Earlier this week, Senator Maile Shimabukuro and Representative Kaniela Ing hosted an informational briefing on the Hawaiian Homeland program, consisting of 200,000 acres of trust lands administered by the State Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL). The briefing focused on a 29-page Four-Year Strategic Plan developed by community advocates and policy experts living and working in Hawaiian homestead areas around the state.
Between June 2014 and October 2014, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA), the Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homeland Assembly (SCHHA) and the Association of Hawaiians for Homestead Lands (AHHL) brought 100 beneficiaries together to produce the first ever strategic plan created by beneficiaries for a Governor of the state. It was addressed to the “governor-elect” and was delivered to the candidates for governor before the general election, and then again to Governor Ige after the election.
“It’s really a road map,” said Michelle Kauhane, CNHA President,”a truly comprehensive plan that captures the knowledge and experience of some of the smartest and most qualified people on the issue of Hawaiian Homes. We wanted to give the new Governor a realistic plan, one that is based on experience, based on sound policy and based on the actual purpose and intent of the law as enacted by the U.S. Congress.”
The 75-minute briefing was led by Robin Danner, the statewide SCHHA Policy Chairman, with Kauhane, Kamaki Kanahele, the SCHHA Chair and several SCHHA and CNHA leaders participating throughout the discussion with the legislators. Danner laid the background information on how the state came to be in the unique position of managing a land trust set up by the federal government, what the purpose is in the law, what resources are available to fulfill its mission, and finally, she laid out the three recommended goals and 48 activities to be successful in implementing the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.
“Most citizens of Hawaii, including legislators from around the state, have very little information on Hawaiian Homes - most only know that its suppose to issue land to Hawaiians for housing,” she said. “It is so much more than that, and frankly, when all components are embraced in the law, it’s actually brilliant and completely achievable.”
The land use purposes in the law, financial resources available from special and trust funds to achieve the mission of the land trust and the DHHL agency operating budget garnered high interest and dialogue. “Very few policy makers are aware that the Hawaiian Homes program is crystal clear that lands are to be dedicated to native Hawaiians for homes, farms and ranches, as well as for mercantile business purposes,” Danner remarked. “Can you imagine the enterprise potential if DHHL would stop ignoring the mercantile land purpose, and instead invest in it? It’s not just a major flaw in the administration of our land trust, it is truly a giant missed opportunity for our people, and for the state in terms of economic growth.”
The briefing illustrated all of the funding sources available and where to direct them to accomplish a successful Hawaiian Homes program. “What this Strategic Plan says is that we have sufficient capital from our own trust funds for two of the four constitutionally mandated functions of the Hawaiian Homes program,” Danner shared. “It says a steady level of GO bonds invested in infrastructure should be established, which would create incredible economic impact and jobs across the board for construction contractors in roads and infrastructure. It says that DHHL should live within its means like any other state agency by spending only General Funds for its staff and operating costs instead of double dipping into our trust funds. The Hawaii Supreme Court has spoken on this in the Nelson case ruling—our Strategic Plan lays out the path forward to comply with that ruling while building a stable financial foundation for our land trust.”
Michelle Kauhane said after the briefing that “it was an incredible 75 minutes, so much can be accomplished when everyone has all of the information they need, and when both the executive and legislative branches of our government work with constituents that have many of the answers to the challenges that have plagued this land trust for too long.”
One of the final topics discussed with Representative Ing and Senator Shimabukuro was the potential of creating a more concentrated focus on the mercantile enterprise potential in the law, by creating a Hawaiian Homestead Caucus for legislators with trust lands in their districts. CNHA and the SCHHA distributed a listing of all legislators, that shows that 25 of 51 house representatives have lands and constituent interests, and 15 of the 25 senators do as well.
Representatives from the SCHHA and CNHA are following up with inquiries from senators and representatives received in the days following the briefing. “I’m excited about their excitement that they have a stake in the success of this native Hawaiian land trust, which they do,” Kamaki Kanahele said. “We want this land trust to do exactly what Congress intended—for native Hawaiians in every district in the state, to live, to operate farms and ranches, and to build mercantile businesses that serve all of Hawaii.”