Sunday, February 4, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 4, 2001

Establish a trust for Hawaiian autonomy

By Fred Hemmings

Many feel the common denominator to the problems facing the indigenous people of Hawaii — the Native Hawaiians — is politics.

The two biggest state assets dedicated to benefit the Hawaiian community are the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). These two entities were created politically and have been administered through the political process.

A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court changing Hawaiian-only voting for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has generated much concern.

The Rice decision, as it is called, may be a blessing in disguise. For too long the Native Hawaiians and the people of Hawaii have spent time debating, arguing and litigating over a solution to the Hawaiian sovereignty question.

It is our proposal that the 2001 Legislature pass into law the Hawaiian Autonomy Trust bill. This bill would establish a trust designed to pre-empt constitutional challenges, such as the Rice case, against Hawaiian taxpayer-funded programs.

Native Hawaiians are justifiably alarmed by what appears to be an attack on Hawaiian assets, the most important of which are the Hawaiian Homes Act and OHA.

Regardless of whether an individual agrees or disagrees, a commitment, a promise and an obligation were made to the Hawaiian community. These promises and obligations must be honored.

Hawaiian Home Lands and OHA are huge and wonderful assets. The Hawaiian Home Lands was established by the leadership of the beloved Prince Jonah Kalanianaole K¬hi¯ in 1922 in the Congress of the United States.

At that time approximately 203,500 acres of lands on four counties were deeded to the Hawaiian Home Lands Commission for the exclusive use of Native Hawaiians.

Rules and regulations for the governing of these lands were set forth by Congress then later passed on to the state of Hawaii.

OHA currently possesses $394 million and the state of Hawaii owes it much more.

The state has to settle the revenue "debt" to OHA and it should be settled, reasonably, once and for all.

These two assets combined (Hawaiian Home Land and OHA) could easily make the Hawaiian Autonomous Trust one of the larger beneficiary trusts in the nation. All this can be done with existing resources.

The problem remains that political action or inaction throughout the years promoted mismanagement, divisiveness and negativism in the system.

The Hawaiian Autonomy Trust Act (HAT), if passed by the Legislature and signed into law, would accomplish the following:

It would remove federal government and state government ownership and management of the Hawaiian Home Lands and give it to the Hawaiian Autonomy Trust.

This legislation would also turn over to the trust all assets from the settlement of all revenue debts to OHA.

These two huge cash and land assets would come under the sole ownership of the trust. The trust would be administered like any other private trust in the state of Hawaii.

These assets of the Native Hawaiians would be solely in the hands of Hawaiians and not part of state government These assets would be free from Hawaii’s political system.

We feel that turning over the assets and responsibilities of Hawaiian Home Lands and OHA to a private trust would solve many constitutional questions and close off legal attacks on these assets.

The Hawaiian Autonomy Trust would be incorporated in such a manner that all Native Hawaiians would have a say in its administration. Native Hawaiians would be defined as those who have ancestors in Hawaii prior to 1778.

The system of governance would be set up by a convention designed by Native Hawaiians. As a private trust, the resources of the trust, election of convention delegates and ratification by beneficiaries would be the business of only those beneficiaries — Native Hawaiians.

This would have a very positive effect for all the citizens and taxpayers of Hawaii in that it would eliminate two very big, complicated agencies from state government.

The Hawaiians would control their destiny with this trust.

In the future, the Hawaiian Autonomy Trust could certainly work with Bishop Estate, the Queen Liliuokalani Trust and other trusts dedicated to the native people of Hawaii. The choice would be theirs to make.

Do we continue to litigate, argue and fight, or do we find a common-sense solution and put this issue to rest once and for all?

Let us put aside our differences and find common ground. Let’s unite and find a solution that will allow Native Hawaiians to define their own destiny through a private trust.

Fred Hemmings is a Hawai'i state senator.

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