Ceded Lands Mess
Proposed OHA-State settlement controversial
By Léo Azambuja
A controversial bill to restitute Hawaiians is making headway in the Legislature. The bill seeks a settlement in the form of a $200 million payment to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) by the State of Hawaii. However, what seems to be a victory for native Hawaiians has left many questioning the integrity of the bill.
OHA trustees and officers attended a meeting at Kulana `Oiwi last week Monday, and explained the rather complex bill. Jonathan Scheuer, Director of Land Assets Management at OHA, did a thorough presentation of the proposed settlement to the Molokai community.
After three decades of litigation with the state government over ceded-land revenues, OHA settled for $13 million in cash and $187 million in real state. The real estate part of the settlement is where problems begin.
Many on the audience were upset because OHA did not consult with native Hawaiians before agreeing on which lands to acquire as part of the settlement.
“The lack of outreach to the Hawaiian community is what I feel right now,” said Vicky Takamine, `Ilio`ula o Kalani coalition president.
Homesteader Walter Ritte questioned who decided which lands to choose. He called the agreement between OHA and the State a “secret deal.”
“We were left out of this process,” Ritte said. “The community has no input in this process.”
OHA board counsel and former Hawaii Supreme Court Justice, Robert Klein, using rhetoric language, said otherwise. “I disagree … that we didn’t come out to the community, but that’s what we are doing right now,” Klein said. Minutes later he contradicted himself, saying that the settlement is “not one of those things that you can easily take out to the public.”
Klein compared the settlement with an automobile accident settlement. In this case, he said “you wouldn’t take it to the public.” However, the settlement does need public input, since bill has already passed four Senate committees, and is likely to be put to a floor vote soon.
Continuing, Klein accused those against the settlement of being against having community resources. “If that is what you want to be, that’s fine, you do have the right to be against it,” he said, noting that the money will end up being used for purposes other than helping Hawaiian communities.
Ritte once more tried to explain his position. “We are against something we cannot participate in, and that has been OHA’s problem,” Ritte said.
Mili Hanapi backed up Ritte. “It’s not that we don’t support economics and a better life for Hawaiian people,” she said. “That would be irresponsible for us to think such a thing.”
Hanapi’s position reflected the position of many in the audience who spoke. “I can’t say I support this bill,” she said. “We should have been a part of the process.”
State Deputy Attorney General Charlene Aina said comments from the public were well taken, but she said that “at least for the State of Hawaii, the negotiations could not have gone forward with all of the taxpayers participating in the process.”
“For the purposes of reaching a settlement that we did come to, it did require, as a practical measure, closed discussion,” Aina said.
Takamine said she understood the negotiation process between OHA trustees and the government has to be confidential. However, she also said that listening to the “Hawaiian community to find out what their concerns are would not have been a breach in that confidentiality in the negotiation process.”
The controversial agreement is not yet guaranteed to become effective.
“It’s not a done-deal,” Takamine said. “If the legislature doesn’t approve it, then it’s done, it’s over, there’s no negotiation.”
Kaho'onei Panoke, executive director of `Ilio`ula o Kalani coalition, said that the lack of native Hawaiian representation in the Legislature may be costly to those who want the settlement approved. “We have only two native Hawaiian senators, and seven or eight in the House,” he said. “No matter who settles what, we’re never going to win as long as we have those numbers in the Legislature.”
Panoke said `Ilio`ula o Kalani coalition has been trying to convince 25,000 native Hawaiians to vote. “No vote, no grumble,” he said.
The Public Land Trust was created by the Hawaii Admissions Act in 1959, and includes 1.2 million acres of ceded lands, formerly know as crown and kingdom lands. The State controls the Public Land Trust. Native Hawaiian claims to ownership of ceded lands have never been resolved, and OHA does not believe it has standing to resolve ownership claims.
OHA has sued the State four times over revenues from ceded lands. Each time the court said that it’s up to the Legislature to define OHA’s entitlements, and that all OHA can do is negotiate and lobby – it can not successfully sue.
The properties included in the settlement are: 18.5 acres at Kaka`ako Makai, by Oahu’s Kewalo Basin, 110 acres at Kalaeloa Makai, at West Oahu, and an 80-acre resort/hotel-zoned property at Big Island’s Hilo Kahua.
For more information please visit www.oha.org/pastdue. To follow the progress of the settlement in the Legislature, go to www.capitol.hawaii.org and click on Bill Status and Documents, then type SB 2733. There is still time to contact representatives and express opinions.