A man who says he’s at least half Native Hawaiian but doesn’t have the records to prove it is suing the state for not accepting DNA test results as evidence of his ancestry.

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL), under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, provides government-sponsored homesteads to people who can prove they are at least 50 percent Native Hawaiian.

But, in the absence of a proper birth certificate, the department doesn’t accept DNA evidence as genealogical proof for adequate blood quantum, according to a lawsuit filed in Circuit Court Monday.

Leighton Pang Kee, adopted at the age of four, says he was born out of wedlock to parents who were each at least half Native Hawaiian. His original birth certificate doesn’t identify his birth father, who died in 1983.

After he was denied DHHL housing in 2000, Pang Kee, seeking a DNA test that would prove his relationship with his Native Hawaiian father, tracked down his biological uncle. The DNA test was positive, proving that Pang Kee would qualify for Hawaiian Home Lands benefits, according to the lawsuit.

Vital records show his mother is at least 80 percent Native Hawaiian.

But the DDHL in May again denied his application, reasoning that it had “not made the decision whether to accept DNA test results as evidence of Hawaiian ancestry, much less the degree of certainty the Department will accept as proof of Hawaiian ancestry through DNA testing, nor does the Department possess the expertise necessary to interpret and evaluate DNA test results.”

So he took his case to the Hawaiian Homes Commission, which is chaired by DHHL director Jobie Masagatani. The Commission has yet to respond on his requests, the lawsuit says.

The Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, on behalf on Pang Kee, is suing Masagatani, the Hawaiian Homes Commission and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for violating the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act and denying Pang Kee due process, among other things.

The lawsuit asks that Pang Kee be given a homestead lease and that the DHHL “adopt more specific rules on what types of evidence applicants for Hawaiian Home Lands leases must provide to qualify for Hawaiian Home Lands benefits.”

“There are a lot of Native Hawaiians who have this problem,” said Ashley Obrey, one of the attorneys working on the case. She noted that other agencies, including Kamehameha Schools, accept DNA evidence.

“How is this (DNA test) not something to prove that he has ancestry?” she said. “This shouldn’t be the burden of potential beneficiaries. They’re (the DHHL) supposed to have all these resources at their disposal carry out their obligations and responsibilities under the act.”

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