A comment by Lt. Gov. Josh Green made at a Native Hawaiian gathering in 2019 is making the rounds on social media and angering some in the Hawaiian community. Green told the Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations that his mother-in-law died while on the Hawaiian homelands waitlist. But that wasn’t true.

He made a similar characterization during an interview at the state Democratic Party convention in May.

Although Green has since said in a number of forums his mother-in-law, Yvonne Makaimoku Ushiroda, was qualified for a lease award because she was 50% Native Hawaiian but was not actually on the waitlist, some critics are bringing up the earlier remarks in the last days before the primary election.

2022 HNN Debate Gubernatorial candidate Josh Green debates Vicky Cayetano and Kai Kahele at the Sheraton Hotel.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green has been using a personal story about his mother-in-law as he touts his support for Native Hawaiian issues. But the remarks have been pushed out on social media and are angering some. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The distinction is an important one to some in the Hawaiian community, and hearing Green misstate his family connection to the longstanding, often bitter controversies surrounding Hawaiian home lands does not sit well with some.

Others in the community shrug it off as a ploy by Green’s opponents to stir up trouble over something that is no big deal. His mother-in-law was eligible for benefits, and the fact that she wasn’t actually on the waitlist for an award makes no difference to them.

Still, Green, who is white, has made an obvious effort to appeal to Hawaiian voters during this year’s campaign, including telling audiences that if he is elected governor his wife Jaime would become the first Hawaiian first lady in state history.

One of Green’s most prominent opponents in the Democratic primary is U.S. Rep Kai Kahele, who is Hawaiian, and Green’s efforts to connect with Hawaiians is politically smart. He has pledged to appoint a director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands who has construction expertise, and vowed to accelerate homebuilding for Hawaiians if elected governor.

But Davis Price, a Hawaiian who has worked for years on voter engagement initiatives in the Hawaiian community, said Green’s remark about his mother-in-law is trying to show empathy for Hawaiians, “but that’s not how you do it. You don’t have to lie about a family member, or be lazy enough to not fact check your own statements to confirm whether it’s true or not. That’s not how you connect.”

“This is a very specific traumatic experience that has generational impacts,” said Price, who supports Kahele. “To lie about this is disgusting.”

Green declined to be interviewed for this story but his campaign staff points out that he most often describes his mother-in-law as being entitled to or eligible for benefits. They say he simply misspoke at the Democratic convention.

“As a 50 percent Native Hawaiian, Jaime’s mother Yvonne Makaimoku Ushiroda was entitled to DHHL benefits,” according to a statement sent by the campaign. “She was diagnosed with stomach cancer and died at the age of 42, and the Lt. Governor has shared this personal story of his wife’s family to highlight the fact that for far too long the Hawaiian people have been asked to wait for land that was promised to them — land which is rightfully theirs, but which many never receive. We can no longer ask the Hawaiian people to wait for land that belongs to them.”

A Long History Of Heartache

Thousands of Hawaiians have family members who died on the Hawaiian Homes Commission waitlist waiting for an award, and that long history is raw and painful for many.

The U.S. Congress approved the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act in 1920 to improve the lives of native Hawaiians, and the federal act was incorporated into the Hawaii Constitution when Hawaii was granted statehood in 1959.

Big Island Kohala DHHL Hawaiian Homelands Lalamilo Lot
Thousands of Hawaiians have been waiting for years to receive homestead lots like this one on the Big Island. Ku‘u Kauanoe/Civil Beat/2022

But the territorial and state governments didn’t provide nearly enough money to develop most of the 200,000 acres of Hawaiian homelands into usable house lots or farms that could be distributed to Hawaiians.

That meant most of the Hawaiians who signed up for homelands awards languished on the list for decades, and many died without ever being awarded leases. Just this year the state agreed to pay $328 million to settle claims in what is generally known as the Kalima case, which was filed by Hawaiians over state mismanagement of DHHL trust lands.

Former Gov. John Waihee, who was campaign chairman for Green and Gov. David Ige in the 2018 general election, said Green’s account of his mother-in-law dying on the waitlist was notable enough that it is the only thing he remembers about Green’s presentation at the state Democratic convention last spring.

It was clearly a pitch aimed at Hawaiian voters, said Waihee, who was the state’s first Hawaiian governor.

“If she didn’t die on the list, then they should immediately correct that because there are a lot of people whose relatives did die waiting on that list,” Waihee said. “I don’t know what to tell you except you shouldn’t say those kinds of things if they aren’t real.”

Not everyone sees Green’s misstatement as a big deal. Robin Puanani Danner, who is chair of the Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations, described any controversy over Green’s error as “a nothing-burger.” She called the whole discussion “irrelevant” and “intrusive.”

“It’s nothing at all,” she said. “My God, every one of us as Hawaiians has a mother, a father, a grandmother, a grandfather, a great-grandmother, a great-grandfather who was eligible for Hawaiian homes.”

Danner said she does not distinguish between 50% Hawaiians who are on the waitlist or not on the waitlist, in part because the Kalima litigation revealed the state deliberately made it difficult for Hawaiians to sign up. Yvonne Makaimoku may well have been one of those who were effectively barred from signing up, she said.

Eligibility for beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act is not determined by whether or not a person in on the waitlist, she said. In fact, a number of funds were created to support beneficiaries of the act, and the act does not say people have to be on any waitlist to qualify for those benefits, she said.

What Green Has Said And When

Green’s characterization of his mother-in-law’s situation occurred while he was being interviewed at the Democratic convention on May 27 by television reporter Gina Mangieri.

He was discussing Hawaiian homelands and $600 million that the Legislature appropriated this year to develop more housing, and was asked about the approximately 28,000 people now on the waitlist.

“The 28,000 people deserve housing. Jaime’s mom died when she was in her early 40s of cancer while on the list, and I’ve seen stories like that over, and over, and over again, and it’s totally unfair,” Green said.

"The 28,000 people deserve housing. Jaime’s mom died when she was in her early 40s of cancer while on the list, and I’ve seen stories like that over, and over, and over again, and it’s totally unfair," Green said.

“I would like to distribute all of the land because DHHL is the only place where we can be appropriately discriminating to build housing for our local people. It’s difficult to tell mainland folks you can’t buy a house – even though we can put up some barriers, so that they don’t overrun and overflow our islands — but with Hawaiian homelands we can do it,” he said.

Green gave a similar description of events at a presentation he made at a 2019 event hosted by the Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations, or SCHHA. A recording of Green’s comments there was posted on the Lt. Gov. Josh Green Facebook page on Aug. 26, 2019, and SCHHA later endorsed Green for governor.

“She was on the list to receive the land — that piece of land — from Department of Hawaiian Home Lands,” Green said at the 2019 event. “The reason I tell you this story of Yvonne is because she’s very important to me.”

Green continued: “Yvonne gave birth on May 11, 1977 to a beautiful little baby named Jaime Kanani Ushiroda, who I met after becoming elected to the state House of Representatives and fell in love with, and married, and had babies with, and now I have what would been the grandchildren of Yvonne Makaimoku, had she ever lived to see them.”

That recording has been circulating on social media for at least the past week with comments criticizing Green for lying.

Since May, Green has been more careful about how he describes his family’s relationship with Hawaiian homelands, including in televised debates and other appearances.

“We also have spent decades — decades — not building homes for the Hawaiian community,” he said in an hour-long interview with Civil Beat and Hawaii News Now. “Small example: My wife’s mother Yvonne passed away, passed away from gastric cancer, 50% percent Hawaiian, entitled to be on a Hawaiian homeland property, didn’t live to see that day. Her daughter, my wife, 25%, now doesn’t qualify.”

 

 

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