The Abuse, Misuse, and Theft of the Ceded Lands Trust

By Trustee Rowena Akana
March 5, 1993

Ceded lands are the remains of an estimated 1.8 million acres of public, private and crown land annexed by resolution from a provisional government to the United States in 1898. Hawaiian Home Lands, once part of ceded lands, are scattered tracts comprising about 200,000 acres Congress set aside in 1921 for native Hawaiian homesteaders.

For the last 100 years, these land trusts have been impoverished through executive orders, lands swaps, sales and general theft. With each change of government trusteeship were agreements to provide for the needs of the land’s inhabitants: the Hawaiians. Each trustee government, in turn, has thoroughly mismanaged the inhabitants’ land. A few examples for your reading displeasure:


In 1959, when the Admissions Act turned responsibility for the remaining 1.2 million acres of ceded lands over to the new State of Hawaii, the federal government “set aside” several hundred thousand acres for its military installations.

Today, more than 100 bases crowd the eight Hawaiian islands, a land area approximately the size of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined. The armed forces control 10 percent of the state and 25 percent of O’ahu. All the military bases occupy ceded lands, and at least six occupy — without consent or compensation – Hawaiian Home Lands. Among those, Pohakuloa on the Big Island is an Army training camp, Lualualei in Waianae is a Navy target range and Kekaha on Kauai is a Navy ammunition dump.

Kaho’olawe, The Target Island, was set aside by a presidential order for the military’s use during WWII. It was supposed to be cleared of ordnance and returned to human use after the war. Today, Kaho’olawe’s soil remains bomb-rich and human-poor — despite its placement on the National Register of Historic Places.


The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands estimates territorial and state governors issued between 40 and 60 executive orders setting aside Hawaiian Home Lands for military use. In 1978, a federal district court ruled all the governors’ executive orders were illegal.

In 1984, the governor ordered the DHHL to rescind nearly 30 of these illegal deals, covering some 30,000 acres. The state attorney general, meantime, decreed the U.S. Navy’s occupation of 1,400 acres of prime homelands near Honolulu to be a ‘fundamental breach of trust.’

Rather than evicting the offending land users, which include state and federal agencies, the DHHL opted for monetary settlements totaling less than $10 million. The DHHL did mount one challenge to evict the Navy, but the judge decided the department waited too long to sue.

However, the DHHL has evicted Hawaiians off land to which they held title, but the state never bothered to install utilities, roads and water as it is required.

Until recently, the DHHL had no funding to improve land management or infrastructure except the general use leases it was allowed to grant non-Hawaiians on land “not immediately needed” for homesteading. Consequently, the DHHL leased more land to non-Hawaiians than to Hawaiians.

Because of this, only 5,889 Hawaiian homestead leases had been awarded as of June, representing just 21.5 percent of the total Hawaiian Home Lands property, while 47.5 percent was under lease to non-Hawaiians.

Meanwhile, there are an estimated 14,400 qualified applicants in the Hawaiian Homes waiting list, many of whom have waited for 40 years or more.

Many more have died waiting.


For the state’s first 20 years, the Department of Land and Natural Resources managed ceded lands without scrutiny. Among other abuses, DLNR allowed use of ceded lands by other state departments without adequate compensation, and it executed a slew of summary land swaps. The land between Hanauma Bay and Waimanalo, once Hawaiian Home land, now belongs to just about everyone but Hawaiians.

In 1985, the state swapped a Big Island forest preserve for other acreage so Campbell Estate could construct a geothermal development, now plagued with technical problems and lawsuits.

In fact, until 1986 the DLNR didn’t even have an inventory of which state lands were ceded lands and which were not, and no one still knows the exact amount the state earns from this inventory. A 1986 “Final Report on the Public Lands Trust” did manage to identify some major parcels of ceded or Hawaiian Homes land commandeered for public use without compensation. A small sampling: Hilo Municipal Golf Course, Maui’s Waiehu Golf Course, Kauai’s Wailua Golf Course, Ala Wai Golf Course, Sand Island, Ala Moana Beach Park, Kapiolani Park, and their rentals, Honolulu Harbor, Kahului Harbor, Kewalo Basin, Keehi Lagoon, Honolulu International Airport, General Lyman Field, Molokai Airport and the University of Hawaii.
All occupy in part or whole ceded and/or Hawaiian Home lands — at the expense of Hawaiians and native Hawaiians.

When will this sickening litany of abuse, misuse and fraud end? When will the state or federal government keep a promise to the Hawaiian people? When will others stop managing our affairs in their interest, stop taking for theirs that which they agreed in writing was ours and stop actively campaigning against any meaningful resolution to our plight?

When? You have the answers.