OHA Trustee Questions Hawaiians’ Support for Native Hawaiian Roll
Suggests education and more practical routes to empowerment
News Release from Grassroot Institute
HONOLULU, Hawaii—January 13, 2014—In a recent interview with Grassroot Institute of Hawaii President Keli’i Akina, Oswald Stender, a Trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, shared his view that Native Hawaiians lack enthusiasm about the sovereignty movement as currently pursued via the government-sponsored enrollment effort known as Kana’iolowalu (i.e., the Native Hawaiian Roll).
Speaking on Grassroot Institute’s weekly ThinkTech Hawaii broadcast, E Hana Kakou, Mr. Stender pondered the question of why the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has spent so much time and money on the Native Hawaiian Roll to so little result: “To spend 4 million dollars to find 20,000 people out of 500,000, to me there’s a message there. It’s telling me…the Hawaiians are not interested.” He noted that government involvement in the sovereignty issue not only causes confusion at both the federal and state level, but has also failed to gain widespread support among Native Hawaiians themselves. Instead, in his experience, “Most Hawaiians are perfectly content to live under the current [U.S. federal and state] government structure.”
OHA Trustee Os Stender
For Mr. Stender, the reticence of Native Hawaiians to embrace the issue is a rational one that underlines the need for more practical and immediate avenues to help the Hawaiian people. “OHA’s got a problem… we’re a government agency,” said Stender. “The problem is that government is very inefficient. So when people talk about building a new government—why do you want to build a government when it’s high cost to maintain it and governments around the country are going broke? … Surely now is not the time. And so there are other issues we should be working on rather than building this government that is not going to work.”
Mr. Stender stressed that he was speaking as an individual OHA trustee and not on behalf of the Board of Trustees. Mr Stender’s comments should also be understood as pertaining specifically to American or Hawaii State government-sponsored programs for Hawaiian sovereignty and not to the entire range of sovereignty proposals that the Hawaiian community has generated.
Following the interview with Trustee Stender, Grassroot Institute asked Trustee Peter Apo for his thoughts. Mr. Apo referred to “the broader dialogue being perpetuated within the Hawaiian community that examines many different models of ‘self-determination’ and ‘nationhood’ that does not require separation from the United States or relinquishing citizenship or would be perceived to be un-‘American.’” Apo further spoke of the “130 year struggle of Hawaiians seeking redress and reconciliation” and “the tremendously complex issues of the reconciliation process.”
Trustee Apo also clarified the situation the agency finds itself in as it determines its mandate in relation to its mission: “OHA is created by State Constitution in a Constitutional Convention that represented the entire Hawai'i electorate. Central to its constitutional [purpose] is to serve as a placeholder until such time that a new governing entity is created by some, as yet to be determined, democratic political process. If the will of the electorate is to change the constitutional intent of OHA's existence then it needs to be done by constitutional amendment.”
In the interview, Trustee Stender emphasized that OHA is in a position of stewardship over funds to help Hawaiians, which entails great responsibility in determining how to spend those moneys. He expressed hope that those who are passionate about sovereignty issues could continue their discussion, but feels that OHA’s focus should be on more practical and immediate ways to help Hawaiians, especially through education, prison reform, health reform, etc.
“OHA Trustees Oswald Stender and Peter Apo are examples of committed public servants, working for the good of Native Hawaiians within the context of all people of Hawaii,” stated Dr. Akina. “By taking an impartial look at the low levels of response to OHA’s Native Hawaiian Roll efforts and championing better stewardship of its resources, Trustee Stender calls for responsible public service. By supporting self-determination and concepts of sovereignty for Hawaiians that are not at odds with American citizenship, Trustee Apo demonstrates hope for furtherance of true Aloha.”