Federal Department of Interior Announces Intent to Place a Staff Position Dedicated to Native Hawaiian Affairs in Hawaii with a $185k Annual Salary


June 9, 2016


Federal Department of Interior Announces Intent to Place a Staff Position Dedicated to Native Hawaiian Affairs in Hawaii with a $185k Annual Salary


Honolulu, Hawaii – On April 25, 2016, an inconspicuous job posting was posted on the federal jobs website, to fill a new permanent staff position assigned to Hawaii, with an annual salary as high as $185,000, to oversee the Office of Native Hawaiian Relations located back in Washington DC.  The job title is Senior Program Director, Office of Native Hawaiian Relations and the closing date for the position was posted for May 9, 2016.

“We were very surprised about the position,” said Kammy Purdy, Vice Chairman of the SCHHA, the largest and oldest coalition of beneficiary leaders and homestead associations eligible for lands set aside under the 1921 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (HHCA).  “Our SCHHA office began receiving calls and emails from beneficiaries from all over the state.”

In response to the high interest and beneficiary requests for information, the SCHHA contacted the Assistant Secretary at the Department of Interior that oversees the Office of Native Hawaiian Relations, and asked for an extension of time on the position.

“The SCHHA was able to teleconference with Assistant Secretary Sarri, and we appreciated her willingness to at least extend the job announcement until May 27,” Purdy said from her homestead on Molokai.  “We took that time, and conducted a Beneficiary Consultation Announcement from April 30 to May 25, a period of 25 days, to give our people an opportunity to learn about the position, and to think about and comment on its potential impact on our lives.”

The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) Policy Center was asked to compile all of the responses to the SCHHA Consultation Announcement.  CNHA issued its report on June 2, 2016, copies of which were provided to the Department of Interior, as well as Senator Hirono, Senator Schatz, Representative Gabbard and Representative Takai.

“What was first surprising in our compilation, was the high level of respondents for such a short time period,” said Michelle Kauhane, CNHA President.  “A total of 117 individuals from every island submitted comments about the job position in just 25 days.”

Kauhane continued to say, “Overwhelmingly, Native Hawaiians, and in particular, beneficiaries of the HHCA, do not want a permanent position in Hawaii.  The results are very clear – beneficiaries want a high level political appointee accountable to the White House, located in Washington DC to best serve their interests.”

The CNHA Consultation Report breaks down the responses identifying 96%, the vast majority of the respondents as Native Hawaiian, and 73% of respondents as actual beneficiaries of the HHCA, either living on the land or on the waitlist.  The report finds that 94% of the 117 respondents do not want the position in Hawaii, and 6% indicate support or support with conditions.

“The verbatim comments section of the report, reflect a lot of anxiety about the position being done so quietly and so quickly, and especially in the last year of the administration when appointed federal employees will have to find jobs at the end of the President’s term,” Kauhane said.  “Creating a permanent position, in Hawaii, paying $185,000, is ill-advised based on the knowledge of beneficiaries after 95 years of being invisible.  They are saying quite plainly, that the level of improvements needed, requires work that must be done in the nation’s capital.”

In 2011, HHCA beneficiaries adopted a policy priority to improve the performance of the state of Hawaii and its Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) by increasing accountability of DHHL to the federal Department of Interior and to HHCA beneficiaries.  As is well known in the HHCA homestead association community, the Department of Interior delegated day-to-day administration of the HHCA land trust to the State of Hawaii through enactment of the 1959 Hawaii Admissions Act.

“Our leaders are saying that the DoI already has an entire agency located in Hawaii, in DHHL.  And to make improvements in that relationship, it took working with Washington DC based, high level appointed officials that are accountable to the White House to make positive change after 95 years of very little federal oversight,” said SCHHA Chairman, Robin Danner.  “So many of the verbatim comments, and letters sent by individual homestead associations, were quite direct on these points, and they also laid out comprehensive reasons that a Hawaii based supervisor of a DC based office, is not in their best interests.”

The Consultation Report documents calls by beneficiary leaders, for parity with other native groups, like the Chamorro in Guam, in American Samoa, and American Indians in the other states, that not only have robust offices within Interior in DC, but have high level federal positions in DC, fully accountable to the White House, working in the nation’s capital to advance their needs.

“For sure, beneficiaries know what they need, and why – which is not surprising at all, when you consider what they have had to live through the past 9 decades,” commented Robin Danner from the SCHHA office in Kapolei.  “It wasn’t until high level appointed officials in DC began working directly with native Hawaiians on the land and on the waitlist that significant movement and reform began, as should be expected in our democracy and what Presidential elections are all about.  The comments reflect a clear understanding by beneficiary leaders, that what is needed is an increase in the appointed positions in DC working on their behalf, not a permanent position all the way back here in Hawaii.”

Whn asked what the outcome should be, Danner said, “The prudent, respectful result, would be for the DoI to continue the Obama/Jewell doctrine of the last 5 years toward HHCA beneficiaries, by putting the position on hold, open direct dialogue, consider the recommendations of beneficiaries themselves, which from the report is pretty clear, assign the position in DC, and design it as a high level appointed position to act in the best interests of Native Hawaiians.  That’s what Senator Akaka intended when he legislated the creation of the Office of Native Hawaiian Relations back in 2004.  He knew what HHCA beneficiaries know and are telling the Hawaii Congressional Delegation and the DoI today, the Office and its supervisors need to be in Washington DC to improve the lives of HHCA beneficiaries.”

The best result advocated by the SCHHA, is to resist knee jerk reactions of life long job positions, to include the people that have suffered and continue to wait on a waitlist, and to take the time to make the best decision for native Hawaiians.

The SCHHA was founded in 1987, uniting beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Home Land trust created by Congress in 1921.  More than 30 homestead associations with democratically elected leaders are members of the SCHHA, working to advance the well-being of trust land communities. The SCHHA is the oldest and largest Hawaiian homestead coalition. For more information, email schha.associations@gmail.com.

Download PDF: 060916DoiHirePressReleaseFIN

Download PDF: 060216ConsultationReportFINAL