HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State representative Faye Hanohano has made a name for herself advocating on behalf of Native Hawaiians, but it's what she admits to saying about other ethnicities that has raised some eyebrows.
Representative Hanohano addressed accusations she made racial and ethnic slurs while artwork was being installed in her office during today's House session at the State Capitol.
"Today's word is mihi which means to apologize," said Representative Hanohano, who traditionally provides a Hawaiian "Word of the Day" at the start of each session.
"I humbly apologize to all of you who may have been offended by sentiments expressed that were taken into the News Media," said Representative Hanohano. "I realize that as a public elected officials, we all come to the table and kukakuka (confer) about the issues that matter most to our communities. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don't. However, let me reaffirm my commitment to all of you that I shall serve my people and the people of the state of Hawai'i to the best of my ability, integrity and for the honor of my kupuna (ancestors). Ka hua 'olelo o ka la: mihi –apologize," said Rep. Hanohano, before wiping away tears.
According to officials-- state exhibit specialists were hanging artwork in Representative Hanohano's office on Monday when she started questioning why none of the pieces were from Native Hawaiian artists.
"The Representative came in and she reacted in a negative way to the pieces and in so doing she had used words referring to certain ethnicities, which were in a way a slur and derogatory," said Eva Laird Smith, Executive Director of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.
In an email sent to Laird Smith immediately following the incident, a senior exhibit specialist describes Representative Hanohano saying she didn't want artwork by "Haoles, Japs, Pakes".
"He took offense, and he said - there's certainly no room for this and we agree with him," said Laird Smith. "We feel that racial slur in any place else—especially at the Leg–should not be tolerated."
Representative Hanohano also reportedly threatened to cut funding to the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, which oversees the "Art in Public Places" exhibit at the Capitol that each lawmakers' office participates in. Officials say they were surprised by Hanohano's reaction, but not worried.
"It would take a collective action through legislation because this was after all legislated in the mid-60s to give an endowment to the state agency to carry on and buy art for the greater enjoyment of everyone here," said Laird Smith.
Officials say the artwork was chosen by Hanohano's staff. They say they would've been happy to select Native Hawaiian artists if they had been asked.
"While there may be an art piece that was done by probably a Haole that was based here for a while actually with the University – the fact is the subject is derived from nature, from here. It's all Hawai'i," said Laird Smith.
Exhibit specialists offered to take down the artwork, but for now the exhibit is still on display in Representative Hanohano's office.
House Speaker Joe Souki thanked Representative Hanohano immediately following her apology on the House floor today and has since released this statement: "I absolutely do not condone this type of offensive language and behavior by anyone. I have spoken to Representative Hanohano and emphasized that this is not in keeping with the spirit of the House of Representatives. She will be sending a letter of apology to the State Foundation on Culture and Arts Exhibit team specialists. As Speaker of the House I have also extended my sincerest apology to the members of the Exhibit team."
Representative Hanohano also followed up with a written statement: "First and foremost, I'd like to express my sincere apology to any individuals or groups who may have been offended by my comments. Clearly comments that were intended to be an impassioned plea for increasing the visibility and support for Native Hawaiian artists were expressed in a manner that did not accurately reflect their intent, sentiment or the integrity of this office. I accept full responsibility for this unfortunate incident and, again, I apologize."