Does Blood Quantum Divide Us?

By Trustee Rowena Akana
October 3, 1994

The definition of “native Hawaiian” was not created by Hawaiians themselves. Indeed, the proviso was added to the language of the 1920 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act at the behest of powerful sugar planters who were anxious to preserve over 200,000 acres of choice, inexpensive leases.

Divide and rule. It was a classic tactic of colonial regimes throughout the world, including the Territorial Administration of Hawaii. The Territory used it all too well, filling the coffers of the sugar planters while maintaining Hawaiians in factionalized penury. Seventy years later, Hawaiians are still wondering whether or not we own our own land. And of course, in alienating Hawaiians from their land, Hawaiians were alienated from their spiritual and cultural selves as well.

Although OHA is mandated to serve all Hawaiians, its funding mechanism restricts benefits to native Hawaiians. This gulf between OHA’s mission and its means can be seen in the instruments that created it and in those that fund it. The 1978 Constitutional Amendment that created OHA clearly requires the Board of Trustees to “manage and administer” proceeds from ceded lands for “native Hawaiians and Hawaiians.” However, OHA’s sources of revenue make the agency unable to fulfill its purpose. HRS-10 refers back to the Admission Act, which in turn refers back to the HHCA, which dedicates funding exclusively for native Hawaiians. The Act defines native Hawaiian as “any descendent of not less than one-half part of the blood of the races inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands previous to 1778.”

In a place of such great multicultural diversity as our island home, many Hawaiians are already below the blood quantum. Even native Hawaiian families are often only a generation or two away from being in a similar predicament themselves. We are one people. We cannot afford to be divided by arguments about benefits or entitlements. Not when so much work remains to be done. The struggle to regain our sovereign rights requires unity and the strength of numbers.

The blood quantum must be scrapped and benefits extended to all Hawaiians with continued priority given to native Hawaiians. As the Hawaiian race continues to “thin out” over time, we must find new ways to redefine our ohana, and on our own terms. Previous definitions were motivated by greed and formulated by strangers. New definitions will be motivated by a sense of lokahi and aloha and formulated by Hawaiians.

There is a final irony to the question of blood quantum. In addition to the requirement’s egregious moral and political shortcomings, it suffers from a profound and extremely basic problem as well. That is the question of how “race” is defined on the state records that are used to confirm blood quantum. According to the State Department of Health, the race item on vital records is not an indication of genetic extraction but is the race claimed by the informant. Thus, the legal determination of an individual’s status as a trust beneficiary is not even made according to legal rules of evidence.

The blood quantum requirement must be amended, by State or Federal action, so that OHA can serve all of the people it was created to serve, now and in the future.