Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hawaiian land protesters hope to draw Obama's eye

Native Hawaiians in a land dispute with the state that has advanced to the U.S. Supreme Court plan a Dec. 26 rally at the state Capitol to try to draw President-elect Barack Obama’s attention to their battle. Obama is currently vacationing on Oahu.

The rally is set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Beretania Street side of the Capitol, fronting Washington Place. Organizer Vicky Takamine said in an email the rally is “to bring awareness to (Gov. Linda) Lingle's immoral claim that the state has the right to sell and/or transfer Hawaiian ceded lands … We're hoping to draw media attention while Obama is here for his vacation and urge him not to meet with her.”

The case centers on ceded lands - lands once owned by the Hawaiian monarchy but ceded to the state to be held in trust for Hawaiians. The Hawaii Supreme Court in January froze the land, which includes Maui lands as well as Laiopua on the Big Island, until Native Hawaiian claims can be settled.

Lingle, through her Attorney General Mark Bennett, appealed the decision and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear oral arguments Feb. 25. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the respondent in the case, has until Jan. 21 to file its brief.

“Anyone who characterizes our taking this case to the United States Supreme Court as somehow being against Hawaiian rights is simply misrepresenting our position on the situation,” Lingle said in a Nov. 24 news conference defending the state’s stance. “The issue involving the ceded lands is an important one for the state because it affects all the people, the Native Hawaiians and non Native Hawaiians.”

Jon Van Dyke, an attorney representing Native Hawaiians in the case and author of the book, “Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawaii?” said cultural differences contributed to the misunderstandings between Native Hawaiians and the people who moved to the islands later. Van Dyke was addressing the annual convention of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and its 91 Native Hawaiian member organizations the day the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would take the case.

“Hawaiians have a very different way at looking at the world than the Westerners who ultimately came,” Van Dyke said. “Aina (land) was not a commodity to be bought and sold, but rather it was something to be nurtured.”

Ceded lands comprise 1.2 million acres of land on all Hawaiian islands - about 29 percent of the total land mass of the state.

“There's no question that Hawaiians have strong claims to vast amounts of land,” Van Dyke said. “There's no question in my mind that Native Hawaiians are entitled to land.”

Native Hawaiian groups point to the Apology Resolution enacted by Congress in 1993, on the 100th anniversary of the Hawaiian monarchy, as placing a cloud on the title to ceded lands, forcing the state government to hold them intact until questions of Native Hawaiian self-governance can be answered. Last January, the Hawaii Supreme Court upheld that view.

The state disagrees.

“These public trust lands were transferred by the Congress to the people of the state of Hawaii in 1959 for the benefit of all the people of the state of Hawaii to be used for the public purposes set out in the Admission Act like for the establishment of public schools and public improvements for betterment of homes and farms,” Bennett said during the Nov. 24 news conference. “The Admission Act explicitly gave the state the right to sell or transfer ceded lands for the purposes set out in the Admission Act.”