Officials at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs are asking for a six-to-nine-month postponement of a Native Hawaiian convention to determine self-governance, in order to educate the public and construct a parallel roll for those who refuse to sign onto a roll ordered by state government.
The OHA board of trustees, faced with 63 people wanting to testify, on Thursday postponed a decision until its June 5 meeting. The current plan is to hold an election of delegates this fall, followed by a spring convention.
Testifiers, many of whom flew to Oahu from Hawaii Island and other neighbor islands, were mixed on the best course of action. But most of those speaking in a daylong meeting frequently punctuated by audience outbursts and applause called for a return to a true Hawaiian kingdom, rather than seek federal recognition or a government-within-a-government status.
“There are some people, no matter what we do, they won’t accept it,” said Trustee Rowena Akana. “They want nationhood, period.”
Many testifiers said they’re distrustful of the process, known as Kanaiolowalu, of building the roll because it was mandated by the state Legislature without consulting their Native Hawaiian groups. Testifiers also questioned OHA’s neutrality on the issue because it is a state agency.
“There is a lot of skepticism … born of things that have not just occurred recently, but also long, long ago,” said Kehaunani Abad, OHA community engagement director. “By opening up a second roll, it demonstrates that the OHA-fielded process is independent of Act 195.”
“We must move forward with a prudent and reasonable pace,” said OHA CEO Kamanaopono Crabbe. “If we go through this process, we want to do it right.”
The Native Hawaiian Roll Commission, which set a goal of 200,000 Hawaiians joining the roll, has so far collected only about 132,000, said Lei Kihoi, Hawaii Island’s representative on the five-member commission. There are some 530,000 Hawaiian descendants in all, with about half living in the state, she said.
But many who spoke at the meeting said there are only 125,000 on the roll, even after the deadline was extended once before.
Bo Kahui, executive director for Laiopua 2020, a planning group for the Villages of Lai Opua Hawaiian Homelands in West Hawaii, urged the differing groups to come together and get something done.
“It’s time for our voices to be heard. … Seize the moment now. … Seize the opportunity,” Kahui said. “No one faction, no one group, can do that unless we join hands to make this real.”
Maybe the group does need more time to convince people to sign up, some said.
“Many of us are still trying to understand,” said Kaimi Kaupiko, who grew up in Milolii. “Whatever timeline you guys have, we want to still discuss and have these conversations.”
Native Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte said the process might work better if OHA stepped aside and let a Native Hawaiian group organize the roll and convention.
“I really think it’s time for the board to pass the baton now,” Ritte said. “Being a state agency, you can only do so much.”
At least one OHA trustee agrees. Oswald Stender looked around the packed boardroom and said a leadership group should be organized to determine “how you’d like to see this unfolding.”
“You should be doing this, not us,” Stender said.
Members of the self-proclaimed Hawaiian Kingdom urged fellow Hawaiians to settle for nothing less than a return to the monarchy. A recent notice by the U.S. Department of Interior that it will consider whether the federal government should develop a formal, administrative process to re-establish a government-to-government relationship with a future Native Hawaiian governing entity added fuel to the fire.
“There is no such thing as a nation within a nation. … To get state or federal recognition is moot,” said Stirling Ing. “We don’t need their permission. … We don’t need to beg or seek for recognition. We already exist as a nation.”