Friday, February 20, 2009

This land is my land, this land is my land

HONOLULU -- Hawaiian activists plan to set fire to Gov. Linda Lingle’s U.S. Supreme Court petition and light their torches with it as they rally at the state Capitol against the administration’s plans to sell some of the land it holds in trust.

Like a government version of Kramer vs. Kramer, two state agencies will duke it out in a courtroom Wednesday when the Lingle administration and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs each tells the highest court in the land that the other has no right to property ceded to the state following the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

“This state appeal has the potential to undermine all Native Hawaiian programs and assets as well as undermine the legal basis for Native Hawaiian federal recognition,” OHA Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said during a news conference today on the grounds of Iolani Palace, an important symbol to the Native Hawaiian community.

While the lawyers fight, Native Hawaiians, alongside those “Hawaiian at heart,” will hold a vigil at the Capitol from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday. There will be prayers, pahu drums, chanting every hour, on the hour as part of a series of events planned that day in Honolulu, Seattle, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, New Haven, Conn., and Washington, D.C.

Activists are also calling for Hawaiians and sympathizers to take a day off work Wednesday to join the rally and send a message about the strength of the movement.

“A far-reaching decision by the U.S. Supreme Court could affect OHA’s ability to carry out its mission of bettering the conditions of Native Hawaiians,” Apoliona said.

Underscoring how divided the state is over the issue, the Democrat-controlled Hawaii Senate today passed a bill requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature before ceded lands can be sold and a resolution urging the Republican governor and her attorney general to withdraw their appeal. The Democrat-controlled House, meanwhile, didn’t move similar bills by the deadline for consideration.

OHA’s response to the state petition bases its argument on the Apology Resolution, enacted by Congress in 1993, on the 100th anniversary of the Hawaiian monarchy. OHA maintains it places 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 year, 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,” says Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett. “The Admission Act explicitly gave the state the right to sell or transfer ceded lands for the purposes set out in the Admission Act.”

Ceded lands comprise 1.2 million acres of land on all Hawaiian islands - about 29 percent of the total land mass of the state and more than 95 percent of the public lands held by the state.

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