OHA for Everyone

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By Jere Krischel

On November 18, 2012, Derek Kauanoe wrote a letter in the Star Advertiser that complained about out-of-state contributions to people running for OHA Trustee by critics of OHA. As a staunch, long time critic of OHA, who was born and raised in Hawaii but lives in California now, and as a contributor to Keli’i Akina’s campaign this past election, Mr. Kauanoe was speaking specifically about me. In the spirit of open communication, I’d like to take the time to directly answer his three questions laid out in his letter.


1) “Will this candidate — or a similar one — run in 2014 when there are three at-large seats up for election and where third place could likely be a win?”

For the record, I certainly hope Keli’i Akina runs in 2014, and I would expect to support him no matter where I’m living. Although it’s possible another candidate could come forward with Akina’s inclusive “OHA for Everyone” vision, and also garner my support, to my knowledge, Keli’i Akina is the only candidate in the history of OHA to actually run on an inclusive platform that does not judge who is Hawaiian based on blood.

The fact of the matter is that OHA desperately needs reform. As currently administered, it is a divisive, race-based institution which funds itself through the use of public lands and resources that should benefit all Hawaiians, regardless of ancestry. I am hopeful that in the future Keli’i Akina, or other candidates who support racial equality are able to take the helm and turn OHA into a force for good for all Hawaiians.

2) “Will we see increased financial support from OHA’s detractors to future OHA candidates?”

Before meeting Keli’i Akina, I had never contributed to any political campaign. I’ve voted in pretty much every election I could since 1992 (probably missing some local special elections here and there during my 20s), but I’ve never judged any political candidate worthy of my direct financial support. Elections for me have often been a choice between the lesser of two evils, and the thought of putting my hard earned money into the hands of evil, no matter how lesser, is one I simply cannot stomach.

On top of that, as Mr. Kauanoe has noted, I’ve been a vocal critic of OHA for many years, and I’ve actively called for the end of its neo-ali’i power structure. The idea that I would actually financially support a candidate for OHA was unthinkable – until Keli’i Akina changed the frame of the conversation.

The compelling alternative to abolishment that Keli’i Akina presented was elegant and simple – OHA for Everyone. By taking race out of the equation, and treating all Hawaiians, regardless of blood quantum, as “Hawaiians”, Mr. Akina convinced me that OHA and its mission can be saved. If Keli’i Akina runs again, or if another OHA candidate promises to build an “OHA for Everyone”, I will certainly contribute as generously as possible, and I will encourage my friends, family and colleagues, wherever they live, to do the same.

3) “Can we expect an increase in out-of-state money by those seeking to change the inner workings of a unique state agency?”

The phrase “unique state agency” Mr. Kauanoe uses here is particularly troubling. The defense of “OHA is unique, and therefore should allowed to be racist without any accountability to the rest of America” is the last bastion of people who understand they are defending the indefensible.

Mr. Kauanoe seems to lament the idea that outside forces may induce reform to an antiquated and immoral race-based state program through the expression of political speech rights. I would argue that all Hawaiians, and for that matter all Americans, regardless of their location, should be concerned about the race-based allocation of public resources. I would hope that in the future, if in-state forces cannot end the race-based nature of OHA, that out-of-state forces do.

So the question shouldn’t be “can we expect”, it should be “how can we encourage” the application of external pressure to reform racist institutions? Slavery, a “unique” Southern institution ended up being reformed by Northern abolitionists who co-opted Lincoln’s war. Apartheid, a “unique” South African institution ended up being reformed by external international pressure. Why shouldn’t we hope that forces external to Hawaii, be it out-of-state campaign contributions to candidates that support racial equality, or through say, Supreme Court rulings such as Rice v. Cayetano that protect the civil rights of all races in Hawaii, help reform the entrenched racist institutions currently in existence?

I have understood for years that there is an entrenched neo-ali’i class that has incredible amounts of political power in Hawaii through OHA. This neo-ali’i class has enriched itself, generously rewarded its friends, and severely punished its enemies, with the power of unaccountable race-based money. If the only way to fight this racism is through the generosity and goodwill of patriotic defenders of civil rights throughout the United States, then let us hope that many more people of good faith open their wallets in 2014 in support of an OHA for Everyone.

He Hawaii au; he mau Hawaii kakou a pau. I am Hawaiian; we are all Hawaiians.


Grassroot Institute member Jere Krischel is a volunteer historian and civil rights activist who has been discussing and studying the Akaka Bill and its historical basis online and in print since 2004. Born and raised in Hawaii, he attended Punahou and later graduated from the University of Southern California. His commitment to the ideals of equality, and the rejection of the use of racial categories to separate out people for disparate treatment is inspired by his diverse heritage and conviction that first and foremost we are all humans, indigenous to this earth.

Views expressed in this column are intended to promote creative thought, educate, and, we hope, prompt comment. Accordingly, thoughts expressed do not necessarily reflect the official position of Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

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