By TREENA SHAPIRO
HONOLULU — A decades-long dispute between the state and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs came to a close Friday with applause, a standing ovation and lots of hugs.
Since 1978, OHA has been trying to get its share of revenue from state lands once owned by the former Hawaiian monarchy and now part of the public land trust.
A $200 million Kakaako Makai real estate transfer settles all back payments and will allow OHA to move forward in its mission to elevate the status of Native Hawaiians.
“We want a place that will represent our cultural well-being here. We want to be the first nation or the first people of this land,” OHA Chairwoman Collette Machado said Friday, after the settlement survived its final vote in the Legislature unamended.
OHA has been holding public meetings with stakeholders since the tentative settlement agreement was announced in November. However, there’s no formal plan for the land yet because, as Machado put it, OHA didn’t want to count its chickens before they hatched.
She said a solid plan will be in place by the end of June, taking into account input from OHA’s Native Hawaiian beneficiaries, as well as the tenants and other stakeholders in the Kakaako waterfront property the agency will be taking over.
“We don’t want to leave anyone out. It would be really insensitive, not because we won today, but because we need to be sensitive to work with those who have put heart and soul into managing an area they feel is their home, too,” Machado said.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who still needs to sign the settlement bill to make it official, was emotional Friday after the historic vote. “Today we’ve taken a great step forward,” he said in the Capitol rotunda. “We’re in the shadow of Queen Liliuokalani, whose statue gazes at us as we speak now.”
Abercrombie said he will most likely sign the bill at Washington Place, the former home of Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last reigning monarch.
“We’ve established a foundation for the future, not just of Native Hawaiians, but all of Hawaii,” Abercrombie said.
The governor believes the land’s value will increase as soon as he signs the bill. The area will then have stewardship that is both respectful and visionary, he explained.
“We’re going to have a third city there. This is going to be the core of urban Honolulu,” Abercrombie described. “This is going to be the rejuvenation of Native Hawaiians in terms of having a central role in determining their own destiny.”