Sen. Schatz returns to Hawaiʻi to discuss Native Hawaiian health and housing
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, held a hearing with Native Hawaiian leaders on Wednesday to hear their concerns with the federal government.
The hearing was divided into two sessions. The first one focused on Native Hawaiian housing and economy with representatives of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement.
William Aila Jr., chairman of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, chanted the oli Hālau Waianae at the hearing.
"It talked about the kūmanomano grass that used to grow on the plains of Makaha and ka Māʻili. It talks about the Nuʻuanu blossoms that used to grow in the uplands of Waiʻanae. They no longer exist. So that was my motivation for not allowing any more extinctions while I was the chair of the DLNR," he said.
"As the chair of the DHHL, it reminds me that we have to do everything that we can to ensure support for Native Hawaiian households on DHHL lands and off DHHL lands, which is what we partner with OHA to do. Because the worst possible thing to happen, senator, is 20 years from now, somebody has to write another oli, and the metaphor is beneficiaries leaving for someplace else," Aila stated.
The federal government allocated over $22 million for Native Hawaiian housing during FY22.
All three organizations agreed more funding was needed for Native Hawaiian equity.
They advocated for increased funding in health care, supporting Native Hawaiian-owned businesses, and taking care of the natural environment.
In the second session, Native Hawaiian representatives called on the federal government to address disparities in health and education in their communities.
Schatz talked with speakers from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine, Native Hawaiian Education Council, and Papa Ola Lōkahi.
According to Dr. Winona Kaalouahi from the John A. Burns School of Medicine, Native Hawaiians make up only 4.5% of the physician workforce, while comprising 21% of the state's general population.
"Between 1992 and 2018 approximately 2% of all National Institute of Health funding was directed towards Asian American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander research. In 2020, 25 NIH research grants were awarded to NHPI Investigators compared to 28,587 awarded to white investigators," Kaalouahi said.
She requested Native Hawaiians not be combined with Asian Americans in programs. The groups say Native Hawaiians must have their own programs and line of funding to address their unique concerns.
More funding is going to Native Hawaiian teens to better prepare them for college and the workforce.
About 63% of the Native Hawaiian Education Program's grants in 2020 went to Native Hawaiian high school students. NHEP awardees from 2017 to 2018 targeted early childhood education (73%).
The collective hearings will contribute to Schatz's work with the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.