(BIVN) – Hawaiian homestead beneficiaries from Hawaiʻi Island had a chance to speak out against an important nomination to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands on April 2.
The Senate Committee on Hawaiian Affairs took up GM 667, nominating William Aila to once again serve as deputy director of DHHL. Aila, the former chairman of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and who previously served as the Harbor Agent for the Wai‘anae Boat Harbor, made a bid for Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee last year but was unsuccessful.
“I urge you to confirm Mr. Aila to serve as the Deputy to the Chair of the DHHL so that he may continue to provide leadership and service to the public,” wrote Governor David Ige in support of his nominee.
However, several beneficiaries from Hawaiʻi Island are not in support of Aila’s continued service as DHHL deputy director.
Peter Sur, a legislative aide representing Hawaiʻi County Councilwoman and beneficiary Sue Lee Loy, was present at the senate hearing to “underscore the importance” of the nomination to various East Hawaiʻi homestead associations.
Keaukaha Community Association president Patrick Kahawaiolaʻa, Piʻihonua president Ronald Kodani, and Keaukaha Panaewa Farmers Association president Maile Luʻuwai, all wrote letters in opposition.
“All three presidents’ comment on the need for quality leadership from this Department of Hawaiian Homelands,” Sur summarized, “and they feel that the nomination does not meet their standard.”
In his letter, Kahawaiolaʻa wrote:
IN THE EAST HAWAII DISTRICT THAT GENERATES THE MOST INCOME IN LEASE RENTALS YET WE BEG FOR HELP IN EAST HAWAII TO MOVE FORWARD. THE AINA HURTS WHEN IN EAST HAWAII WE HAVE LOST CONTROL OF OUR AINA MAUNA LANDS IN HUMUULA (56K ACRES) AND OTHER PROJECTS BROUGHT FORWARD DISCUSSED BUT NOT ACTED UPON, such as UXO in Makuu, Lava plans, Honomu Subsistence Agricultural development, Economic and Self Determination on Aina Mauna Lands, Aina Mauna Lands Taskforce three (3) meeting (incomplete), NAHASDA funding rolled out under Gov. Abercrombie and stalled under Gov. Ige, Airport Noise Attenuation stalled, and the straw that broke the camel back for Keaukaha whereby the Mayor of Hawaii County and the Chair of the DHHL were about to enter into an AGREEMENT to one Reimburse the County $400K for RETROFITTING LED STREETLIGHTS and pay for Traffic Control devices (Speed Bumps) within our community.
The Senate Committee also heard from one of Hawaiʻi Island’s kanaka rangers.
“We do not support the appointment,” said Iokepa Kaeo, wearing an “Aʻole Ailā shirt” like others in the room. “That’s why it’s so urgent that we come before you guys, to have you guys hear our voice on Moku o Keawe, and not just hear the love stories, because it’s not all love stories,” referring to the testimonies in support of Aila.
“Next year makes a hundred years” of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, Kaeo said.
“Failed,” Kaeo graded. “So where does that leave the Admissions Act. Is that default?”
“Our kuleana is to speak up for those in King’s Landing, in the bushes, yeah?” Keao told the committee. “It describes in the act that we should return to the land. There’s many vacant lands on Moku O Keawe, and that could be a blessing to us. But we also have one of the highest majority of homelessness. We see people selling our mauna, and DLNR agents having all access on Mauna Kea.”
Keao told the senators that “Hale O Kuhio was stolen”, and furnished a criminal complaint for the act.
Keao said during his testimony that he wished Senator Kai Kahele was present. Kahele is familiar with the East Hawaiʻi grievances. However, at the time of the hearing, Kahele was busy with the Water Rights bill before the Senate Water and Land Committee. However, Kahele did make it to the Aila confirmation hearing later in order to ask a few questions of the DHHL nominee.
On the commercial leases in Hilo’s Panaʻewa area, Kahele asked Aila if he would “advocate for a lease extension for non beneficiaries that currently lease those lands, or, if you didn’t, how would you propose to give the opportunity to beneficiaries that are interested?”
Aila talked at length about the purpose of DHHL commercial leases to collect revenue that will help the department fulfill its mission to build houses for those on the waiting list. He said, “I don’t know the answer to your question because as a deputy director, I don’t make policies. That policy needs to be brought up to the commissioners and the commissioners need to decide and provide direction for the department of which beneficiary class is gonna benefit from these revenues, or which beneficiary class – ie potential lessees – can benefit from this land that has been designated as commercial. There’s a push-pull.”
Kahele asked Aila if he agreed that “partnering with the homestead associations for shared revenue can empower those associations, like Panaʻewa, Keaukaha, Piʻihonua, to then do things within their communities.”
“All very good ideas,” Aila said.
The Senate committee voted to advise and consent to the nomination, with Senator Kahele absent. The nominee will next go to the full Senate for a final vote.