`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). (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.
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.