Column: Hakuone: Let justice roll down like a river
March 1, 2023

By: Reverend Ken Makuakane

In the Bible, the prophet Amos tells us that God abhors hypocrisy and predicts a time when “justice rolls down like a river.” Are we at such a time? This prophet warns against those people who “have forgotten the plight of the poor.”

As I watch the trustees and executives of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) make their case for Hakuone before the public and before lawmakers, I see misleading information being circulated about their plans. What drives some people to oppose Hawaiians building on Hawaiian land?

OHA (Native Hawaiians) wants to re-establish a Hawaiian neighborhood, where culture, the arts and businesses flourish for all peoples to enjoy. Why would anyone object to that, let alone those who profess to love Hawaii and Hawaiian culture; who understand that the rights of Hawaiians are enshrined in our state Constitution? And why are some lawmakers raising questions about all the Public Land Trusts?

OHA has just done a fresh appraisal of the nine parcels in Kakaako Makai conveyed to them in 2012. Then valued at $200 million, it appears that a decade later, the land, without the lifting of restrictions on residential development, is worth less than a quarter of that $200 million.

I trust this news is a shock to the Legislature. While many of the players have changed, I am sure the legislators want to be seen as doing what is pono or righteous. I am confident that they will do what fairness dictates and will make OHA whole.

Where does my confidence come from? No surprises. As a kahu, a pastor, I see things through the lens of faith. I have faith in OHA and faith in the fundamental good intentions of the Legislature to do what is right. Especially after the corruption scandals and the erosion of public confidence, the Legislature has an opportunity here to demonstrate good faith. To prove that it can rise to the occasion and ensure that justice, along with fairness, is served.

It was my privilege to preside over the investiture of the full board of trustees of OHA on Dec. 8, 2022, at Kawaiaha‘o Church. It was a rare occasion: all nine trustees being sworn in at the same time. A beautiful event, imbued with solemnity and purpose, I found Chairwoman Hulu Lindsey’s speech and the remarks of the Ka Pouhana/CEO, Dr. Sylvia Hussey, very moving as they clearly stated their intention of taking OHA on a new path, free of the baggage of the past.

I am not naīve. I know OHA has not always delivered as it should. But I believe we owe it to this current OHA team who has clearly cleaned house to help them fulfill their mission of service to their beneficiaries, the Native Hawaiians.

I attended one of the virtual town halls OHA held to solicit community feedback and was very moved by what I heard: the yearning in the voices of those who recalled when their kupuna lived in Kakaako. One remembered learning to surf at Point Panic. This was before Kakaako became a place for the wealthy and the working class got priced out.

Hawaiians would like to return to a place they once called home. Mahalo to the Senate Water and Land and the Hawaiian Affairs committees: They have already passed the bill on to Ways and Means. We await word of a hearing in the House. We shall see if lawmakers respond to OHA’s bill in a way that would make the prophet say that indeed, “justice rolls down like a river.”