KEKAHA — Native Hawaiian lands and rights were a big part of the talks at an Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees meeting Thursday at the Kekaha Neighborhood Center.
Punohu Kekaualua III, a Kekaha resident who has ohana and kuleana land in Wailua, asked board members if OHA would provide resources for nationals from the Hawaiian Kingdom who seek sovereignty and claim Hawaiian lands.
“I believe we are entitled to this money, too,” he said as about 40 people listened. “By them denying me now, this is unfair for me and the people who are standing up for our nation’s rights.”
OHA Chair Colette Machado said OHA’s hands are tied since the Hawaiian Kingdom is not affiliated with the state. OHA is mandated to support state-related programs.
“As far as extracting money from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, we are unable at this time to provide that mechanism, unless a private source would give us money for that purpose that we could administer for that kind of kokua with the grassroots,” Machado told Kekaulua.
Though members of OHA commended Kekaualua for his questions, the Kekaha resident was disappointed with their answers.
“That’s why I wanted to ask this question because they’re helping all these Native Hawaiians who are considered U.S. citizens, but they are not even trying to put out anything for this Hawaiian national who is a part of his nation,” he said.
Peter Apo, OHA board member, said the issue of sovereignty is complicated.
“For me, it’s so painful,” he said. “The Hawaii that I remembered and the Hawaiians that I remembered … is very, very different. There’s a lot more unification back (then).”
Apo said sovereignty is a challenge.
“We worry so much about what other people are doing to us,” he said. “We gotta worry what we’re doing to ourselves.”
Kamana‘opono Crabbe, OHA CEO, said OHA is in discussion with the county about kuleana lands.
“I think it is OHA’s responsibility to address the big problem,” he said. “How are we going to protect kuleana lands for Native Hawaiian families.”
Machado said protecting the land is important to Native Hawaiians.
“We do have certain limitations as a state agency,” she said.
Harold Vidinha, president of the Hawaiian Homestead Association, requested additional burial land for Hawaiians. He said the Hawaiian cemetery in Kekaha is overcapacity.
“They’re putting bodies anyway we can,” Vidinha said. “I want to come back to OHA and see if OHA will participate in purchasing the land when we find an area, so we can put our dead in. They don’t have a place in.”
Machado said Vidinha should create a committee, identify a parcel and report the findings to OHA.
“If it’s state owned and operated, there might be an opportunity where that could get transferred to us or to Hawaiian Homes,” she said. “Only you know your community and where you would like your cemetery. We can help you once you’ve established where you feel the land is appropriate.”