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OHA pushes forward with Nai Aupuni despite concerns

Despite vocal opposition and community concerns raised at OHA board meetings in late April, 2015, the board has decided to go forward with a nation building process spearheaded by a new organization: Na‘i Aupuni.

News Report
Will Caron

At the end of April, 2015, support for Hawaiian self-determination had reached a peak as worldwide attention focused on the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) controversy. The members of the board of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) heard dozens of Hawaiian testifiers demand that the state agency that represents them rescind its support for the project. In an emotionally charged hearing the following week, the board elected to simply withdraw its support from the project, stopping short of outright opposition, a decision that disappointed many of the gathered members of the lāhui (Hawaiian community).

While less publicized than the fight over Mauna Kea, Hawaiian leaders at the OHA meetings also expressed grave concern over the chosen path toward self-determination itself. The concern centered around a small consortium of Hawaiian leaders from a handful of ali‘i-founded organizations that has formed a new organization called Na‘i Aupuni, which OHA has charged with leading the nation-building process.

“I am totally opposed to this idea of giving four individuals the reins and letting them steer our canoe,” said activist Walter Ritte at the April 23 OHA meeting (Editor’s note: we’ve since learned there are five members of Naʻi Aupuni). “I’ve never seen these people involved in the efforts over the years to build our nation. Somehow, before we strike this deal, we need to clean this up, because we can’t build our nation in the sand. We need a solid foundation, but this is not the foundation that we were told would represent us.”

“I find it disturbing that we’re considering giving Naʻi Aupuni $2.8 million when we don’t even know who they are,” agreed activist Andre Perez (pictured above). “Who is Naʻi Aupuni? Who are those four individuals? Can somebody tell me? Somebody tell me their names. I know Kūhiō Asam because he introduced himself to me, but who are the other three?”

Despite these concerns, OHA has announced that it intends to move forward with the Naʻi Aupuni-lead nation-building plan: “A consortium of Native Hawaiian leaders with deep roots in the community will facilitate a nation building process to move Hawaiians a step closer to self determination,” the organization announced on May 27. “The leaders have formed Na‘i Aupuni, a Native Hawaiian organization, that has signed a grant agreement with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to facilitate nation building. Under the terms of the agreement, Na‘i Aupuni will make its own autonomous decisions while OHA will fund the process.”

“This is an encouraging sign for our efforts to empower Native Hawaiians to determine their own future through a process that is open to all of them,” said OHA Chairperson Robert K. Lindsey Jr.

The nation building effort was first announced following a March 6, 2014 vote of the Board of Trustees. OHA then held a series of meetings with the leadership of various organizations founded by Hawaiian ali‘i. According to OHA CEO Kamanaʻopono Crabbe, the ali‘i organizations held meetings during the summer of 2014 to discuss whether they felt they could take on the responsibility of facilitating a nation-building process. “Unfortunately, we did not get commitments from many aliʻi trusts,” said Crabbe. “We were left with just a few organizations willing to participate.”

Those organizations still left decided to accept the responsibility, but did so by forming a separate, stand-alone entity: Naʻi Aupuni. But even though Naʻi Aupuni was born from the discussions between these aliʻi trust organizations, it is a separate entity and, therefore, the five individuals chosen to lead that entity no longer speak for the original aliʻi organizations.

OHA has charged Na‘i Aupuni with overseeing the solicitation of third-party expert organizations to administer a three-stage nation building process: a Native Hawaiian election of delegates; a convening (“ʻaha”) of those delegates to draft a proposed governing document; and lastly, a ratification vote by which Native Hawaiians will collectively approve or disapprove of the draft governing document. In addition, Na‘i Aupuni will select an independent monitor to oversee the election and ratification. While Na‘i Aupuni will facilitate the process, OHA insists that every major decision (who is elected, what the draft governing document will say, and whether it is approved) will be determined by the Native Hawaiian people.

Additionally, Na‘i Aupuni’s directors are unpaid volunteers. They will not run for office within the nation building process. Likewise, OHA does not have any decision-making authority in the nation building process.

The directors of Na‘i Aupuni are: Dr. James Kūhiō Asam (President), Pauline Nakoʻolani Namu‘o (Vice President), Naomi Kealoha Ballesteros (Secretary/Treasurer), Geraldine Abbey Miyamoto and Selena Lehua Schuelke.