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Why am I running for OHA Trustee?

Updated: May 27, 2020

When I announced that I am running for OHA Trustee At-Large, many asked me, “why Keoni? Why do I want to run for office?”

The answer is simple. I want to build a better Hawaiʻi not just for a select few, but for all of us.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has without a doubt made a significant impact on our local economy, but more importantly it has exposed the unstable, tourism-based economic foundation that our state has built its income on and the opportunity that we now have to build a more stable and community-based foundation. The pandemic has also exposed the lack of leadership in our current institutions. As a father and a Native Hawaiian, it is my responsibility to help create a better future for our keiki and lāhui to thrive.

In the Hawaiian culture, there is an ʻōlelo noʻeau, a proverb, that can give us light in this situation.

O ke kahua ma mua, ma hope o ke kūkulu. First the foundation, then the building.

When I am elected as OHA Trustee At-Large, my primary goal is to create a strong foundation for our local and Native Hawaiian community to grow from. There are four main priorities I have in mind to help form that foundation: community outreach, economic development, education and sustainability, and criminal justice reform.

Education and Sustainability

A thriving community starts in the home. One of my most important priorities is to create educational opportunities for Native Hawaiians to secure stable employment and living options in Hawaiʻi. Some of these opportunities include offering financial literacy and housing education to help Native Hawaiians achieve home-ownership. Training and business education to help Native Hawaiians secure stable trades careers or create their own businesses.

And finally to create more scholarship and educational funding available for Native Hawaiians. Up until 2019, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs limits financial scholarships only to Native Hawaiians studying STEM in the UH system. It has since expanded its Hoʻonaʻauao Higher Education Scholarship Program to include other majors, but its current structure is limited to provide scholarships for only approximately 200 Native Hawaiian students. As an OHA Trustee, my goal is to create education funding from early childhood education to undergraduate and graduate scholarships for students. I will also push for educational funding for those entering into trades careers as well.

Community Outreach

As OHA Trustee At-Large, I will make it my first priority to meet with and listen to the needs of our different communities across the islands. Each community faces different problems, and each problem needs a solution just as unique. By starting small within our communities and forming a network of families, neighborhood organizations, and small businesses, we can work together to create real changes Hawaiʻi needs.

Economic Development

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs holds a large portfolio of assets and resources that is not being used to the best of its ability. For example, Kakaʻako Makai is a property that OHA owns and has been sitting vacant for years in the heart of downtown Kakaʻako. My priority as OHA Trustee At-Large is to work with other Native Hawaiian serving organizations to better utilize OHA’s resources and create additional revenue opportunities for the agency.

Criminal Justice Reform

Often our paʻahao (Native Hawaiian prisoners) are overlooked as members of our community. However, when looking at the current prison population in Hawaiʻi, Native Hawaiians disproportionately make up a majority of the number of prisoners behind bars even though in our statewide population Native Hawaiian make up less than 10%.

My priority as a candidate is to provide our paʻahao with the support they need through funding culture-based education and programs that will help them develop the right tools to create better behaviors and habits, address mental health needs, and a support system to live a pono life and be a contributing member of the community upon exiting.

Have a question for me as an OHA At-Large candidate? Email me at or send me a message on social @souzaforoha and I will get back to you soon. Mahalo.

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