Group urges OHA to drop support
A group of Native Hawaiians and supporters held an overnight sit-in yesterday in the fifth-floor lobby of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, hoping to sway its trustees to withdraw their support for the Akaka bill.
The protesters, who included 17 adults and three young children, began their 24-hour vigil in the hallway of OHA's Kaka'ako offices at 10 a.m. under the threat of arrest. As of 10:30 p.m. no arrests had been made, after OHA asked building management of 711 Kapi'olani to allow the group, Hui Pu, to stay overnight.
Bathrooms were left unlocked and OHA trustee John Waihe'e IV gave Hui Pu members two plastic bags of bentos at about 5:30 p.m.
The group planned to end the sit-in at 10 a.m. today, Hui Pu member Ikaika Hussey said.
The members of Hui Pu, an umbrella group of Native Hawaiians opposed to the Akaka bill, began their sit-in after meeting with the OHA trustees earlier in the day and demanding that they rescind their support for the bill. When the board refused, the group began a non-violent protest by occupying the office.
At 4:30 p.m., Ron Mun, OHA deputy administrator, told the group that the building was closed and the protesters should leave. Mun said he respected Hui Pu's position, but said members could be arrested for trespassing if they stayed.
The protesters refused, locked arms and began to sing and chant in anticipation of their arrest. But at 6:30 p.m., Mun returned and told the group that he had asked building security to allow Hui Pu to remain in the building after hours.
Hussey said he was relieved that it appeared there would be no arrests.
"Our job is not to talk to the police. Our job is to talk to the trustees," Hussey said. "Our goal is for the trustees to reverse their decision. So the arrest is just a possible consequence of us asking for the trustees to do that."
Earlier yesterday, Hussey read a four-page statement to the trustees saying the amendments recently added to the bill make its passage "more dangerous than beneficial to our Hawaiian community."
"These amendments are built on a legal and political framework which is as shaky as it is dangerous for our people," Hussey said. "There is no guarantee that the bill will protect the Hawaiian institutions it claims to protect."
He said Hui Pu objects to OHA's "single-minded" support of the bill and its "high-budget marketing of the bill to the exclusion of other perspectives."
The Akaka bill starts a process that would lead to federal recognition of a Native Hawaiian entity. Supporters say it is necessary not just to address wrongs committed by the U.S. government, but will help stave off legal challenges to programs — including OHA and Kamehameha Schools — that give preference to Hawaiians.
Several trustees agreed that the amendments troubled them, but each said they would continue to support the bill.
"Only time will tell whether we made the right decision," trustee Rowena Akana said.
Board chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said the amendments are only proposed and not final. She said the board continues to support the bill and could not take a vote on changing their stand even if it wanted to because it was not on the agenda for the meeting.
"Our position has not changed," Apoliona said. "That is not the way to settle differing points of view. We like people to be respectful. We are respectful of them."
When the meeting ended about 2 p.m., the protesters were locked out of the meeting room, so they moved up to the 12th-floor elevator lobby of the office tower where trustees have their individual offices.
But that floor is shared with other businesses who complained to building security that their access was being blocked, and the police were called. Police moved the Hui Pu members back to the 5th floor.
The protesters carried stones from different areas of O'ahu to symbolize the commitment of their opposition to the Akaka bill.