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OHA: Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Simply, Crabbe said, "Kūkulu Hou is about building. It is about building on the relationship with the community, to advocate for native rights and practices and creating positive political equity." Photo: Civil Beat

Kūkulu Hou: A vision for OHA

When the trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs were considering candidates for the recently vacated chief executive officer position, they were captivated by the metaphorical concepts of Kamana‘opono Crabbe, Ph.D., their research director. For the past two years, Crabbe had been preaching the concept of Kūkulu Hou, literally a rebuilding, but also a metaphor for building of a hale, or home, and the hard work it would take to do so.

Immediately, there’s a lot of building that needs to be done. Crabbe wants to build a stronger relationship with the Hawaiian Trusts: Kamehameha Schools, Queen Lili‘uokalani Trust, The King William Charles Lunalilo Trust, the Queen’s Medical Center, and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

In suggesting Kūkulu Hou, Crabbe was not suggesting a rebuilding in a traditional sense, but more of the building of a community in the metaphorical sense.

The title Crabbe has adopted for himself is Ka Pouhana, which is a metaphor for the central post of a hale, a metaphor for the main support of OHA.

Simply, Crabbe said, Kūkulu Hou is about building. It is about building on the relationship with the community, to advocate for native rights and practices and creating positive political equity. In addition, Crabbe would like to inject more Hawaiian cultural values into OHA. He doesn’t see the injection of cultural values as uniquely Hawaiian but says many of the values – such as respect for elders – are universal across many cultures, especially in Asia and the Pacific. But by stressing such values, he hopes to bring a sort of power, mana, if you will, to OHA.

Crabbe points out that Kūkulu Hou is not meant to denigrate what has happened in the past, but to build on the foundation that the community and OHA has created.

To understand Crabbe’s vision of Kūkulu Hou, one must reflect upon the construction of a traditional hale and how each piece of the structure depends on the other. In Crabbe’s vision, OHA’s employees form the foundation – and while he believes the foundation is strong, he has committed to allowing them to grow so that they can expand their horizons and in turn, become leaders in the community. Without a strong foundation, there would be no support for Ka Pouhana and, in turn, members of his executive team who form the other poles supporting the structure of the hale.

To this end, Crabbe has created a new Line of Business within OHA, that is, a new department. The Community Engagement Line of Business combines the Community Outreach program with Communications and Media Relations and Messaging programs.  The idea is to engage the community. In a sense, Community Engagement will be the piko, the center, and stress the importance of talking to, and getting the mana‘o of the community.

The mission of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs remains unchanged. There is a continued emphasis on finding ways of making change that will be felt across the community. Crabbe foresees no changes to the current strategic plan, which calls for the improvement of conditions for Native Hawaiians over a broad spectrum of issues – from health and income to education and culture.

And OHA continues its process of doing a master plan for Kaka‘ako Makai – to develop the 30 acres that will be conveyed by the state as compensation for past-due ceded land revenues.

For many, the concept of Kūkulu Hou might appear to be new, but in recent months, Hawaiian communities have been pulling together in ways that hasn’t happened in decades: OHA visited various communities to gain support for the Kaka‘ako ceded land settlement, and gained support from groups that previously would have opposed such a deal. And the trustees of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs have been meeting quarterly to discuss issues of mutual importance.

Looking over the landscape, Crabbe returned to the concept of mana. “Mana is our legacy,” he said, referring to the force that is at the heart of the Hawaiian worldview.

“Kūkulu Hou,” he added, “is about rebuilding our nation together in terms of protecting our ancestors and inherited mana – to greater achievement in building improved education, health, adequate shelter and assets – while valuing and participating in our traditional history and culture in our own homeland for all of us as beneficiaries.”


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