HONOLULU — Hawaii Rep. Faye Hanohano has apologized on the House floor for offending people by using racial slurs to express disapproval of art in her office.
The Democratic lawmaker apologized Thursday, the same day the Honolulu Star-Advertiser published the remarks, which included slurs disparaging white, Japanese and Chinese people.
Hanohano, an outspoken advocate of indigenous issues, also used the opportunity to affirm the importance of supporting Native Hawaiian artists and issues.
“I am an honest and straight speaking woman who descends from long line of proud leaders and warriors from Puna of Hawaii Island,” Hanohano said at the beginning of her apology, which she delivered in both English and Hawaiian.
She spoke during the portion of the House session dedicated to the Hawaiian word of the day, which Hanohano said was “mihi,” meaning apology.
Hanohano went on to apologize for her remarks and say she is committed to representing all people in the state.
Eva Laird Smith, executive director of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, says exhibit specialists were hanging paintings in Hanohano’s office Wednesday when the lawmaker used racial epithets to express her displeasure that the work wasn’t completed by Native Hawaiians.
She says the artwork in Hanohano’s office depicts nature scenes in Hawaii and was approved by the representatives’ office manager before exhibit specialists sought to install it.
House Speaker Joseph Souki condemned Hanohano’s remarks and apologized to members of the exhibit team in a statement Thursday.
“I absolutely do not condone this type of offensive language and behavior by anyone,” he said.
Hanohano says that her remarks weren’t intended to be offensive.
“Clearly comments that were intended to be an impassioned plea for increasing the visibility and support for Native Hawaiian artists were expressed in a manner that did not accurately reflect their intent, sentiment or the integrity of this office,” Hanohano said in a written statement released after Thursday’s House floor session.
She said she is seeking training for herself and her staff by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She also said she will reach out to the State Foundation for Culture and the Arts to help rehabilitate their relationship.
Smith says she has worked with Hanohano before and never had any similar incidents with the lawmaker. She says she accepts the lawmaker’s apology, but hopes to avoid similar incidents in the future.
“There is no place in our society for something of this nature,” Smith said.