What Does OHA Do?
WHAT IS OHA?
OHA is a semi-autonomous state agency established by the delegates of the 1978 Constitutional Convention. The Hawai’i Constitution charges OHA with a very complicated and sweeping mandate to manage a group of trust assets, on behalf of its approximately 250,000 Hawaiian beneficiaries living in Hawai’i.
Trust assets include a Wall Street investment portfolio, commercial real estate properties, cultural properties such as Waimea Valley (O’ahu), and a number of grants from various sources. These assets have a total net worth that hovers around $550 million and growing. OHA’s annual operating budget of approximately $40 million includes $10 million in contracts that go to every conceivable service such as accounting, law, janitorial, construction, catering, flowers, and more.
About $14 million is paid as wages to our employees, who in turn pay for housing, clothing, transportation, food, education, medicine, and entertainment.
WHAT DOES OHA DO?
- OHA funds the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (NHLC) which fights for access to land and water. If not for NHLC, working in conjunction with other legal organizations and OHA’s in-house compliance and enforcement team, many of our beaches would be closed to the public, Makua Valley would still be an active firing range, and many historic sites would have been destroyed.
- OHA helped fund the Humpback Whale Sanctuary, and is a co-manager of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.
- OHA funds a number of annual flagship events such the Merrie Monarch hula competition, The Kamehameha Schools Song Contest, Nā Hōkū Hanohano music awards, Hawai‘i Book and Music Festival, and many more smaller events throughout the State for the benefit of all Hawai‘i.
- OHA gives out community-based grants totaling about $13 million a year which fall into six broad categories: culture, health, income, education, governance, and land and water.
- OHA’s health grants include supporting services for prevention of diabetes, obesity and heart disease with thousands of participants every year. We also fund programs targeting hundreds of people on four islands to adopt holistic health lifestyles in order to decrease their rates of chronic illness.
- OHA supports 13 Hawaiian-focused charter schools statewide. These schools are preparing the leaders of the future by grounding their education in Hawaiian values. OHA also gives scholarships for post-high education.
- The housing programs we support offer financial literacy and down payment assistance for people who are moving from rentals into home ownership.
- OHA funds programs for people recently released from prison or homeless persons qualifying for low income housing.
- One of OHA’s flagship initiatives is the acquisition of various culturally valuable lands such as 2,800 acre Waimea Valley (Oahu) and 20,000 acres of Wao Kele o Puna Forest lands on Hawaii Island. OHA also manages commercial real estate properties worth several million dollars.
What is not addressed in this communication is the constitutional intent that OHA serve as a placeholder organization to manage trust assets until such time that a “new governing entity” is constituted by the Hawaiian people that effects reconciliation with the federal government. It is assumed that reconciliation would extend political recognition to the new governing entity and bring closure to the long standing Hawaiian claim that independent and sovereign nation of Hawai’i was illegally overthrown the be coup-detat, an interim Republic constituted, and the subsequent annexation of Hawaii to the U.S. was absent consent from the vast majority of the Hawaiian population.
The contentious political navigation between Hawaiians and the federal government since 1893 is steeped in an abiding institutional tension between the two, Hawaiians and the rest of Hawai’i. The path of reconciliation is a slippery one, filled with passion, and a host of competing constituencies, each with their own vision of a Hawaiian future. Until this reconciliation is manifested, Hawai’i can never be whole.