Last week I spoke for the Kapolei Rotary Club. The topic was, “Hawai‘i, Hawaiians, and the Hawaiian Economy.” A sub-title would be, “Are Hawaiians considered relevant by the rest of Hawai‘i?” My presentation walked through the considerable operations of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, profiled the five largest Hawaiian institutions and the staggering institutional wealth held jointly by these “Big 5,” examined the profound impact of Hawaiian institutional spending on the Hawai‘i economy and the color blind way the money flows to every community in the state. I went on to note the trend of diminishing public support for Hawaiians. I noted that it’s been 30 years since the in-your-face Hawaiian political activism of the 70s raised the bar on the Hawaiian struggle for redress from the federal government for a litany of injustices beginning with the illegal overthrow of the Monarchy and the unconstitutional annexation of Hawai‘i. Today, the goal continues to be re-defining the political relationship between Hawaiians, the state of Hawai‘i, and the federal government, and restoring some manifestation of sovereignty. While the movement was marked by frequent public protests and spawned years of civil tension, it also triggered a remarkable cultural and spiritual re-awakening. There ensued a quiet but determined re-building of the capacity of Hawaiians and grew a whole new generation of leaders in every field – particularly in politics.
Since becoming an OHA Trustee it’s been interesting for me to note that my view of who we are today is highlighted by the vastly improved state of our institutions, and the important contributions Hawaiians are making to making life better for everyone. But, auwē. The good news goes mostly un-noted from outside of the Hawaiian community. Worse, I observe that many not only believe us to be irrelevant to their lives but also feel a little threatened by our continuing calls for sovereignty and nationhood. Why is this? For over 30 years the public’s perception of the Hawaiian community has been largely driven by mainstream media. In their reporting on Hawaiians, mainstream media has been a messenger of gloom gravitating toward the latest bad news from Hawaiians. We are painted as being in a state of continuous anger, constantly whining, a society of professional victims perpetuating government dependency on handouts and entitlements, and pursuing a future of exclusion and separation from the rest of the state.
Let my intention here be clear. I’m not looking for an argument or for anyone to agree with my view. It is how I see things. So, I determined recently that we need to ramp up our messaging, particularly to those who lie outside the Hawaiian community. Toward that end, I began seeking speaking opportunities to paint an accurate and informed picture of how far Hawaiians have come and particularly why people should care about what happens to us. I ended with the acknowledgement that Hawaiians need to spend less time rehashing all the wrongs of the past and more time on what a Hawaiian driven future would look like, particularly addressing the question as to whether such a future will make life better for everyone. I believe it will. The reaction from the Kapolei Rotary was a sense of relief and far better understanding that they have nothing to fear from Hawaiians.
I’m seeking to speak to as many organizations as will have me. I close with a humble appeal to readers to communicate any interest in my presentation to my office.
To have Trustee Apo speak for your community or professional organization, contact his office at 594-1893, or email firstname.lastname@example.org