Several of those arrested early this month when police and sheriffs broke up a 10-month land takeover in a central Oahu agricultural subdivision have now taken to social media to tell their version of the confrontation and to justify their presence on the property. 

In their telling, they were kidnapped by police from their private property, which they had rightfully and legally reclaimed as heirs of the original land grant recipient. 

And that’s the hook that gives their pitch traction. Their 10 months in possession of the Kunia land represents a vision that land is there, free for the taking, by Hawaiians who have the resolve to act and can trace their families to a distant ancestor who received a mid-19th century award of land set aside for native tenants “in perpetuity” at the time of the Great Mahele.

For this group of Hawaiians, things haven’t turned out well. They were unceremoniously removed from the land, their claims of ancestral rights have failed in court, their personal belongings left on the property were lost — and they now face the  likelihood of criminal prosecutions.

But so far, they remain undaunted, confident in the rightness of their cause and praised by supporters for their steadfastness.

Gate with posted private property sign near 94-405 Kunia Road. Editor's note. Lot 19 was not visible from Kunia Road.
This locked gate blocks the road leading to Lot 19 where the Occupied Forces Hawaii Army had taken over the property, claiming sovereignty. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Squatters Or Heirs?

The arrests followed a successful lawsuit by the legal owner of the property, Guyland LLC. Guyland purchased a 203-acre property in Kunia, above Waipahu, along with two smaller parcels, for $8 million in 2018, and developed the 38-lot Ekaha Lands agricultural subdivision. 

The lawsuit accused the group, referred to as “squatters,” of eventually taking over 30 acres “without having any right, title, interest, or permission to remain there.” A writ of possession ordering the group to be ejected from the property was approved in early May, and was signed by the judge a month later. The police sweep, and arrests of those who refused to leave, followed on July 1.

The group’s version of these events is laid out in a video featuring Kaiulani Pieper-Mokiao, the mother of three young children who, along with her brother, publicly claims to hold a “vested undivided lineal interest of title” as heirs to the holder of 19th century Royal Patent 4490 and Land Commission Award 10474. In the video, she is seated at a table alongside Morris Nathaniel Hicks, who said he had provided security after the group moved onto the property in September 2021.

Questions and comments were pitched to the pair by an unidentified off-camera female interviewer, who displayed the knowledge and views of an insider in the heirs’ quixotic quest. She said the video series intends to eventually include interviews with all nine who were arrested.

The initial interview was streamed live just a few days after the arrests, and a recording was then uploaded to Facebook where it remains publicly available.

The second video, just a day later, is an interview with Pieper-Mokiao’s brother, Travis Thomas Kealii Mokiao, who joined in her claim to the land by Mokiao “heirdom.” The subject of the third video is Lance Ikaika Ventura-Wong, who describes the somewhat chaotic scene as the group confronted dozens of police and sheriffs.

All four appearing in these initial videos have adopted new aliases since their land occupation began.

Kaiulani Pieper-Mokiao and Travis Mokiao now use the names Wahinekekuana Kaiulanikahakuakoi Keanolanikealohapauole Okawekiu and Moanakane ’okauleleaiwi’ikamokuki’eki’e Mokiao. Morris Hicks, who appears on the initial video with Pieper-Mokiao, now refers to himself as Moleka Malumaleumu Leaeno Hicks. Ventura-Wong now goes by Ikaikanui Akekela. 

According to documents filed in court, these new names are part of their intended “expatriation” from the United States and “repatriation” as subjects of the country of Hawaii, a process supposedly being administered by a group calling itself Occupied Forces Hawaii Army. 

The three men “enlisted” as soldiers in OFHA as part of their “repatriation,” while Pieper-Mokiao chose to repatriate as a Hawaiian subject. OFHA describes itself as the uniformed military force of the country of Hawaii, serving in a non-combat role, while Hawaii is engaged in a “state of war” with the United States. The organization sent several members to the Kunia site to join the occupiers on the land.

The name changes were also used to avoid or delay service of official court documents in the lawsuit brought by the landowner. Defendants were identified in the lawsuit by their legal names, rather than their newly adopted repatriation identities, and they refused to accept documents that used those legal names, saying such service was improper. They then used the same claims of improper legal service in repeated attempts to stall or reverse the court’s decision, even after the court ruled service had been proper.

In these interviews, the Mokiaos said news reports had exaggerated the role of Occupied Forces Hawaii Army, and that OFHA had simply responded to their calls for help.

Pieper-Mokiao gave credit to a shadowy organization, the “House of Heirs,” for assisting them in organizing the land takeover.

“I didn’t do this personally, the House of Heirs did it,” she added later.

Although referenced several times in the video, the House of Heirs remains a mystery. An online search failed to turn up any substantive information about a group using that name.

In the video, Pieper-Mokiao said that “the House of Heirs has helped to facilitate the reclamation which has been applied on behalf of me.”

Court records confirm copies of the “Notice Of Preservation And Vested Hereditary Undivided Lineal Interest Of Title” were mailed to the Honolulu Police Department and other officials in November. They do not identify Pieper-Mokiao or any other individual, but were issued in the name of the House of Heirs.

“It is with great honor that we the heirs, do hereby declare the Reclamation of inheritance by Allodial Title for Royal Patent 4490, LCAW 10474 Apana 9 of Ho ae’ae, Ewa Ahupuaa, Mokupuni Oahu, Ko Hawai’i Pae Aina,” the notice reads.

“You are hereby notified of the inherent lawful authority to be present on said property without formal approval from individuals and representatives.”

It remains unclear whether the House of Heirs is an actual entity, or simply a fictional alter ego of the two heirs identified to date.

Going Home 

In the first video, Pieper-Mokiao and Hicks are relaxed and articulate. They smile frequently, sharing patter and jokes as they recount their arrests and expound on how they, as Hawaiian heirs, and now owners of the land, have been unfairly victimized by the landowner, the police and the courts. They express full confidence in their beliefs.

But the core belief used to justify their actions was debunked long ago, as it is contrary to law and court decisions of the Hawaiian Kingdom as well as modern state law, and wildly at odds with the facts laid out in court documents over the course of Guyland’s successful ejectment lawsuit.

In the video, though, Pieper-Mokiao said she and the others were not “squatters,” and insists use of the term is the result of “prejudice, slander, or defamation of character.”

Hawaiian sovereignty group Occupied Forces Hawaii Army
Members of a Hawaiian sovereignty group calling itself Occupied Forces Hawaii Army pose with a Hawaiian flag in this photo posted on Instagram. Instagram

She maintained all of her actions have been lawful and clearly within her “inherent right as a lineal descendant” of the royal patent holder, while accusing police, lawyers, and judges of acting outside the law.

According to Pieper-Mokiao’s narrative, she and others have simply applied “the reclamation process,” the “proper” way for lineal descendants to reclaim kuleana lands and “return home.”

“Kuleana lands” are those granted to native tenant farmers following the Great Mahele of 1848 and the Kuleana Act of 1850, which transformed Hawaii’s feudal land system into one based on private land ownership. Only a relatively small number of eligible Hawaiians applied for and received land grants under the Kuleana Act, and few kuleana today remain in the hands of descendants of the original recipients.

Pieper-Mokiao claims, without authority, that 170 years of history can be erased or rolled back, so that all descendants of the original royal patent recipients can lawfully reclaim an undivided interest in those ancestral lands and “go home.”

“The process in which we apply the reclamation process, first things first, is knowing who you are,” she said. “You cannot be somebody else.”

“Once you know who you are, and you know your rights,” descendants can proceed to reclaim their family lands, Pieper-Mokiao said.

The first step, she said, is to send a notice of reclamation to the current holder of what she described as “fraudulent” title, and to other officials, including the attorney general, Department of Land and Natural Resources and police departments, along with the governor and mayor.

“These are just a few of the names who must be informed of who I am, so they can inform their citizens that I am there, and that it is my lawful inherent right as a lineal descendant,” Pieper-Mokiao said.

“That is the lawful thing you have to do,” she said. “We do not conduct ourselves in unlawful activities.”

Pieper-Mokiao expressed frustration that neither the landowner’s attorney nor the court have recognized her claim to hold “superior title” to the land, even after receiving the formal notice of her lineal descent.

Once that notice was provided, according to Pieper-Mokiao, their right to take possession of the land should have been recognized and respected, and she expressed surprise they were labeled squatters and now face criminal trespass charges.

Travis Mokiao, in the second video, put it succinctly.

“I cannot be one squatter if I notify you we are coming,” he said.

Referring to Guyland’s attorney, Fred Arensmeyer, Pieper-Mokiao said “because he is American, I think he does not know how Hawaii Country laws work.”

“If you know land in Hawaii, you must know the Mahele,” she said in the video. “And if you don’t know the Mahele, then you do not know land in Hawaii.”

“All lands in Hawaii are held in allodial title — remember that, allodial title, and under royal patents given to whoever the patents were under,” Pieper-Mokiao maintained in her video interview.

“Allodial title” refers to land owned free and clear of responsibility to or control by any superior landlord. In Hawaii, as in feudal Europe, the king held allodial title prior to the Mahele.

Pieper-Mokiao and other heirs claim those Mahele-era land court awards and accompanying royal patents granted kuleana lands with allodial title and, they say, title can only be passed down to lineal descendants. In their view, any subsequent sales or transfers to non-descendants are invalid.

Without Merit

Although this idea is the cornerstone of the “heirdom” theory that fueled this and other attempted land reclamations, it lacks any legal basis.

The 1850 law authorizing native tenants to apply for kuleana land awards provided a process by which the king would give up his allodial title, and fee-simple titles would be granted, first by a land commission award after an application was reviewed and approved, and then by a royal patent, giving up the government’s title to the land. 

There were no restrictions on the alienation of kuleana lands, whether by sale, exchange, gift, bequest or other legal transfer. Early court decisions set aside some land transfers where fraud was shown, but these generally recognized the right of a land patent recipient to do as they pleased with their property.

In 1877, the Supreme Court of the Hawaiian Kingdom, in the case of Brunz v. Smith, held that patents do not confer title on subsequent descendants, heirs, or other claimants who are not named in the original patent or land commission award.

That 19th century case became the basis for a 2003 decision by the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals, in which the defendant presented precisely the same argument made by Pieper-Mokiao — that royal patents granted allodial, absolute, “inalienable” title in perpetuity, and that holders of the royal patent or their heirs did not have the power to convey the land, which can only pass down within the family.

The appeals court quickly ruled that the argument “is without merit.”

This screenshot from a video posted on Instagram claims to show a representative of the Waipahu property owners pointing a pistol at members of the OFHA. Screenshot

The defendant in the case, like the Kunia defendants, cited Section 172-11 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes to justify their position. 

Section 172-11 provides, in part, that “all land patents so issued shall inure to the benefit of the heirs and assigns of the holder of the original award.”

Citing the Brunz opinion more than 125 years earlier, the court concluded: “Rather, an award of land through royal patent operates as a quitclaim of interest by the government and other claimants must prove their interest in the land through deed or other means.”

In other words, absent a deed or other evidence of a continuing ownership interest in the land, simply being a lineal descendant confers no ownership interest, undivided or otherwise.

While some descendants and heirs of the original holders of kuleana lands have successfully reclaimed family properties through the courts, those legal challenges required both proving  genealogical ties and, more importantly, providing sufficient evidence of their place in the chain of title. Claimants have been successful when they could prove an ancestor held a valid interest in a property that was never transferred or otherwise extinguished.

For example, the state’s Intermediate Court of Appeals in 2020 awarded title to a 3.5-acre parcel of land on Maui to a Hawaiian family descended from the recipient of an 1857 Land Commission Award after a 20-year court battle. The court’s 51-page opinion is a textbook example showing the evidence needed to prove not only genealogy but the family’s place in the chain of title. 

It also illustrates the Kunia defendants’ simple claims to “heirdom” fall far short of the kinds of proof necessary to sustain a kuleana land claim many generations later.

Whether their professed belief in the ownership rights of lineal descendants represent misunderstandings of the factual and legal landscape, or deliberate misrepresentations, is an open question. 

However, similar claims about so-called allodial title have been used by anti-tax and anti-government extremists on the U.S. mainland, including those affiliated with the so-called “Sovereign Citizen Movement.”

“Sovereign citizens are US citizens who reject their citizenship status and claim they are not subject to government authority,” according to a 2012 FBI report. “Some may use this self-appointed status to justify threats, violence, theft, or fraud.”

The FBI report warned that allodial title has been used by sovereign citizens “in an attempt to immunize property from seizure in the event of non-payment of taxes or court judgment” or “used in an attempt to free property from government control.”

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About the Author

  • Ian Lind
    Ian Lind is an award-winning investigative reporter and columnist who has been blogging daily for more than 20 years. He has also worked as a newsletter publisher, public interest advocate and lobbyist for Common Cause in Hawaii, peace educator, and legislative staffer. Lind is a lifelong resident of the islands. Read his blog here. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.