The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) has been the target of an ongoing coordinated media attack. A news article yesterday is the latest effort to discredit our organization and the community we serve. To be clear, the claims are meritless. We intend to set the record straight with this letter. But before we get too far, it’s important to understand why CNHA is being attacked. For nearly four months now, CNHA has been on the threshold of leading monumental change in the visitor industry. CNHA made the move into tourism to help transform the industry to better serve Hawaiʻi. The status quo is no longer tenable for our people, who are being forced to flee their homeland due to the high cost of living here. The state’s chief economic driver must give to our islands and its residents more than it takes. We have been ready to help carry this kuleana of transforming the industry since June 2, when the Hawai’i Tourism Authority (HTA) awarded us the destination management and marketing contract for the continental U.S. We are eager to help shift the focus of this important part of our economy to align with Hawai’i’s values, enrich our local businesses and amplify the needs of the neighborhoods who are, increasingly, acting as hosts to visitors from all over the world. As you can imagine, Hawaiʻi Visitors and Conventions Bureau (HVCB) - the current contract holder - is less than eager for this change. HTA’s award to CNHA meant that for the first time in 120 years, HVCB would not take the lead in bringing visitors to Hawaiʻi. Change is rough when it leaves you alone on the tarmac. Three weeks after our award, HVCB filed a protest. As of today, CNHA is still waiting for the State of Hawaiʻi to resolve the protest “expeditiously” as the law requires. The simple question that must be answered is whether the State followed its own procurement process. The latest attack was in yesterday’s newspaper and we have been informed that it may be covered in the next couple of days by local TV news as well. The story dredges up an old contract dispute with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) and CNHA for the mere purpose of attacking CNHA’s integrity and ability to manage the pending HTA contract. Front and center in the article is Keith Vieira, a former Starwood Hotels executive who has served as a messenger in support of HVCB. The idea that prominent tourism insiders are commenting on this two-year-old, closed-out contract at this time is bothersome and petty. What you should know: CNHA’s Kahiau Community Assistance Program commenced on February 1, 2020 and was funded through a two-year, $1.66 million grant from OHA for the purpose of providing financial assistance to those facing emergencies. Within two months, Gov. David Ige issued a shutdown of the entire state due to COVID-19. These were the early days of the pandemic. The community was in distress. Transitioning the Kahiau Program into the new reality of a once-in-a generation pandemic proved incredibly difficult. CNHA struggled to cut through red tape that delayed relief to those in desperate need. The challenges that plagued the Kahiau Program were not unique. Emergency assistance programs across the country and here in Hawaiʻi were burdened by stifling bureaucracy and stringent document requirements. After a year, it became clear that the restrictive guidelines placed on the program inhibited CNHA’s ability to support families in need and CNHA terminated the contract. Any concerns and questions OHA had about families that CNHA had provided assistance to were addressed. Ultimately, every single person who received a check through the Kahiau Program needed it. OHA affirmed its approval of all CNHA disbursements and even offered to have CNHA extend the contract with an additional $2.17 million. CNHA went on to forge partnerships with the City and County of Honolulu and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to do this very work of providing financial assistance to our community in its greatest time of need. Alongside Catholic Charities Hawaiʻi, CNHA became a national leader in delivering more than $131 million in federal relief funds to nearly 16,000 households here in Hawaiʻi. Where we stand now: It’s unfortunate that CNHA’s community contributions during the pandemic are now being twisted against us as we seek to effectuate change. We understood, however, that we would be met with opposition when we stepped up to heed the kāhea (call) for transformation. Change is difficult but it shouldn't be ugly and uncomfortable. We know what’s at stake. For too long, Hawaiʻi, its people, our culture and ʻāina have been exploited on a model of tourism that works against us, rather than for us. We call on all of Hawaiʻi, including those who cast stones, to stand with us, and build a foundation that we stand on, together.
Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement | 91-1270 Kinoiki Street, Building 1, Kapolei, HI 96707