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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 12, 2007

Betterment for Hawaiians mandated by law

By Haunani Apoliona and Clyde W. Namu'o

Jere Krischel's Island Voices column (Jan. 9) begs response. His claim that assistance toward Native Hawaiians in Hawai'i does more damage than good is ludicrous, and his analysis is simplistic.

Krischel bases his comments on the 2005 American Community Survey for California, which reports that that state's 65,000 Native Hawaiians have a slightly higher median income than the statewide average. That is great news. But to say that this is because those Hawaiians have no Office of Hawaiian Affairs or Department of Hawaiian Lands in California, and that therefore Hawaiians "at home" would also be better off without those entitlements, is wrong.

Should all Hawaiians pack their bags and head for California? Should Hawai'i continue to morph into Anytown U.S.A.? Lose the native people, language and unique culture, and you'll achieve just that.

The term "birthright" is better suited than "entitlements." Native Hawaiians are the indigenous people of Hawai'i, and have the right to thrive in their ancient homeland although it is extremely difficult for many. Hawai'i's real estate is among the most expensive in the world. Development is out of control, and rent has skyrocketed. Native Hawaiians, by federal and state law, have the right to access resources to improve their conditions. Hawaiians on the Mainland also have access to a myriad of grants and scholarships earmarked for Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Krischel chooses to discount reality. The federal and state investment in addressing basic needs of Native Hawaiians prepares them to take the next step toward self-sufficiency, which enables Native Hawaiians to pursue economic self-sufficiency. In taking that next step, they sometimes have to leave their homeland to pursue opportunities not available in Hawai'i.

The data about Native Hawaiians that Krischel describes show the successful outcome of government programs to date. However, it reinforces the challenge to our communities to resolve the dismal socioeconomic conditions that now exist.

In reality, Krischel has re-emphasized the need to continue government programs for Native Hawaiians to expand the positive impact they are starting to make for communities in which they live.

The fact that 40 percent of the nation's Native Hawaiian population lives outside of Hawai'i is very telling. California's Native Hawaiian population, 65,000, is the nation's second largest, next to Hawai'i. First-hand accounts from such entities as the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, Kamehameha Schools and University of Hawai'i alumni chapters on the Mainland verify that economic opportunity was the reason for out-migration. Many of these Hawaiians feel squeezed out of their kulaiwi (ancestral homeland), and their children and grandchildren will likely never be able to afford to move "home."

California's constitution does not mandate support for Native Hawaiians. The State of Hawai'i Constitution does.

The distinct status of indigenous Native Hawaiians and a mandatory commitment to betterment of conditions of Native Hawaiians is an ongoing condition of statehood. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs was created in 1978 to facilitate the state's obligation to Hawai'i's indigenous people. And the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, now a state agency, has its origins in the U.S. Congress, and is based on federal law.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs continues its community outreach beyond Hawai'i's shores, because those Hawaiians living away are our family, based on our traditional beliefs.

For many Hawaiians, prospering means more than earning a median income thousands of miles from home. Many would rather 'ai pohaku, or "eat the stones of the land," and continue to live in their native land no matter how difficult it may be. Resources derived from our kulaiwi that help to better overall conditions of Native Hawaiians are our birthright. The result is beneficial to the entire community.

Sadly, Krischel's overall disdain toward the hoped-for passage of federal recognition for Native Hawaiians, commonly known as the Akaka bill, is magnified by the entities with which he is affiliated, including the Grassroot Institute of Hawai'i, which has consistently expressed opposition to programs and entitlements for Native Hawaiians.

Haunani Apoliona is chairwoman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Clyde W. Namu'o is OHA's administrator. They wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.