On March 6, 2014, a historic step was taken by the Board of Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). Trustees voted to adopt a plan that in its final phase will see OHA dissolved! Why would a Board vote to dissolve its own organization? How will this happen? Can OHA be trusted to implement this historic decision?
The Board voted to begin the process of dissolving OHA because the constitutional provision that established OHA requires OHA to hold its assets in trust for the Hawaiian people. OHA has always interpreted this to mean we are a temporary placeholder for the Hawaiian Nation. Most recently, Act 195, passed in 2011 provides: “The Legislature urges the office of Hawaiian affairs to continue to support the self-determination process by Native Hawaiians in the formation of their chosen governmental entity.”
OHA, in collaboration with other leading Hawaiian organizations, is initiating a process that will lead to an election of delegates to a Governance ‘Aha (constitutional convention). ‘Aha delegates will then propose the form, scope, and principles that would guide the governing entity. To them will fall the task of considering the various models of sovereignty and nationhood, and redefining the relationship between Hawaiians and international, federal, and state governments. Nothing is on or off the table. Their proposal would be ratified—or not—through a referendum of the Hawaiian people. The voters will be the 120,000 people who have registered on the Native Hawaiian Roll to date, or who register when the Roll reopens from March 17 to May 1, 2014. Over $550,000,000 in trust assets, now managed by OHA, will be transferred to this new governing entity which will succeed OHA as an independent body politic separate from state government. The ‘Aha and its mission is to be shaped by a democratic process so that the outcome truly reflects the will of the people.
People ask can OHA be trusted? The Trustees of OHA are totally committed to (1) standing in a third party status without any attempt to influence the outcome, (2) providing the resources necessary to see it through to its end, and (3) transferring authority and resources to the new governing entity. In rather dramatic terms, OHA is on the brink of putting itself out of business—but breathing life into its successor—making sure the ship of state is properly equipped and ready to sail and sending it off to a new horizon.
Since the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893 there has been a sometimes painful and abiding tension between Hawaiians and the rest of Hawai‘i. The tension is not so much personal as it is institutional. If we, all of us who share this place called Hawai‘i, are to free ourselves of the yoke of injustice and breaches of human dignity and become whole, the ‘Aha must succeed. While I cannot say what the process will yield in the form of a new governance structure for Hawaiians and its impact on the rest of Hawai‘i, I can tell those of you who are not Hawaiian that we are still, and always will be, the people of aloha. That is why the Hawaiian Kingdom citizens included people of all races from all over the world.
The moment is upon us. Hawaiians are standing together. We have come full circle on the path of reconciliation and a Hawaiian Nation is on the verge of being re-born.