Big Island lawmaker apologizes for racial slurs

Published On: Feb 28 2013 01:55:00 PM HST

Big Island Rep. Faye Hanohano apologized Thursday on the House floor about racial slurs she made this week about the artwork in her office.

The incident happened while state workers were installing the art on Monday.

A senior exhibit specialist with the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts wrote a letter to his boss complaining about Hanohano's behavior.

The letter reads, "... the Representative came out of her personal office and began a tirade on how 'ugly' the artwork was and why weren't artworks being installed in her office done by Native Hawaiian artists."

The letter says the workers answered her politely, but were addressed with "culturally insensitive and racist criticisms."

The letter also says Hanohano threatened to cut funding to the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts if she didn't get any artwork done by Native Hawaiian artists.

Hanohano, who is of Native Hawaiian ancestry, said on the House floor she is committed to representing all people in the state.  She spoke in both English and Hawaiian.

The following is a statement of apology from Rep. Hanohano:

"First and foremost, I'd like to express my sincere apology to any individuals or groups who may have been offended by my comments. Clearly comments that were intended to be an impassioned plea for increasing the visibility and support for Native Hawaiian artists were expressed in a manner that did not accurately reflect their intent, sentiment or the integrity of this office. I accept full responsibility for this unfortunate incident and, again, I apologize.

My office has already reached out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to assist us in obtaining additional training for all of our staff. We are committed to taking immediate steps to ensure that an incident like this never happens again.

I will also be reaching out to the State Foundation for Culture and the Arts to attempt to rebuild and improve that relationship. I stand firm in my position that individuals who serve in state leadership positions should be thoroughly educated and informed on the history and native culture of Hawai‘i. I am hopeful that this unfortunate incident can serve as a platform for improving dialogue and cross-cultural relationships between state departments."

House speaker Joe Souki said, "I absolutely do not condone this type of offensive language and behavior by anyone.   I have spoken to Representative Hanohano and emphasized that this is not in keeping with the spirit of the House of Representatives.  She will be sending a letter of apology to the State Foundation on Culture and Arts Exhibit team specialists.  As Speaker of the House I have also extended my sincerest apology to the members of the Exhibit team."

State Foundation on Culture and the Arts Executive Director Eva Laird Smith says the artwork depicts nature scenes in Hawaii and was previously approved by Hanohano's office manager.

Click here to read the complaint letter in its entirety.

Catherine Cruz will have more on this story tonight on KITV4 News at 5, 6 and 10.


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