Peter Apo: Native Hawaiians May Finally Get Millions Owed Since Statehood - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Peter Apo

Peter Apo is a former trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and legislator. He is the president of the Peter Apo Company, a cultural tourism consulting company to the visitor industry. He has also been the arts and culture director for Honolulu, the city’s director of Waikiki Development and served as special assistant on Hawaiian affairs to Gov. Ben Cayetano.


The long-standing and controversial issue of revenue owed the Office of Hawaiian Affairs generated by the state of Hawaii from the Public Land Trust may finally be on the road to serious dialogue and a resolution.

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Senate Bill 2122, scheduled for hearing Tuesday by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, attempts to address the unresolved and controversial issue of millions owed the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

OHA’s claim to a share of PLT revenues is rooted in the 1978 state constitutional amendment that created OHA. The amendment not only created OHA but mandates that OHA is entitled to a “pro-rata share” of the PLT. Determining what that “pro-rata share” would be was left up to the Legislature. In 1980 the Legislature passed Act 273, establishing OHA’s “pro rata share” as 20% of the PLT.

The road to Hawaii becoming the 50th state is a time tunnel with a controversial history of successive governing models from Royal Kingdom (established 1795 by King Kamehameha I), to Constitutional Monarchy, to Provisional Government, to the Republic of Hawaii, to becoming a Territory of the United States, and then Statehood in 1959.

Through every transition from one governing model to the next, control of the land and land use was central to maintaining power and authority. The PLT ended up as an important downstream outcome after 164 years of sometimes legally confusing land use and ownership issues spanning the period between Kingdom and Statehood.

Today, the PLT is comprised of some 1.4 million acres conveyed to the state from the federal government at statehood.

As a negotiated condition of statehood with the federal government, Section 5(f) of the Hawaii Admissions Act established five purposes for the use of PLT lands and any revenue derived from the use of such lands.

The five purposes are: support of the public schools and other public educational institutions, the development of farm and home ownership, the making of public improvements, the provision of lands for public use, and the betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians.

While the 1978 constitutional amendment entitled OHA to “20% of the pro-rata share” of the PLT it was left to the Legislature to clarify what that meant and how the entitlement should be translated. So, in 1980, the Legislature determined that since the Admissions Act spelled out five purposes, and one of those purposes was “the betterment of conditions of native Hawaiians” then pro-rata meant OHA was entitled to one-fifth or 20% of the revenues of the PLT.  Act 273 was passed by the 1980 Legislature and formally established OHA’s pro-rata share at 20%.

But from the very beginning there was push back by several state agencies and legislators and the issue kept getting put off. As stated by OHA: “In 2006, in the absence of an accurate accounting of Public Land Trust revenues, the legislature enacted Act 178 which set the ‘interim revenue’ amount to be conveyed to OHA at $15.1 million per year.”

This map shows the area of Kakaako Makai for which the state paid OHA $200 million to settle ceded land claims. OHA

The $15.1 million annual placeholder amount, even by the most conservative accounting, was far below the 20% annual revenue entitlement and, according to OHA, only represents about 3.8% of PLT revenue. The state began building an arrears of unpaid debt from 1980 to 2012 calculated at $200 million. The state settled the debt with land instead of cash and OHA accepted 35 acres of Kakaako Makai land in lieu of $200 million in cash.

But, it does not stop there. The $15.1 million a year that OHA receives each year remained in place and, after several more years of accruing debt, OHA is now seeking back payments of $638 million to cover the past 10 years – 2012 to 2022.

SB 2122 seeks the $638 million in back payments.

The good news is that there seems to be some level of commitment in the Senate, and hopefully the House, to finally step up to the trust responsibility established under the constitution and the law. It is not likely that the amount of revenue due OHA will be resolved in one session of the Legislature – but what is important is that, if there’s not a settlement this session, at least raise the annual placeholder amount of $15.1 million a year and couple it with a formal commitment for interim dialogue and negotiation, in preparation for the 2023 legislative session.

Besides SB 2122, Senate Majority Floor Leader Jarrett Keohokalole introduced Senate Bill 3359 (companion House Bill 2511) which would provide at least $600 million for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to help with the decades old backlog of demand for housing. Scores of Hawaiian applicants who died before they could receive housing are still on the waitlist.

Add House Bill 2024 that attempts to address the “who should manage Mauna Kea” issue. To some, this bill appears to be anti-Thirty Meter Telescope, but it provides a platform for public discussion.

I cannot think of three more important political frameworks of trust responsibility between the State of Hawaii and Native Hawaiians than OHA, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, and Mauna Kea. Imua.


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About the Author

Peter Apo

Peter Apo is a former trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and legislator. He is the president of the Peter Apo Company, a cultural tourism consulting company to the visitor industry. He has also been the arts and culture director for Honolulu, the city’s director of Waikiki Development and served as special assistant on Hawaiian affairs to Gov. Ben Cayetano.


Latest Comments (0)

$600 million is a steal. History records many land grabs in Hawaii. Please present an economic history of the costs of Hawaii's land grabs by colonizers, in today's dollars. Theft of Hawaiian land would be in the billions of dollars, at least.

NoFreedomWithoutObligations · 2 months ago

This article, coupled with the one about corrupt legislators, makes it pretty clear that our beautiful state still operates as an isolated third world autocracy where the native population is decimated and those in power refuse to be dislodged. The only way for this to change is for people to vote for new candidates with new ideas, regardless of party or no party at all. Study what the candidates say they are committed to regardless of party. If none of them suits you, run as an independent and work your okole off to get known in your community. It's been done before and it needs to be done again and again.

MW · 2 months ago

The fact that Hawaiians have died waiting for their own land is beyond my comprehension Talk about abject failure

Crackseed · 2 months ago

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