HONOLULU — The chief executive of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs said Monday he’s moving forward after a disagreement with the organization’s trustees about seeking clarification on the legal status of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
But CEO Kamanaopono Crabbe told reporters Monday he stands behind a letter he sent to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week that sought a legal opinion about whether the kingdom continues to exist under international law.
“I continue to believe my decision to send the letter was in the best interest of OHA and the beneficiaries we serve,” Crabbe said.
The request revealed divisions within the state agency that has a mission of protecting Native Hawaiians and perpetuating Hawaiian culture.
After Crabbe revealed the letter Friday, all nine trustees signed a different note to Kerry saying Crabbe’s letter didn’t reflect their position or that of the agency.
On Monday, one trustee, Dan Ahuna, mailed yet another letter to Kerry reversing his position, removing his signature from the trustees’ letter and giving his support to Crabbe.
Crabbe, speaking at a news conference with nearly 100 supporters at the agency’s headquarters in Honolulu, said he thought he had the blessing of the board’s chairwoman, Colette Machado, before sharing the letter with the public.
He said he thinks answers to the questions in the letter are crucial for moving forward with pursuing a Native Hawaiian governing entity.
Machado issued a statement saying Crabbe spoke to her about the letter May 9 — four days after the letter was dated and one day after the State Department received it.
“Therefore, Dr. Crabbe did not consult with me before sending his letter, nor did I give him my blessings to proceed,” she said,
Crabbe said the board took a position, and it’s his role to implement that decision. “We are currently moving forward,” he said.
Crabbe said he had had several discussions with a majority of the board’s nine trustees and looked forward to meeting with them again next week. “They have not asked me to resign,” he said.
In his original letter, Crabbe wrote that he was concerned with an analysis by scholars alleging the federal and state governments were illegal regimes. The scholars said Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees and Native Hawaiian Roll Commission members may be criminally liable under international law.
Crabbe said he would ask trustees to put off pursuing a Native Hawaiian governing entity until they confirmed the kingdom doesn’t exist under international law.
Crabbe said supporters of building a governing entity should continue their discussions.
“Remain vigilant and to be aware and to participate regarding their choice,” he said. “That’s what this is all about.”
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia