By Keli’i Akina, Ph.D. – One of the most socially and politically relevant Hawaii races in 2012 could go unnoticed if voters fail to recognize a fundamental shift in power taking place in the politics of land ownership.
Cooper and Daws’ thesis in Land and Power in Hawaii (University of Hawaii Press, 1990), namely that land means power, is being played out by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) which has quietly undergone transformation from a contentious and marginalized organization in the ‘80’s to a well-tuned professionally managed agency now empowered with growing land-holdings.
Whether it is the 30 acres of Kakaako waterfront property acquired this year as partial debt payment by the State, or the recent transfers of land on Maui and the Big Island, or the purchase this month of the Gentry Pacific Design Center, OHA’s growing real estate portfolio is on hyper-drive. Now, that is actually good news for whoever will benefit from the OHA trust, which also receives at least $15-20 million per year from the State for rents on the Hawaiian ceded lands.
But the question of who will benefit and how society will be impacted is controlled by a nine member board of trustees which has embraced the recent legislation establishing the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission (Act 195) signed into law this summer by Governor Abercrombie. In line with the Act, the mechanisms are now set in motion to register individuals to become part of a potential Hawaiian nation on the basis of race.
Those who cannot document that they are blood descendants of Pre-Captain Cook native Hawaiians, which is at least 80% of Hawaii’s population, are excluded from participation in this potential nation. The irony is that in creating the appearance of being for Hawaiians, the Act is very un-Hawaiian. Queen Lili’uokalani and the monarchs who preceded her worked hard to empower a vision of Hawaii as a culturally diverse, egalitarian society based upon the principles of Hawaiian inclusiveness and Western democracy.
The deposed Hawaiian Kingdom which became annexed to the United States at the end of the 19th Century consisted of Hawaiians by blood and Hawaiians at heart. Lili’uokalani had warmly embraced individuals of Caucasian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and other ancestries, as citizens of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Many were her most loyal subjects and served the common good as business leaders, government ministers, pastors, teachers, civil service workers, and ordinary citizens.
According to the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission Act, these citizens and their descendants without Hawaiian blood would be excluded from a Hawaiian nation. Like much poorly worded and politically expedient legislation, this conception of a society with a racial litmus test will receive its appropriate challenge at the state or federal Supreme Court level. Until then, it will have the potential to tear at the fragile social fabric which unifies all of us in the Aloha state.
By Supreme Court ruling (Rice v. Cayetano, 528 U.S. 495, 2000) every registered voter in Hawaii has the right and the duty to vote in the election of OHA trustees, which takes place in the General Election. While one of the mandates of OHA is to care for the needs native Hawaiians, the organization as an agency accountable to the citizenry of Hawaii, is also under obligation to serve the common good.
I am on record as the only candidate for Trustee of OHA in the upcoming General Election opposed to calls for a race-based Hawaiian nation or separate sovereign entity. While I am a passionate advocate for the welfare and betterment of Hawaiians by blood, I am committed to Queen Liliuokalani’s vision of Hawaii as a land which also embraces Hawaiians at heart, regardless of race.
At stake in the upcoming General Election is whether OHA will use its growing wealth and power to fuel a vision of a racially divided Hawaii or will fulfill the noble vision of Lili’uokalani, a Hawaii which is a true melting pot.
Dr. Akina is a philosopher who lectures on business and government ethics in Chinese and American universities. He is a candidate for Trustee-at Large of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in the upcoming General Election. His website is www.Akina2012.com. He can be reached at kelii@EWLE.net.