Category Archives: OHA

Writ or Wrong

So, what ever happened to the much-ballyhooed OHA petition to force money out of the Hawaii legislature?  I remember when they filed it with the Hawaii Supreme Court.  How could I forget?  I got two separate press releases, a print newsletter article, an e-newsletter brief, and multiple links to the story as picked up (and especially endorsed) by other media outlets.  No one would let me forget it.  As I recall, the spin went something like this: the Hawaii legislature was resistant to approving the payout plan for a $200 million settlement between OHA and the Lingle Administration related to ceded land revenues, so OHA petitioned the Hawaii Supreme Court to force the legislature to pass a law regarding this pay-out  In the OHA version of the story, the reason for the Legislature’s foot-dragging is unexplained, though one is free to conclude that the Legislature is just full of culturally-insensitive money-grubbing politicians.  (Not that this is necessarily totally inaccurate, but fairness compels me to point out that our current economic and budget woes make this a bad time for the legislature to try to carve out another $200 million for OHA.)

Anyway, it turns out that the State Supreme Court has ruled on OHA’s petition for a Writ of Mandamus, though in order to learn what happened, I had to read a small column in the lower right corner of page 7 of OHA’s monthly newspaper.  No email blasts for this one, I guess.  As you may have surmised, the OHA petition was denied based on (in the article’s somewhat mendacious words) the court’s, “understanding of the technical requirements for a mandamus action.”  Allow me to translate this into plain language: The court said no, based on the fact that the OHA petition was a bit of public grandstanding with no legal merit.

As I said in my earlier entry on this issue, to me, the big problem is not whether the state owes OHA the money or how they should pay.  I just continue to be amazed at the insensitivity of the powers-that-be at OHA.  After such a difficult economic year, these kinds of stunts don’t do much to bolster the agency’s image.  And trying to obscure the evidence of their miscalculation doesn’t help much either.

That’s “Entertainment”?

So, how often do you like to kick back and watch a little Pacific Network Internet television?  Yeah, me neither.

But would you make more of an effort if you knew that they were getting nearly a million dollars from OHA for the creation of a “Hawaiian-themed internet television station and web portal”?  It kinda makes you wonder what a cool million buys these days in the way of internet entertainment . . . aside from buckets of Farmville cash or enough “adult videos” to end up under permanent FBI surveillance, of course.

Curious as to what a Hawaiian internet TV station might look like, I checked out their website, and was confronted by . . . Puppies!  Adorable ones! In a shopping cart!  Also, canoeing wipe-outs and some footage of a party in Waikiki that didn’t seem interesting enough to click on.  In all honesty, it looked more like a creation of the Hawaii Tourism Authority than anything intended for Hawaii residents, much less Native Hawaiians.  And if this were a private enterprise, that would be no big deal.  I mean, I would question their business plan, but we live in a country where people are entitled to waste their own money in whatever way they wish.  And I would no more stop someone from starting a questionable business enterprise than from going to an Rob Schneider movie.  (Ok, that’s not entirely true.  I would probably at least try to urge them, out of basic human decency, to avoid the movie.)  But this is beside the point.  Because we’re not talking about private enterprise here.  We’re talking about money intended for the benefit of the Native Hawaiian people.  And we’re talking about a quasi-governmental agency that hopes to have a big hand in the proposed Native Hawaiian Reorganization proposed by the Akaka Bill.

The crazy thing is that we have seen plenty of media enterprises aimed at speaking primarily to one minority group succeed (BET and Telemundo come to mind, but there are others too).  But they succeed or fail in the marketplace by learning to speak to their audience and growing their audience in a profitable way.  Who is the Pacific Network speaking to?  The lack of advertising on the website suggests that profitability at this point is determined only by the success of their grant proposals.  If you were (or are) Native Hawaiian, would you consider this an effective way of reaching out or fostering the Native Hawaiian community?  Or is it just another OHA vanity grant that looks good on paper, but disappoints in reality?

OHA’s Official Grant Goals

Break out the champagne and the 12-pages of Hawaiiglish, it’s OHA grant application time!  (What is Hawaiiglish?  It’s the name I’ve come up with for the bizarre hybrid of English and Hawaiian that is especially popular in the field of obtaining Hawaiian grants or talking about Hawaii when you’re running for office.  You know . . . when you get sentences like, “The kapuna understand the matrix of needs required to foster care of the ohana.”  Yes, this is a pet peeve of mine, since I feel like it’s pandering–as though Native Hawaiians are going to applaud anything you say just because you stuck the word “pono” in the sentence.)

Anyway, as part of its announcement of the new granting year, OHA also published its list of priorities.  And, to be scrupulously fair, many of them are completely reasonable and even necessary.  For example, there is a huge emphasis placed on increasing economic self-sufficiency for Native Hawaiians, with a specific goal of increasing family income and housing stability.  There are also laudable mentions of the need to exceed education standards and preserve Hawaiian culture.  Heck, I don’t even have a quarrel with the emphasis on preserving the environment and protecting the land.  There are places in this country where I might not be moved by that (I’m looking at you here, Newark), but Hawaii . . . well, that is some beautiful, beautiful stuff.

Of course, what I’ve done here is once again (like a broken CD or KPOI’s playlist) come back, yet again, to the same theme.  In effect, laudable goals do not equal laudable programs.  That’s why this exercise in transparency is so necessary.  Native Hawaiians deserve to know if all of these efforts to increase their family income, preserve their land, and protect their culture are actually good and effective program, or if they’re nothing more than vanity projects, giveaways to favored groups, or noble ideas that just don’t work in the real world.  Or whether they’re working like crazy and just need some more publicity and support to really help.  Some people get threatened by transparency efforts like 4HawaiiansOnly.  They think we’re trying to attack people or take away their support.  That’s a very defensive and short-sighted view.  All we’re doing is giving people the information they need to make an informed judgment about how their money is being spent.  You have to wonder about the motivations of those who want to prevent people from having that knowledge.

Just Use the “Easy” Button

When I grow up, I want to be an editorial writer for the Honolulu Advertiser.  What a sweet gig that would be.  I’d just have to get up in the morning, come to the office, change around a few sentences in a press release from some favored organization (or on a really strenuous day, check in with the head of Hawaii’s Democratic Party for the official line), then head out for a good lunch and a refreshing siesta.

What?  You say there’s more to it than that?

You’re right.  Sometimes I might have to go to staff meetings.  But still . . . .what a great gig.

Too harsh?  Well, perhaps you should consider the Advertiser’s recent editorial on the OHA suit against the state (mentioned in Wednesday’s post by the way).  Titled “Real leaders find a way to pay debts,” it is little more than a rearrangement of OHA’s press release, accompanied by the wonderfully obvious title point.  I’m sure that in response, Hawaii’s leaders are slapping themselves in the forehead and saying, “Of course!  It’s all so clear now!  Since we aspire to be real leaders, we’ll just hand over the $200 million tomorrow!  I don’t know why we didn’t think of it before!”

It’s just so darned easy to be a left-leaning editorial writer.  The Hawaiians deserve their money.  Teachers deserve to be paid more.  The environment needs to be protected better.  The state of our health system needs to be improved.  Government housing is a scandal.  There isn’t a problem under the sun that can’t be addressed by the state treasury.  Unfortunately for the actual real leaders involved, there isn’t a money tree sitting outside the state house.  (Believe me, I’ve looked.  Something has to explain the way the rationale of the state budget process.)  And Hawaii’s taxpayers–though mellower than many–still have this weird desire to hold on to the bulk of their earnings.  So sometimes, no matter how much something is deserved, there is no easy solution.  Because that $200 million owed to the Native Hawaiians doesn’t come from some mysterious fountain of gold coins in the Governor’s office.  It comes from our paychecks.  And a lot of us have seen those paychecks take a hit lately.  So we’re hurting.  And the state is hurting.  And it makes the whole thing a lot more complicated than OHA or the Advertiser want to admit.

Help, I’m Stuck in a Nutshell!

When you’re a blogger, you dream about finding something as neatly symbolic as today’s OHA filing against the state for past due land revenues.  How lucky is it to find a perfect storm of problems and issues to define everything about Hawaii that makes you want to pull your hair out?  Race problems?  Economic issues?  A government that puts problems off for later so that they can get worse and more divisive?  It’s all there.

As you may have heard, OHA has filed a writ of mandamus against the State seeking to compel the legislature to act regarding the payment of hundreds of millions of dollars in past due ceded land revenues.  (OHA has submitted proposals for payment to the Legislature for the past three years, but the proposals have all been rejected.)  You gotta love the timing here, considering that the country (and state) are still reeling from the economic downturn.  Especially in light of the recent legislative session, teacher negotiations, and so on.  The State isn’t exactly swimming in funds, and OHA seems to be determined to make itself more unpopular in its ham-fisted approach to the issue.  I’m sure the average Hawaii taxpayer will be thrilled by this turn of events.

Though one wonders whether the average Hawaii taxpayer has given up and is busy drinking mojitos on the beach rather than deal with an elected leadership that has created a tradition of avoiding hard decisions.  Sure, there are those who buck the trend, but I don’t see OHA deciding that they’ll just write off $200 million any time soon.  So this isn’t a problem that is going away.  Instead, it promises to add to the already growing divisiveness about race, the ceded lands, sovereignty, and the Islands. Honestly, it’s a little depressing sometimes to watch the slow erosion of the island spirit thanks to these issues.

But hey, at least the weather is awesome and the beaches are great.  People from crummier locales probably have nothing better to do than engage in responsible governance.

A Real Help in Education

Don’t think that I haven’t noticed a certain . . . cynicism coming from many of our analyses of the grants on our site.  I swear that it’s not because I’m a curmudgeon with a skeptical nature.  Well, let’s say that it’s not entirely because of the skeptic/curmudgeon thing.  To be clear: I think that there are great things that can be done to help Native Hawaiians.  I want to see the ones that work get the kudos they deserve.  But this is an area that needs the bright light of transparency like Lady Gaga needs a new stylist.  (Translation for the pop culturally-impaired: It needs it a lot.)

Anyway, lest it be said that we never have anything nice to say about OHA or their grants, let me take the opportunity to bring attention to their K-12 Family Education Assistance Program, which is now accepting applications from Native Hawaiian Families with significant education costs.  In short, these are grants of up to $5000 to Native Hawaiians families who are spending a large proportion of their income in order to send their children to private school.  The point is (obviously) to help give disadvantaged families better access to private education.  (And by extension, better academic and career chances, etc., etc.  Not to disparage public schooling in Hawaii, but . . . um . . . you know, my mom always told me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, it’s better to keep my mouth shut.)

Who couldn’t get behind individual scholarships help for disadvantaged Hawaiian families?  This is the kind of thing that the trust monies were made for.  Moreover, it’s good to see the effort to help Hawaiians get a better education at the lower grade levels, thereby setting the students up for more success as they get older.  It’s nice that there are college scholarships to help Hawaiians as well, but how many promising kids slip through the cracks and never even get the opportunity to apply to college.  Quite a few education experts feel that we should be focusing our efforts at improving opportunities in primary and secondary education rather than placing so much emphasis on college entrance rates.

Anyway, the deadline for applications to these grants is June 30th, so if you know someone who might be interested, send them to to this page on the OHA website to learn more about requirements, applications, and so on.

Akaka by OHA

So, if you’ve been living in a cave on Mars, with your fingers in your ears, going, “La, la, la, la, la” over and over again, you’ll probably be glad to hear that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has launched an “informational” page to help people truly understand the implications of the Akaka Bill.  Of course, if you’re even slightly conscious and an inhabitant of Hawaii, you probably already have  grasp of the basics.  But I’m sure OHA’s effort will be deeply appreciated by those who just woke from a coma or those who don’t care to have their news tainted by elements of impartiality.

Of course, there’s not much new to find there–they’ve basically taken the “There, there . . . no need to worry, it won’t change anything except the very foundations of the state,” approach.  It was interesting to see that they skipped right past the fact that a roll of names of eligible Hawaiians to participate in the formation of the of the new Native Hawaiian government would be determined and published . . . without really questioning how that determination would be reached.  This was especially fascinating in light of OHA’s assurance that the Akaka Bill is not race-based.  Technically speaking, that would be proper, as the Kingdom of Hawaii was not a racial entity, but a regular old sovereign government with borders, citizens of many races, and so on.  But that’s not exactly the history of Native Hawaiian programs in the last several decades, which (understandably) tend to focus on actual Native Hawaiian lineage.

The claim that the Akaka Bill is not race-based does bring up an interesting paradox, however. Pretend for a moment that it really was going to reflect the history of the Hawaiian nation and include anyone who can trace their heritage to citizens of the Kingdom–including Native Hawaiians, Chinese, whites, and so on.  It certainly would be a most accurate representations of Hawaiian citizens at the time of annexation.  But would there be much support for an Akaka Bill that wasn’t at it’s heart, race-based?  Somehow, I doubt it.

OHA Aha!

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs holds a strange place in Hawaii.  Our general desire to help Native Hawaiians makes people kindly disposed to its mission.  The fuzziness about where the money comes from and where it’s going (on the other hand) has dogged OHA for years.

The 4Hawaiians Only Wiki documents quite a few OHA grants from 2007 and 2008 (and we’re currently adding more from 2009), and we’re looking to you to help us fill in the blanks.  Check out the wiki and let us know what you know (or have learned) about these programs.  Do you know someone who has actually participated in programs like the Pu’ulima Taro Education Project?  (I presume this has to do with educating people about taro and not educating the taro itself.  Because that would be a huge waste of money.  Everyone knows that taro has to learn at its own pace.)  But if you do know someone who has insight into these programs, get him to post about his experience.  If he loved it, then he can let people know that this is a worthy program that deserves support.  If he thinks it was a waste of time, he can spread the word that there are better uses out there for the money . . . or that this isn’t helpful to Native Hawaiians.  OHA and the state of Hawaii have spent a lot of money building community programs and resources.  Now it’s time for the community to evaluate their work.

After all, if you know that someone is out there, going on about how much they’re helping you, wouldn’t you like some objective evaluation of what they’re doing?  OHA is notorious for avoiding this kind of scrutiny.  Now that we have the power of the internet, we don’t have to wait for them to respond to the reporters and researchers.  We can start the grading process ourselves.