Sylvia Hussey: OHA head guides office to Ho‘olua Lahui Aloha
April 7, 2023

by: Sylvia Hussey

How will the Hakuone project be reshaped, given the Legislature’s latest resistance to high-rise development? Or is that change not certain at this point?

While OHA will continue with our commercial property activation plans for our Hakuone lands, located at Kaka‘ako Makai, we continue to be deeply disappointed with the lack of legislative process to at least hear our bills, specifically in the House. (I cannot comment on the compromise proposed by Speaker Scott Saiki, as that is a matter decided by the board of trustees.)

We appreciate the Senate’s participation and process of hearing bills, providing the opportunity for public discourse.

We certainly appreciate the spotlight shown on, and acknowledged by the state, that OHA was shortchanged in the 2012 “settlement value” of 30 acres and $200 million for back public land trust amounts, because of asset condition disparities, that must be addressed.

OHA’s 2021 strategic plan no longer emphasizes creating a governing entity. Is that off the table?

OHA’s Strategic Plan, Mana i Mauli Ola (Strength to Well-being), includes three foundations: ‘ohana (family), mo‘omeheu (culture) and ‘aina (land and water), and four directions, in the areas of education, health, housing and economic stability. The plan was developed after listening to our beneficiaries via surveys and community meetings statewide.

The board-approved Lahui policy of E Ho‘omau, or more specifically, “e ho‘omau i ka lahui Hawai‘i (to perpetuate the Hawaiian nation),” expresses OHA’s recognition of the Lahui’s continued endeavor to persist into the far future as a body of people united by common descent, history, culture and language.

In practice, OHA supports a self-determinative governance framework, meaning that we should exercise our right to choose the mechanisms for governance, education, health, housing and economic stability that best supports our families and communities.

How do you see OHA’s role in housing as compared with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands?

The outcome for quality housing and economic stability under Mana i Mauli Ola is the same: strengthened capability for ‘ohana to meet living needs, including housing; strengthened effective implementation of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.

Both of our organizations have crucial and complementary roles in helping our beneficiaries in the area of housing and economic stability.

DHHL has kuleana for managing the Hawaiian Home Lands trust, and developing the land for housing, pastoral, agricultural and mercantile uses. OHA sees itself partnering with DHHL to support our Lahui to meet living needs, including housing.

For example, OHA has committed an annual amount of $3 million to DHHL to finance the debt service of revenue bonds issued in 2009 to develop infrastructure on trust lands.

Additionally, funding for financial literacy training, wraparound supports like keiki and kupuna care to enable employment, and grants to help beneficiaries be occupancy- ready, are other ways that OHA aligns with DHHL.

Do you think OHA ethics reforms sparked by the 2018 state audit have succeeded? Has feedback from the community changed?

Since 2018, the administration worked tirelessly to implement the board-approved policies including the related processes, procedures and practices.

The board’s governance and policy frameworks are critical foundations for strengthened governance and management, and continuing the policy work is vital (e.g., trustee- level and CEO-level policies).

The administration is also pleased with the continuing strategic board and administration collaborative work; policy, process, procedure and practice compliance and alignment; and the overall tone at the top — all toward mitigating conditions in which fraud, waste and abuse transactions would not occur or at least detected.

It is the administration’s continuing intent to ensure beneficiary trust resources are used, accounted for and stewarded in ways to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians.

How would you assess the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund, and can it grow to support more programs?

The (OHA) board of trustees, like all boards, take their fiduciary responsibilities seriously, as it specifically relates to the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund (NHTF). Policies (e.g., investment, spending, debt management) developed and implemented are complemented by both internal (administration) and external advisers and resources to balance short-term and long-term needs.

OHA retains expertise similar to that of other large endowments and investment portfolios for advice regarding the management and growth of the NHTF. OHA manages a prudent spending policy that allows for measured spending, while monitoring and managing an overall growth rate so the NHTF can be a resource in perpetuity.

Bonus question

What is the biggest challenge you see in fulfilling the OHA mission?
The biggest challenge is the need to constantly battle the attacks on our foundations of ‘ohana, mo‘omeheu and ‘aina while keeping our sights on the horizon and the long-term aspiration of Ho‘oulu Lahui Aloha — Raising a Beloved Lahui.


>> Title: Ka Pouhana/chief executive officer of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs

>> Education: Kohala High School; bachelor of science degree in accounting from Brigham Young University; master’s degree in educational foundations and a doctor of education degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

>> Experience: Prior to joining OHA, was executive director of the Native Hawaiian Education Council; with Kamehameha Schools for a decade-plus, served as vice president of administration. Certified public accountant, working as a director at Candon Consulting Group, as a senior manager at KPMG Consulting and as finance director at the Honolulu Board of Realtors.

>> Family and community links: Born and raised in Kohala on Hawaii island; current resident of Kaneohe; married with two (adult) keiki.

>> Interests: Enjoys cooking and playing the piano.