By: TRUSTEE ROWENA AKANA
Source: March 2007 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column
`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, are now facing sky-rocketing property taxes. They could end up losing everything if something isn’t done soon to offer them some sort of tax relief.
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). (www.kumupono.com)
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.
Since most of the Kuleana lands were carved up and taken away or abandoned, the impact on tax revenues would be extremely minimal so there should be no reason why this legislation shouldn’t pass.
This year, the bill got a hearing on the Senate side, thanks to the Water, Land, Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs (WAH) committee chairman, Senator Russell S. Kokubun. Unfortunately, the bill was deferred due to concerns that the bill might be unconstitutional.
I am currently working to get a city ordinance passed at the Honolulu City Council. The bill is being spearheaded by Councilmember Todd Apo. The first hearing for the bill will be February 28th.
If you or someone you know is living on Kuleana lands and are descendent of the original owners, I implore you to consider testifying. 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. If you would like a copy of the bill e-mailed or sent to you, please contact my office.