Twenty percent of all funds derived from the Public Land Trust must be paid to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs annually for “the betterment of conditions of Native Hawaiians.” OHA Hawaii Island trustee candidate William “Willy” Meyers thinks a direct benefits program should be implemented and supplemented through the government agency’s assets. That’s just one example of how the 62-year-old Keaukaha resident envisions OHA’s role in serving the Hawaiian community and maximizing benefits.
“A direct benefits program that gives beneficiaries a check, even if just a dollar, would stretch out the 20 percent income OHA receives for generations. It could be used for things such as health and education,” he said. “It would be something tangible and something that empowers the Hawaiian people. It would also encourage all Hawaiians to register and be recognized by the state. It could further help identify us and protect our rights — everything from getting low-cost tuition at colleges or doing cultural practices without interference.”
While Meyers admits he’s “unorthodox” in his ways and ideas, one thing will remain clear if elected: “Every day, I will work hard for the beneficiaries, the kanaka maoli, representing their mana and manao on issues that concern all of us the best that I can.”
Community engagement is important, he added.
“I will be of maximum service, collaborating and cooperating when I can, and standing firm when it comes to protecting our rights, history and values — all incorporated in the decision-making process,” he said. “I feel I can be of service to the community if given the privilege and opportunity.”
If elected, Meyers said he will focus on the practical, such as getting funding for Hawaiian homesteading, increasing health care access and support education initiatives that “keep our people current and competitive in our global economy.”
Another one of his top priorities is building more faith and trust of OHA by maintaining transparency and regular one-on-one, open communications with input and feedback from all beneficiaries. Meyers said he wants to help empower Hawaiians to make informed decisions. He also plans to making OHA “a little more proactive” in the development in direct programs or services and give regular reports to Big Island beneficiaries about what’s actually being done in fulfilling the agency’s mission.
While Meyers thinks Kamehameha Schools and Hawaiian-focused public charter schools have made great gains, he would like more investment in early childhood education, saying it’s a key to tackling Hawaii’s education problems at their root. In particular, Meyers said he would like more partnering between schools, child care providers and others to provide educational opportunities and services for young Native Hawaiian children prior to preschool, as well as their families. He also thinks more outreach, such as home visits and community programs, is needed to not only provide information and resources, but also to enhance efforts that nurture, stimulate and foster children’s development.
As for health, Meyers thinks there needs to be improved access, more resources and increased funding for the state’s Native Hawaiian health care systems. He envisions an environment that supports health promotion and disease prevention, as well as helps beneficiaries overcome the cultural, financial, social and geographic barriers that prevent them from using existing services. He believes in fostering health equity and community well-being.
“Without your health you have nothing,” Meyers said. “We need to make our systems and people top shape.”