In 1978, a State of Hawaiʻi Constitutional Convention created OHA to address historical injustices and challenges arising out of those circumstances. The convention delegates envisioned an agency that provides a form of self-determination for Native Hawaiians and advocate for their overall well-being.
OHA was established through Article XII of the State Constitution. Chapter 10 of the Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes outlines OHA’s duties and purposes, including promoting and protecting the rights of Native Hawaiians.
The legal basis for the Board of Trustees (BOT) authority is derived from Article XII, Section 5 of the Constitution of the State of Hawai’i. Article XII established the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) and provided that there shall be a Board of Trustees who shall have the power to exercise control over OHA through its executive officer, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of OHA, who shall be appointed by the BOT.
Further, Section 10-4, Hawai’i Revised Statutes, as amended, statutorily established OHA to be constituted as a body corporate that shall have the exclusive power to manage and govern OHA as an entity separate and independent of the Executive branch of government.
In discharging its duties, the BOT shall function in accordance with applicable state and federal statutes, controlling court decisions, and applicable regulations promulgated pursuant to statute by state and federal agencies. Opinions of the Attorney General shall be used for guidance in interpretation of applicable law. The BOT shall constitute a body corporate and each Trustee shall have the legal responsibility of a fiduciary in the management of OHA funds subject to the BOT’s control and management.
Hawai’i State Constitution, Article XII
- OFFICE OF HAWAIIAN AFFAIRS; ESTABLISHMENT OF BOARD OF TRUSTEESSection 5. There is hereby established an Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs shall hold title to all the real and personal property now or hereafter set aside or conveyed to it which shall be held in trust for native Hawaiians and Hawaiians. There shall be a board of trustees for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs elected by qualified voters who are Hawaiians, as provided by law. The board members shall be Hawaiians. There shall be not less than nine members of the board of trustees; provided that each of the following Islands have one representative: Oahu, Kauai, Maui, Molokai and Hawaii. The board shall select a chairperson from its members. [Add Const Con 1978 and election Nov 7, 1978]
- POWERS OF BOARD OF TRUSTEESSection 6. The board of trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs shall exercise power as provided by law: to manage and administer the proceeds from the sale or other disposition of the lands, natural resources, minerals and income derived from whatever sources for native Hawaiians and Hawaiians, including all income and proceeds from that pro rata portion of the trust referred to in section 4 of this article for native Hawaiians; to formulate policy relating to affairs of native Hawaiians and Hawaiians; and to exercise control over real and personal property set aside by state, federal or private sources and transferred to the board for native Hawaiians and Hawaiians. The board shall have the power to exercise control over the Office of Hawaiian Affairs through its executive officer, the administrator of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, who shall be appointed by the board. [Add Const Con 1978 and election Nov 7, 1978]
- TRADITIONAL AND CUSTOMARY RIGHTSSection 7. The State reaffirms and shall protect all rights, customarily and traditionally exercised for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes and possessed by ahupua’a tenants who are descendants of native Hawaiians who inhabited the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778, subject to the right of the State to regulate such rights. [Add Const Con 1978 and election Nov 7, 1978]