IT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN SAYING FOR YEARS: OHA needs more Fiscal Responsibility, but certain Trustees have lacked the political will

`Ano`ai kakou…  Recently, there has been a lot of critical news about OHA’s recent spending on grants, sponsorships, and Limited Liability Companies (LLCs).  But this is definitely not news to me.  It’s what I’ve been saying all along.  Here are some highlights of my past Ka Wai Ola articles during the past year:

  • January 2018 – OHA publishes a book and hands over Scholarship Program to UH. On November 21, 2017, OHA published a book on mana that took five years of staff time to print.  I’ve been waiting months for a response about where the money to publish the book came from.
  • December 2017 – Bring Back OHA Run Programs. I wrote that change will not occur unless the Trustees begin to hold our Administration responsible for their actions.
  • April 2017 – Back to Normal: Ho Hum, Business as Usual. I wrote that one of OHA’s money managers recommended that we get rid of the Fiscal Reserve slush fund.  Trustees seemed supportive, but nothing has happened since.  Now the State Auditor is calling this out!  I also wrote that we need to find a more efficient way to run our essential programs such as community grants.  The State Auditor’s February 2018 Audit of OHA (LINK: vindicates my position that OHA grants are still not being monitored and mostly given to those who know who and how to ask.
  • March 2017 – Transition: Change doesn’t have to be painful. I argued that OHA must be an agency that treats our beneficiaries equally and it’s now up to the new leadership to make sure there is an even playing field at OHA.  However, this has not occurred.  I also mentioned that on February 8th, the Trustees formed an Advisory Committee to make recommendations to the Board on the scope of a proposed financial audit and management review.  This only came about because our beneficiaries demanded it and wanted an answer to the one question I’ve been asking nonstop for the last decade:  Where is all the money really going?”  This effort has met with great opposition from the Administration.


Mona Bernardino, who currently serves as chief operating officer of Hiilei Aloha LLC, one of OHA’s five nonprofit LLCs, recently wrote an op-ed piece to Civil Beat.  In it, she tries to shift the blame for OHA’s misspending and lack of transparency solely on the Trustees by hinting that it has to do with Trustee Allowances.  What Ms. Bernardino fails to mention is that nothing was spent on things that weren’t allowed under current OHA policies.

Also, the fact that OHA’s LLCs are shrouded in secrecy and riddled with complaints rests mostly on Ms. Bernardino’s shoulders.  Her objections to the audit of the LLCs has caught our attention for sure.

This is an election year and people like Ms. Bernardino would like nothing more than to get rid of the Trustees who have been demanding accountability.  This is what prompted her op-ed letter.  However, what she has done is open the barn door for not just the auditors, but for the Trustees to re-examine the need to have five LLCs.  I have NOT been a fan of OHA’s LLCs.  Three of them were secretly created by two former Trustees and the former Administrator without Board approval.  They were eventually approved by the Board two years after they were formed, but only because I started asking questions about them.  Aloha Ke Akua.

Fifty Years of Mismanaging Mauna Kea by UH & DLNR

`Ano`ai kakou…  An excellent video was recently released that explains the state’s failure to fulfill its trust obligations relating to Mauna Kea.  The six-minute video, “Fifty Years of Mismanaging Mauna Kea,” was uploaded to VIMEO (Link: on December 12, 2017 by Kanaeokana, a network of ʻōlelo Hawai’i, Hawaiian culture, and ʻāina-based schools.  Here are some quick highlights:

1964 – Mauna Kea is identified by UH as an exceptional site for astronomical observation.

1968 – UH signs a 65-year general lease from BLNR for 13,321 acres of ceded lands at the summit.  BLNR can terminate the lease if the lease terms are not met, including care for the mauna.  A permit for “an observatory” was granted but numerous telescopes are built.  BLNR later issues “after the fact” permits.

1974 – Governor George Ariyoshi, concerned that the activities on the mountain pose a threat to its “priceless qualities,” directs DLNR to make a Master Plan for the mauna.  DLNR and UH draft 10 different plans, but the speed of development on Mauna Kea makes some of them obsolete before they are completed.

1975 – The Audubon Society resists the installation of the 15-meter sub-millimeter antenna.

1995 – UH cleans up trash accumulating on the summit only after the Sierra Club files a complaint.

1998 – The State Auditor releases a scathing report documenting 30 years of mismanagement of Mauna Kea by both the BLNR and UH and reveals that, despite spending $50 million per year on telescope operations, no observatory paid more than $1 a year rent.

1999 – Despite the audit, they build two more telescopes.

2004 – Subpoenaed documents reveal that sewage, ethylene glycol, diesel fuel, and toxic mercury were spilled on the mauna.

2005 – A follow-up audit finds that UH’s management “still falls short.”  A NASA environmental study concludes that 35 years of astronomy activity has caused “significant, substantial and adverse” harm.

2007 – Third Circuit Court revokes NASA’s permit for an observatory project because of the state’s lack of a comprehensive management plan for the mauna.

2010 – UH’s new Comprehensive Management Plan includes a “Decommissioning Plan” for removing observatories and restoring the site.  To date, only one of the existing 13 observatories has started the process.  A UH environmental study concludes that astronomy activities have caused “substantial and adverse” impacts to the mauna’s natural and cultural resources.

2011 – The Subaru Observatory spills 100 liters of orange coolant.

2013 – BLNR hears UH’s request for a new 65-year general lease, to expire in 2078.  UH’s undergraduate governing body, representing 14,000 students, passes a resolution opposing a new lease.

2014 – Another follow-up audit finds UH failed to adopt a single rule to manage public activities on the mountain.

2015 – Governor David Ige temporarily stops construction on Mauna Kea after 300 mauna protectors peacefully block roads to the proposed TMT site and 31 are arrested.  A petition with 53,000 signatures calling for a halt to the TMT and the arrests of protectors is delivered to Ige.  UH’s President admits that “[UH] has not met all of [its] obligations to the mountain or the expectations of the community.”

2017 – Another audit finds that none of the 8 recommendations in the 2014 audit had been completely implemented.  UH and DLNR have also failed and to adequately implement 32 of 54 management actions that concern Native Hawaiians.

If you think Mauna Kea deserves better care, help spread the word by sharing this video.

Check out the video at:

One step forward, two steps back: OHA publishes a book and hands over Scholarship Program to UH

`Ano`ai kakou…  Last month I talked about OHA taking a step in the right direction by getting rid of a “middle-man” to administer OHA’s funds to support 17 Hawaiian-focused charter schools.  It was a win-win situation I hoped we could replicate with other OHA programs.  Disappointingly, this seems to have been the exception, not the rule.


Certain things should be contracted out to outside vendors, such as publishing books.  We’re a government agency focused on bettering the condition of Native Hawaiians, not a book publisher.

Amazingly, on November 21, 2017, OHA published and released a book that explores mana.  According to OHA’s press release, the 300-page Mana Lāhui Kānaka is “a multidimensional study of mana: what it is, how to articulate it, and how to access and cultivate it.  The book, which is available free to the public online, was co-authored by OHA Ka Pouhana and Chief Executive Officer Kamanaʻopono Crabbe, Ph.D, Dr. Kealoha Fox and Holly Coleman.”

I had no idea our CEO was using OHA staff time and resources over the past five years to write this book.  None of the previous Board Chairs or the Trustees I’ve talked to were aware of this project or how it came about.  Apparently, OHA’s CEO felt that there wasn’t many books written about mana out there, so he decided to have OHA publish one.

While mana maybe a worthwhile subject for some, is spending five years of staff time on it to publish a book more important than the life of our people or their homeless plight?  OHA needs to be more careful when taking on these projects because the public could easily see it as self-serving and done on the backs of our beneficiaries.


According to OHA’s press release, on November 8, 2017 OHA filed a filed a lawsuit in First Circuit Court against the State of Hawaiʻi and the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) for their longstanding and well-documented mismanagement of Mauna Kea.  OHA’s complaint requests the court to order the state to fulfill its trust obligations relating to Mauna Kea and to terminate UH’s general lease for the mountain for breach of the lease’s terms.

“The state and UH have failed to properly mālama Mauna Kea and have demonstrated their inability to ensure that the environmental and cultural significance of the mountain is recognized and protected,” said OHA Vice Chair Dan Ahuna.  “It’s time to abandon any hope that UH is capable or even willing to provide the level of aloha and attention to Mauna Kea that it deserves,” Ahuna continued.  “We need to come together as a community to completely re-think how we care for the mauna, and that starts with cancelling the university’s master lease.”

I agree with Trustee Ahuna.  However, on November 29, 2017, the Board approved, based on the Administration’s recommendation, the disbursement of $550,000 from FY 2018 and $550,000 from FY 2019 to fund a grant to the UH system to serve as administrator for OHA’ scholarship fund.  NOTE:  I abstained.

So to recap, OHA can’t trust UH to properly manage Mauna Kea but we can totally trust them to properly distribute our money to Native Hawaiian students.  Talk about mixed messages.  Aloha Ke Akua.

Give OHA its fair share of ceded land revenues

`Ano`ai kakou…  In 2006, Senate Bill 2948 established the amount of interim revenue to be transferred to the OHA from the public land trust, each fiscal year beginning with fiscal year 2005-2006, at $15,100,000.

While I was not opposed to the $15,100,000 that was negotiated, I did have serious concerns about how the amounts were calculated.  I also questioned whether OHA’s negotiation team considered all of the facts and figures that were available to come up with a fair and justifiable amount.  The last discussion that I am aware of was in December 2005, when our attorney told us that the state owed a past due amount between $17-$30 million.

Despite my inquires, I have never gotten a satisfactory answer on how the final $15.1 million figure was calculated nor why this amount is lower than the $17-$30 million range that was discussed.  I did receive bits-and-pieces of information from the negotiation team from time-to-time.  However, even very important information, such as the calculations and figures compiled by OHA’s accountant in the past, had changed over the years and I questioned whether they were even considered.  There also did not appear to be a clear formula by which the negotiators calculated the amounts owed or even the future payments to be paid to OHA.

At no time was I ever privy to the formula which the negotiation team used to calculate the settlement with the Governor’s office, nor was I given any real numbers that showed exactly how the team had arrived at the numbers that they were suggesting.  Much of the specific details of the negotiations were kept a closely guarded secret.

On February 1, 2006, the State House Committee on Hawaiian Affairs had a hearing on Senate Bill 2948.  During the questions and answers period, committee members asked the State Attorney General about where the revenue would come from.  The AG replied that they were looking at receipts from the airport shops, the University of Hawaii Bookstore, U.H. parking, etc.  State Representative Ezra Kanoho asked if those sources were included in the $15.1 million and the answer was “yes.”  This was confusing since those revenues have been in dispute with the state since the Heely case.  This begged the question – Was the state now settling a part of the Heely case with this settlement?

By the time I found out that the negotiating team and the Governor’s office had come up with a deal, it was too late for me to express my other concerns.  For example:

  1. By what method was the past due amounts determined to be $17-$30 Million?
  2. Was inflation factored into the equation?
  3. Did they consider the fact that the state has been re-negotiating leases every year and, consequently, the revenue stream is now much higher? The $15.1 million figure goes way back to 1995.
  4. What about the interest that is owed to OHA on the unpaid amounts?

I have always felt that our negotiating team was too secretive about how they came up with the final $15.1 million figure.  I also haven’t heard a convincing argument that justifies the amount.  It is critical that we revisit this issue and finally convince the state to give OHA and its beneficiaries a fair share of the ceded land revenue.  As the past OHA Chair I did ask Governor Ige to reconvene the taskforce of 2016 to resolve the unpaid debt to OHA but as of this date I’ve had no response.  Aloha Ke Akua.

Charter Schools are shortchanged by the State

`Ano`ai kakou…  Since 2005, the OHA has been a supporter of the charter school movement, and has collaborated in partnership with the Kamehameha Schools’ Hoꞌolako Like program, ꞌAha Pūnana Leo, Hoꞌokākoꞌo Corporation and other non-profit organizations supporting 15+ Hawaiian-focused charter schools statewide, where Native Hawaiians make up a high portion of the student population.

Most of Hawai’i’s start-up and conversion public charter schools are Hawaiian-focused charter schools and more than 3,000 Native Hawaiian children are enrolled in these schools.  These schools lack sufficient funds for facilities and infrastructure, capital improvements and repair and maintenance costs.  Difficulties in securing adequate long-term and affordable facilities that are academically appropriate are resulting in a financial crisis for some Hawaiian-focused charters.  This threatens the long-term viability of Hawai’i’s public charter school system and the well-being of our Hawaiian children and families.

In spite of the challenges and severe under-funding, Hawaiian-focused charter schools have demonstrated their effectiveness in serving our Hawaiian children, who are more engaged and attain greater gains in the educational process as compared to their peers in conventional public schools.  Our children are succeeding in the Hawaiian-focused charter schools because they are grounded in Hawaiian language, culture and values.  The well-being of our Hawaiian families and communities are also enhanced by the positive gains made in our Hawaiian-focused charter schools.

The Trustees, the Administration and the staff of OHA are committed to fulfill its education mission to facilitate culturally sound educational opportunities for Native Hawaiians by promoting academic success and life-long learning.  The Trustees have authorized and allocated millions of dollars over the years leveraging other potential resources to fund Hawaiian-focused public charter schools.  The State is the largest stakeholder and is charged with the greatest responsibility or “kuleana” to make this possible.

Section 5(f) of the 1959 Hawaii Admission Act established that the State holds lands as a public trust be used for: (1) The support of public schools and other public institutions; (2) For the betterment of conditions of native Hawaiians; (3) The development of farm and home ownership; (4) Public improvements; and (5) The establishment of lands for public use.

Hawaiian-focused public charter schools are getting shortchanged by the State.

Hawaiian-focused public charter schools should be getting a much greater share of the ceded land revenues than they do now.  They should be drawing from a pool of 40% of the ceded land revenues (support of public schools at 20% and public use of lands at 20%).  The State’s share of the ceded land revenues is 80% (minus the 20% for the betterment of native Hawaiians that goes to OHA) and yet they give nothing (0%) to the Charter Schools for infrastructure.  This causes a huge disparity between Charter Schools and the Department of Education.  Paying for their facilities is a huge burden for charter schools and the State needs to start paying up.  Things are so bad that many charter schools would be in dire straits if it weren’t for OHA’s yearly $1.5 million in grants.

It is not enough to make possible the opportunity for our children to attend charter schools.  It is incumbent upon us to ensure that the learning environments we create for our children, and indeed for all children, must be reflective of the promising future that we envision for them and for our society.  I urge all of my readers to support the ongoing success of Hawaiian-focused charter schools.  Write and email your OHA Trustee, State Representative, and State Senator to do something about this disparity.  Aloha Ke Akua.

The Time Has Come Again For Solidarity

Let us make room for all voices and respect each other’s views no matter how different they are from our own.

`Ano`ai kakou…  Many of us still mark August 20, 2003 as a black day in Hawaiian history when a federal court judge forced Kamehameha Schools to enroll a non-Hawaiian student.  This act was so egregious that on September 7, 2003, the Trustees and staff of OHA marched side-by-side down Kalakaua Avenue with more than 5,000 supporters of Native Hawaiian rights in a powerful show of unity.

The marchers included representatives from Kamehameha Schools, Hawaiian Ali’i Trusts, Royal Benevolent Society members, and sovereignty advocates.  Also showing their support were many non-Hawaiians.  The march was organized by the ‘Ilio’ulaokalani Coalition and ended in a rally at the Kapi’olani Park Bandstand.  It was encouraging to see that people who often found themselves on opposite sides regarding nationhood could come together to support justice for all Native Hawaiians.


On February 26, 2016, the majority of the Na‘i Aupuni ‘aha participants voted to adopt The Constitution of the Native Hawaiian Nation.  Again, it was moving to see people who were often on opposite sides of an issue come together for the good of the whole.  There were several participants that frequently came to OHA to protest our positions on nationhood and yet we were all able to put those differences aside and finally draft the governing documents needed to restore our nation.

The governing documents drafted during the ‘aha must be voted on and approved by the Hawaiian people before they can be implemented.  The Hawaiian people currently have the opportunity to examine the documents before deciding whether to accept them.  Once the provisions of the governing documents are ratified, they can finally be implemented and the officers and legislative arm of the nation will be selected.


What we face today as Hawaiians, the indigenous people of our lands, is no different than what occurred over 100 years ago. We are still fighting to protect our culture, rights to our lands, and our entitlements.  Times may have changed but people are still the same.  Greed is still the motivation behind efforts to relieve us of whatever entitlements we have left.  The fight is even more difficult now that our enemies have become more sophisticated in ways to manipulate us and the law.

We are one people. We cannot afford to be divided, not when so much work remains to be done. The struggle to regain our sovereign rights requires unity and the strength of numbers.

As the federal court decision regarding Kamehameha schools proved, the future of OHA and other Hawaiian Trusts are certainly at risk.  Hawaiian leaders will have to work together and use whatever resources that are necessary to protect that last remaining Hawaiian Trusts.

Let us work together for the cause of nationhood.  Let us agree on the things that we can agree to and set aside the things we differ on and move forward together for the future generations of Hawaiians yet to come.

We cannot continue to let others decide our future.  We will be one nation and one people.

“I appeal to you….that there be no division among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”  I Corinthians 1:10

Let us embrace each other’s views no matter how different they are from our own.  Only then can we be as our Queen wished… ONIPA’A, steadfast in what is good!  Aloha Ke Akua.

Saying a final farewell to former OHA Trustee Moanikeꞌala Akaka

`Ano`ai kakou…  It is with sadness I say aloha to former OHA Trustee Moanikeʻala Akaka who passed away in Hilo on Saturday, April 15, 2017, at the age of 72.  I had the distinct honor of serving with Moani on the OHA Board from 1990 to 1996.

Trustee Akaka was a prominent figure in the early days of the Hawaiian Renaissance, and her outspoken and passionate activism on behalf of Native Hawaiians and the disenfranchised continued throughout her entire life.  Trustee Akaka strongly opposed the militarization of Hawaiʻi and the use of Kahaoʻolawe and Pōhakuloa as bombing and munitions training areas and she was also a passionate advocate for the protection of Mauna Kea.

In February, 2004, Trustee Akaka came to ask OHA if she qualified for state retirement for her past service as an OHA Trustee from November 28, 1984 to November 15, 1996.  The administration let her know that she did not qualify for state retirement under the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS).

From November 26, 1980 through 1993, OHA Trustees served without a salary.  Trustees received a stipend of $50.00 per day for each meeting they attended and travel expenses.  So back then, Trustees were considered part-time workers but we worked full-time.

In 1993, the OHA Trustee Salary Commission was established and Trustees started to receive an annual salary of $32,000, but we were not included in the ERS so we didn’t qualify for state retirement benefits.

In 2002, the law was changed to allow OHA Trustees, in service on or after July 1, 2002, to participate in the ERS.  Although we tried to grandfather in the past Trustees, the new law ended up excluding past Trustees that served before July 1, 2002.  The law only gave retirement benefits to Trustees elected after July 1, 2002.

In February of 2015, Trustee Akaka renewed her request for retirement benefits from OHA.  As Chair of the Budget Committee, I asked the Administration to draft an action item proposing to make a single, lump sum payment to former Trustee Akaka, which would equal a Trustees’ one year’s salary in 2015, excluding fringe benefits.  Although some Trustees had some concerns, this proposal passed with no objections on May 14, 2015.

For too many years, OHA Trustees were treated as “step children” of the State.  Yet we are elected statewide and serve all year long.  We are also fiduciaries which no other elected officials are.  Our responsibilities are much greater than a state legislator.  Yet it took 13 years to get a salary, which comes from Trust Funds, and 22 years to be allowed retirement benefits.  The legislature can give itself raises while OHA has to wait for the Governor to appoint a salary commission every four years to see if we deserve a raise.  It’s been eight years and two Commissions who have said no to raises.  What is wrong with this picture?  We are still being treated as second class citizens.

On May 25, 2017, the Trustees adopted a resolution honoring the life and contributions of Trustee Akaka and extended its deepest condolences to her ʻohana.  If you are interested in making a donation to the ‘ohana, checks can be made payable to Trustee Akaka’s daughter.  Here is her contact information:  Ho‘oululahui Erika Perry, 80 Alahelenui Street, Hilo, HI 96720.

Mahalo nui and Godspeed Moani.

State Procurement Office investigates OHA over lucrative, non-bid contract

`Ano`ai kakou…  On May 8, 2017, Hawaii News Now reported that “a criminal probe is now underway on a lucrative, non-bid contract issued by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.”  They also reported that “the state Attorney General’s office has subpoenaed records relating to an OHA’s contract with [a] Hawaiian scholar…  Sources said the subpoena was issued to the State Procurement Office, which recently found that OHA improperly awarded the contract without competitive bidding.”

In early May, OHA received a copy of a letter from Sara Allen, the Administrator of the State Procurement Office (SPO), to Mililani Trask regarding OHA’s Contract No. 2879 with Kuauli ꞌĀina-Based Insights LLC.  It stated that a certain division of our staff had violated the State Procurement laws.

This news was not a revelation to me, as I had been informing the Trustees that this behavior had been going on for a very long time.  As the former Chair, I wanted this behavior stopped.

It was the main reason for my rescinding the procurement duties from the OHA CEO, which caused a furor by some management staff and some of the public.  However, the public was not aware of OHA’s internal problems and did not understand my reasoning for this removal of this power.  Needless to say, my detractors used this to say the Board was dysfunctional under my two-month watch and it was a reason to elect a new Chair.  As a result, the “old guard” was put back in power.

So here we go again, faced with the same problems, only in worse shape now because it isn’t just the State Procurement Office who is looking into OHA.  We didn’t do well at the legislature last year or this year, and our beneficiaries question the ability of some Trustees to manage our Trust assets.

Can OHA be fixed?  Yes, but it will take political will on the part of some Trustees to do what is necessary to make this organization into one that our beneficiaries can be proud of and our employees happy to work for.  Aloha Ke Akua.

Legislative Update (2017)

`Ano`ai kakou…  The legislature is about ready to wrap things up.  Here are two of the most harmful pieces of legislation that is currently threatening OHA and the Native Hawaiian Trust:


The House (HCR94/HR56) and Senate (SCR85/SR33) introduced resolutions that would ask OHA to convene a group of Hawaiian leaders, legal scholars, and Hawaiian community members to review whether it’d be better to appoint OHA Trustees rather than elect them.  The group would consider what the appropriate appointing authority would be and how to develop a list of the best qualified potential trustees.

OHA has always been an independent agency built on the goal of Native Hawaiian autonomy and self-determination.  Appointing Trustees would kill any hope of true self-determination and make OHA just another part of the state.

An appointed Trustee would only be loyal to whoever appointed them.  Elected Trustees are loyal to their constituents.  Would the people of Hawaii accept Senators and Representatives that were appointed by the Governor?  OHA should be no different.

Elected Trustees have built OHA into the impressive institution it is today.  We did it on our own, without someone above us second-guessing our every move.  An appointed Board of Trustees could never match our vision, determination, and drive to tackle the many challenges our beneficiaries face.


HB865 threatens to undermine the autonomy of OHA Trustees as OHA’s independent decision makers and fiduciaries of the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund.  Amendment to HRS § 89-6 could result in the OHA Board of Trustees holding only 1 of 14 votes when negotiating a collective bargaining agreement involving OHA employees, whose salaries make up a significant portion of OHA’s operating budget.

Together with the requirements of the Civil Service Law, HRS Chapter 76, the Trustees’ ability to oversee and plan for personnel expenses would depend in large part to the decisions of the executive branch and Governor, who would hold 7 votes in collective bargaining negotiations involving OHA employees.

Such a voting imbalance would effectively require the OHA Board of Trustees to hand over control over some of its key expenditures to the State.  The requirements of civil service and collective bargaining would force OHA to change the way it hires, compensates, and maintains its workforce.

Representative Kaniela Ing

So what do both of these measures infringing on OHA’s autonomy have in common?  They were introduced in the House by Representative Kaniela Ing.  This isn’t the first year he’s introduced them, but this has to stop.  This is the third year in a row he’s done this!

Whatever Rep. Ing’s intentions may be, it’s clear his proposals would end OHA’s autonomy and make us a part of the state.  Hawaiians have been struggling for many years to restore our sovereignty and self-determination, whether it’s through nation-within-a-nation model or full independence.  A state-controlled OHA would cripple those efforts and threaten the resources OHA is holding for the new nation.

The Board of Education is now appointed by the Governor.  Are things better with public schools?  The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has commissioners appointed by the Governor.  Are you satisfied with how it’s performing?  I pray that the young Representative from Maui would put more thought into his proposals; otherwise we need to convince his constituents to look for someone else to represent them.  Aloha Ke Akua.

No more taking of Native Lands

`Ano`ai kakou…  One issue that has been near and dear to my heart over the past few years is passing a law that would exempt Kuleana lands from property taxes.  Hawaiian families, who have been caring for their Kuleana lands for generations, were facing sky-rocketing property taxes.  They could have ended up losing everything if something wasn’t done to offer them some sort of tax relief.

After four years of countless meetings with City officials and testifying before an endless parade of committees, Kuleana Lands finally became exempt from real property taxes on Oahu in 2007 and it is now known as Revised Ordinances of Honolulu Section 8-10.32 Exemption—Kuleana land.  All of the neighbor island counties established their own Kuleana property tax exemptions soon after Oahu.  If the exemptions didn’t pass when it did, more Kuleana lands would have fallen out of Hawaiian hands.

Now Kuleana lands are under threat from rich mainlanders who want to force Hawaiian families off their land, all for the sake of their privacy.

A brief history of Kuleana Lands:  In 1848, as a result of the Mahele, all land in the Kingdom of Hawai‘i was placed in one of three categories:  Crown Lands (for the occupant of the throne); Government Lands; and Konohiki Lands (Kuleana Act, 1850).  (

After native Hawaiian commoners were granted the opportunity to acquire their own parcels of land through the Mahele, foreigners were also granted the right to own land in 1850, provided they had sworn an oath of loyalty to the Hawaiian Monarch.  In order to receive their awards from the Land Commission, the hoa‘aina (native tenants) were required to prove that they cultivated the land for a living.  They were not permitted to acquire “wastelands” (e.g. fishponds) or lands which they cultivated “with the seeming intention of enlarging their lots.”  Once a claim was confirmed, a survey was required before the Land Commission was authorized to issue any award.

The lands awarded to the hoa‘aina became known as “Kuleana Lands.” All of the claims and awards (the Land Commission Awards or L.C.A.) were numbered, and the L.C.A. numbers remain in use today to identify the original owners of lands in Hawai‘i.  By the time of its closure on March 31, 1855, the Land Commission issued only 8,421 kuleana claims, equaling only 28,658 acres of land to the native tenants (cf. Indices of Awards 1929).

According to the Overview of Hawaiian History by Diane Lee Rhodes, many of the kuleana lands were later lost.  The list of reasons include:  (1) Native tenants mostly received lands that lacked firewood or were too rocky and unsuitable for farming.  (2) A number of kuleana were sold by dishonest land agents before the farmers could get a survey.  (3) The land commissioners delayed getting notices to landholders.  (4) Prices were out of reach for commoners.  (5) Finally, foreigners evicted legitimate kuleana owners without due process.

We must put an end to the injustices done to the caretakers of Kuleana lands for the past 150-years once and for all.  If something is not done soon, the very last Kuleana lands that have survived will finally fall out of Hawaiian hands.  Protecting what’s left of Kuleana Lands will help preserve Hawai’i’s rich history and culture.

OHA and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation will partner to stop outsiders, or anyone, who try to “quiet title” Hawaiian lands.