KAPAA, Kauai — Dismayed by what he calls a glut of erroneous legal accusations behind the ongoing occupation of Kauai’s famed Coco Palms resort, a Native Hawaiian researcher has won a contract to fact-check claims made by activists battling for property rights with a hotel developer.
Honolulu-based redevelopment firm Coco Palms Hui has hired Keali’i Blaisdell, 47, to consult on genealogical land rights and Hawaiian Kingdom law as the company prepares a legal defense in a quiet title action.
Blaisdell, a Native Hawaiian who lives in the Pacific Northwest, has assembled a group of six other Native Hawaiians to aid in what he describes as a campaign to clear up legal misinterpretations that he says are fueling the occupation.
The other group members, who are unpaid, are Wilmont Kamaunu Kahaiali’i of Maui and Troy Hanohano, Mahiai Naihe, Lawaia Naihe, Sherri Cummings and Thomas “LB” Labanon of Kauai.
“We are not against Hawaiians because we are Hawaiians ourselves,” said Blaisdell, who was born on Oahu and briefly lived on Kauai. “But I’ve done my homework and we’ve seen the evidence point towards the opposite way of what these boys claim. We don’t get our sources from Wikipedia and blogs. We are upholding the truth with cited sources.”
A judge’s Jan. 23 ruling confirmed the validity of a special warranty deed to the property which Coco Palms Hui had purchased from an insurance company. The ruling granted a writ of possession to Coco Palms; however, a writ of possession doesn’t necessarily mean Coco Palms owns the land, just that is has a right to possess the land at present.
“After almost a year of the squatters occupying a section of the property, it is very clear that this has never been about Coco Palms directly.” — Chad Waters, Coco Palms Hui
In a quiet title case that’s pending, the court will be asked to determine the disputed parcel’s legal owner. Blaisdell said his research disproves a pair of occupiers’ claims that they have ownership rights as the lineal descendants of Kauai’s last queen, Deborah Kapule Kaumauli’i, and under the Kuleana Act of 1850.
Blaisdell said he has studied state and Hawaiian Kingdom law for years and has provided research and guidance on other kuleana land claims.
“We have engaged Keali’i Aken-Blaisdell and his team to help provide a Native Hawaiian perspective to this situation without the sovereign slant,” wrote Chad Waters of Coco Palms Hui in an email Thursday.
“It is very important to us that Coco Palms stands for and supports Native Hawaiian cultures and values and at the same time draws the line when it comes to denouncing an illegal occupation and takeover of private property,” Waters wrote. “We had nothing to do with the actions that happened 125 years ago. As most of us have been told many times growing up and would agree with as adults, ‘Two wrongs do not make a right.’”
Meanwhile, about a dozen Native Hawaiians claiming ancestral ties to the land have continued to live on the property while farming taro, keeping watch over ancient burials and hosting Hawaiian language classes. The occupation of the site by activists continues despite a judge-ordered property eviction that went into effect Jan. 28 for encampment leaders Noa Mau-Espirit and Kamu “Charles” Hepa.
The occupiers could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
The State Sheriff Division is the entity that is responsible for responding to a violation of a court order, and Hawaii Department of Public Safety spokesperson Toni Schwartz told Civil Beat last week that the division is working with the developer, the occupiers and the Kauai Police Department to find a peaceful resolution.
The dispute has lasted almost a year, stalling a planned redevelopment of the hotel where Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii” was filmed in 1961. Long before the resort popularized torch-lighting ceremonies as a mainstay of Hawaii hospitality, the property was the 19th century home of Kauai’s last queen, Deborah Kapule Kaumuali’i.
Waters and Tyler Greene of Coco Palms Hui say they are committed to reopening the site as the Coco Palms Resort by Hyatt with an estimated $135 million project that will pay tribute to the property’s storied heritage.
The resort has been closed since it was heavily damaged in 1992 by Hurricane Iniki.
“After almost a year of the squatters occupying a section of the property, it is very clear that this has never been about Coco Palms directly,” Waters wrote. “This is about Hawaiian Sovereignty. Coco Palms is just the chosen expression of their displeasure with the federal and state government. As they have stated many times, they do not consider themselves citizens of the United States and therefore are not bound by our courts or laws.”