The Office of Hawaiian Affairs held a gathering at Central Union Church on Tuesday to shed light on the agency's current state of affairs.
The keynote was delivered by former Sen. Daniel Akaka, the first native Hawaiian to serve in the U.S. Senate. Akaka reminded about 500 guests that OHA's ultimate goal should be self-governance.
Click here to watch Andrew Pereira's report.
"We must come together as a people," said Akaka. "In unity, there is strength."
Other speakers included OHA Board of Trustees Chairperson Colette Machado and OHA Chief Executive Officer Kamana'o Crabbe.
Crabbe did not mention a state audit that was highly critical of OHA but did address some of the issues covered in the report, which was made public in September. According to the audit, OHA was lax in its monitoring of $14 million worth of grants issued in fiscal year 2012. Crabbe said new grants will help shape the future of OHA and native Hawaiians over the next several years.
"We have awarded $8 million to 32 community-based organizations that we have challenged to bring a laser-like focus to helping execute our organization's strategic priorities over the next two years," said Crabbe.
The audit also criticized OHA for inadequate land management, saying it's unable to support a growing portfolio and future land involvement. However, Crabbe said the issues over grant monitoring and land management have been addressed.
"I looked at the recommendations as a very good guide for us," Crabbe told KITV4. "It's a way to be accountable and we welcome that."
OHA has made some blockbuster real estate moves in recent years. In 2012, OHA took possession of 10 parcels of land in Kakaako Makai to settle land revenue claims with the state that date back to OHA's creation in 1978. OHA hopes the land valued at $200 million will generate revenue in the next three to five years while the agency develops a master plan. Currently, state law limits vertical construction in Kakaako Makai to 400 feet.
"We may have one or two residential properties, but we have to balance that out with open space for the community," said Crabbe.
Last year OHA also acquired the Gentry Pacific Design Center in Iwilei for $21.4 million. OHA hopes the purchase will generate revenue through commercial leases, while providing a new location to conduct business. The agency renamed the location Malama Kukui, and will move in next Monday.
Meanwhile, OHA also hopes to develop 495 acres of former Galbraith Estate lands in Central Oahu for the next generation of native Hawaiian farmers. The state and the Trust for Public Land deeded the farmland to OHA in 2012 after purchasing 1,700 acres for $25 million.
"We've had a number of native Hawaiians who have come forward who are very motivated (and) eager to work with us on the opportunity of agriculture," said Crabbe.
Under state law, OHA receives $15.1 million annually from ceded lands revenue. Whether that amount increases and the broader issue of ceded lands is resolved may depend on how OHA keeps its house in order.
"I would hope so," said state Rep. Calvin Say when asked about such linkage. Say added that he would like to see OHA work with other native Hawaiian organizations in the coming years as the issue of ceded lands reaches a possible resolution.
"My personal thoughts would be if we could work together in finishing the inventory of all state lands, and then to determine what are the ceded lands that the state of Hawaii is using," said Say. "The dream or the vision is that all of the Hawaiian organizations could come together.
According to OHA's annual report, the agency had a core operating budget of $36.17 million in fiscal year 2012. Of that, 49 percent was dedicated toward contracts and grants, while 35 percent went toward personnel. Another 16 percent of the agency's budget went to pay overhead costs (9 percent) and program services (7 percent).
When asked about the current state of OHA, Crabbe responded with the following:
"We're stable, but we wish we could do more."