraphrased from SpaceX in a presentation for the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association (NaHHA), “aloha is Hawaii’s moonshot idea.” If we all aloha one another through this difficult time, we can all move to a better tomorrow for our Hawaii collectively. OHA stands ready and will continue to advocate and assist our people for the betterment of our Hawaii nei.
Colette Machado and Brendon Kalei‘aina Lee are chairwoman and vice chairman, respectively, of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees.