Hawaiians Reject Office of Hawaiian Affairs ‘Settlement’ Proposal
by Andrew Walden, Feb. 28, 2008
Speaking at the offices of Hilo’s Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center February 25, state Attorney General Mark Bennett, Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chief Counsel Robert Klein, and Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Robert Lindsey faced sign waving protesters shouting obscenities as they tried to sell OHA’s settlement agreement to a hostile crowd of about 100 people.
Hilo resident Ed Miranda told Klein and Lindsey, “It is not for you guys to cut the line (so) nobody (can) sue. It is very obvious that you guys cannot take care of our interests.” As Bennett stood by passively, Miranda rambled on about: “the prophesy of the Jewish Queen.”
Standing just feet from the State’s chief law enforcement officer and a former Supreme Court Justice, another speaker identified only as “Kealoha from Puna” said “This is our money, not your (OHA’s) money” and began cursing the speakers: “F*** you! F*** all of you! What has OHA done for the beneficiaries?”
A lady in the audience said, “We were not raised to speak like that. This is the Queen’s House.”
Kealoha then blurted out the deepest and most profound truth of the entire meeting: “They made me like that.”
Robert Lindsey responded saying that in the last year OHA had given grants to a Kona-based canoe club and to the ARC of Hilo.
For no apparent reason Kealoha then attempted to square off with a reporter seated in the front row before Councilwoman Emily Naeole directed him back to his seat.
A protester who declined to identify himself carried a sign reading, “OHA Stop stealing from Hawaiians.” He and others repeatedly interrupted and heckled the OHA representatives telling them at one point, “We are going to have peaceful Hawaiians ready to bust heads.” Another shouted, “We want 100% of this money. You guys are just using us Hawaiians.”
Councilwoman Naeole pointed her finger at Bennett, Klein, and Lindsey shouting: “We Hawaiians are loving people but we got to act like this because of what we got to go through.”
Former OHA Trustee Moana Akaka angrily denounced the settlement as “too small.”
Mililani Trask loudly denounced OHA and questioned the value of the lands proposed for transfer, demanding “valuation reports and environmental disclosure on all parcels.” Robert Lindsey admitted that OHA had not assessed the value of the properties and had instead relied on a formula based on tax valuations.
Ken Fujiyama, who owns a 65-year lease on Hilo’s Naniloa Hotel and an adjacent golf course, both to be transferred to OHA under the proposed settlement, echoed Trask’s concerns about valuation. He said “It is hard for me as a real estate person to look at a $200 million transaction with no appraisal.” About the Banyan Drive parcels, he added: “It is hard for me to comprehend (the State/OHA valuation of) $34 million. It is probably worth $10 million.”
Lindsey responded—unwittingly outlining the root of Hawaii’s economy: “In our experience there never is a shortage of developers willing to come in and spend ever-greater amounts for resort property.”
The meeting opened with a 30 minute power-point presentation by Dr Jonathan Scheuer, director of OHA’s newly-created land management hale. Scheuer explained: “OHA has fought this battle for 30 years. And it has distracted OHA from its core mission which is the betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians.”
Illustrating the grasp of the OHA trustees, Scheuer explained how OHA rejected $5.5 million in payments which would have allowed affordable housing developments on ceded land in Kona and Lahaina. Instead the Trustees filed suit in November 1994. OHA also demanded 20% of all patient fees from Hilo Hospital because it is located on ceded lands. Asked Scheuer: “What about University tuition. The University is located almost entirely on ceded lands. Should OHA get 20% of that?”
Scheuer added: “I like to compare OHA to Kamehameha Schools. Kamehameha Schools has $9.1 billion dollars and can spend more in one year than OHA is worth in its entirety. Education is 1/20th of our kuleana and OHA’s resources are about 1/20th of Kamehameha Schools. So there is just a mismatch between the responsibility that we have for the betterment of native Hawaiians and the resources that we have to get those things done.”
Earlier this month-- 14 years after being filed -- OHA’s affordable housing case resulted in the Hawaii State Supreme Court injunction against the sale of ceded lands to any agency other than OHA until such time as native Hawaiian claims to ceded lands have been resolved.
Scheuer stated that OHA trustees had wished to keep ceded lands out of the settlement package but claimed that Attorney General Bennett had insisted on including at least one ceded lands parcel. Questioned about this by email, Bennett claimed that Scheuer “misspoke” in his presentation. After receiving a copy of Bennett’s response, Scheuer also claimed he “misspoke” but then wrote, “What I meant to say was that the (OHA) Board (of Trustees) had a preference in settlement to avoid ceded lands.”
Scheuer didn’t get much respect in Hilo. As his presentation ended, he was relegated to a corner of the room by Mililani Trask demanding: “We don’t want to speak to staffers. Where are the trustees?”
Robert Klein authored the 1995 PASH decision as a member of the Hawaii Supreme Court. He then resigned from the bench to join OHA as Chief Counsel and take full advantage of the decision he had just written. Unheeded, Klein pleaded with the crowd: “Is it more important to leave the moneys due you in the hands of the State? If there is too much dissention then (the proposed settlement) probably will not pass.”
Representative Clift Tsuji (D-Hilo) and Senator Lorraine Inouye (D-Hilo, Hamakua) silently observed the meeting.
Lindsey admitted: “We are not amongst our people at OHA.”
A young mother who brought three children to the meeting got up to speak. She said: “Sovereignty is already happening now. We are educating our children.” Eyeing Klein and Lindsey she pointed out: “What we have in front of us doesn’t work.”