Hawaiian delegates at the Nai Aupuni Constitutional Convention in Kailua are meeting throughout the month of February to decide the future of the sovereignty movement.  What form of government it will recommend be formed is a big unknown, but what the governor and the Legislature are about to do will not help things.

More specifically, Gov. David Ige and Speaker Joe Souki are fighting a court order to fund the perpetually underfunded Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL). In the so-called Nelson Case, Circuit Court Judge Castagnetti found the State of Hawaii has failed to adequately fund DHHL.

The ruling stipulated that the department, which is charged with putting Hawaiians back on the land, is to be awarded $28 million in operating funds per year, but the governor and speaker disagree.

The Anahola Hawaiian Homes development on Kauai is one of many such projects for Native Hawaiian housing under the Department of Hawaiian Homelands.

The Anahola Hawaiian Homes development on Kauai is one of many such projects for Native Hawaiian housing under the Department of Hawaiian Homelands.

Island Truss

This $28 million price tag was not derived by the court, but from Hawaii’s Constitution, which says the state government “shall provide sufficient funds” for the department to carry out its duties for Hawaiians with a 50 percent Hawaiian blood quantum.

This charge to help the Hawaiians get back on the land dates back to 1920 when the U.S. Congress passed the Organic Act creating the Hawaiian Homes Commission and set aside 203,300 acres of land to accomplish its purposes — that is, “to rehabilitate Native Hawaiians, particularly in returning them to the land to maintain traditional ties to the land.”

Efforts to fulfill this promise to the Hawaiians have been dismal, embarrassing, and unfair. After 96 years of existence, DHHL has granted a paltry 9,500 leases for residential, pastoral (ranching) or agricultural lots. In the meantime the list of Hawaiians waiting for a lot has grown to more than 27,000, some waiting for decades.

So what’s the problem, and why has this law on the books been ignored or neglected? The vast majority of the responsibility lies with the governor and legislature because they have simply filled the department with rhetoric rather than funding.

So what’s the problem, and why has this law on the books been ignored or neglected?  Some of the fault lies with DHHL for not spending down some its federal funds. But the vast majority of the responsibility lies with the governor and legislature because they have simply filled the department with rhetoric rather than funding.

Other than the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, no one in the state has really financially championed the Hawaiians, though Gov. Linda Lingle’s administration holds the record for the most leases issued. Some also believe that OHA (Office of Hawaiian Affairs) should also be doing more for Hawaiian housing, though that is not their main purpose.

The governor, through his attorney general, and the speaker argue that the court ruling in the Nelson Case cannot dictate the amount of monies the Legislature must allocate to DHHL because of the so-called “separation of powers.” This argument overlooks the court-mandated settlement that OHA was recently granted by the Hawaii Supreme Court for non-payment of ceded land revenues; it’s the reason that OHA is the largest private land owner in Kakaako today.

If we take a further look at the numbers, Hawaiians in 2016 are the most landless and most incarcerated in our state, have one of the highest incidences of homelessness, alcohol and drug abuse and suicide and stand on the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder. While $28 million to build more Hawaiian homes won’t solve all these problems, it will go a long way to showing justice where justice is due.

Queen Liliuokalani gave up her throne for the sake of the future betterment of her people and the state of Hawaii. In this historical and now contemporary context, what the governor and the legislature are doing is both legally and morally wrong.

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