ANAHOLA — A pair of proposed federal rules that spell out the process by which the 95-year-old Hawaiian Homes Commission Act should be administered is the topic of a public meeting in Anahola Tuesday night.
The meeting is set to begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Anahola Clubhouse.
The rules in question clarify the roles of the federal and state governments when reviewing exchanges of Hawaiian trust lands and amendments to the law by which the trust exists.
Colleen Hanabusa, the former U.S. representative and state Senate president, is billed as the guest speaker.
Manulele Clarke, an Anahola homesteader who is helping organize the event, said Hanabusa will not be advocating a position on the rules. Rather, she will help educate community members about the proposal so folks can decide for themselves whether they wish to support the rules or not.
“This is a big thing that affects the Hawaiian population worldwide,” said Clarke. “I read it and I couldn’t make sense of it. It’s complicated. I just raised my shoulders and said, ‘I have no idea what this is saying.’
“We need to get educated,” she added. “Everything we know about this is coming through the coconut wireless.”
The public comment period for the federally proposed rules ends July 13.
Congress passed the HHCA in 1920. The law, sponsored by Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole, created a 200,000-acre land trust across the Hawaiian Islands to be used as neighborhoods, farms and ranches for Native Hawaiians with a 50 percent blood quantum or more.
But the federal rule-making process that’s usually set into motion following the passage of a new law never happened. Some critics of the way the law has been administered say this lack of rules has created opportunity for mismanagement.
There are more than 20,000 acres of trust lands on Kauai. Some of the land has been developed into homesteads for Hawaiians, and some of it has been leased to non-Hawaiian businesses. Much of it is undeveloped. Meanwhile, there are 4,000 Hawaiians on the wait list.
The oldest Kauai resident on the wait list is 90-year-old Eleanor Mihal of Kekaha. Other beneficiaries have died waiting for land.
The mission of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which manages the trust, is to develop and deliver land to Hawaiians. The Department of Interior, which proposed the new rules on May 13, has oversight responsibility.
Over the years there have been several state audits that have criticized the DHHL’s management of the trust. Hawaiian Homes commissioners have even publicly flagged management practices that they say are on par with corruption.
Robin Danner, an Anahola homesteader who urged President Barack Obama at the White House two years ago to begin the federal rule-making process, said the rules would help move more Hawaiians onto the land.
The fact that so many Hawaiians are waiting for land when there’s land available to give has long been the crux of complaints from the Native Hawaiian community.
“We’ve all woken up to the fact that no one’s going to save us,” Danner said. “We need to save ourselves. We can’t afford to be lazy activists. We can’t afford to even just be angry, that’s not enough. We have got to redirect that anger into proactive policy engagement.”
While many Hawaiians agree that their trust lands have been poorly managed, not all agree that creating new federal rules is a good solution. A deep distrust of the federal government — born from the controversial 1893 overthrow of Hawaii’s monarchy — has many Hawaiians questioning the proposed rules’ intentions.
“The U.S. government may have honorable reasons, but that doesn’t mean this is right and we are the people who have everything at stake,” Clarke said.
The Hawaiian Homes Commission had indicated that the rules the federal government has proposed are redundant. They seek to clarify processes hat are already set forth, with sufficient detail, in the Hawaii Statehood Admission Act and the Hawaiian Home Lands Recovery Act, according to a DHHL press release.
“While the commission is mindful of the oversight authority granted the Secretary of the Interior under the 1995 Hawaiian Home Lands Recovery Act, the HHC is concerned the proposed rules attempt to expand that authority beyond the boundaries that were set for appropriate oversight, and looks forward to continued consultation and dialogue,” the press release states.
Danner, however, said the rules are crucial to improving the performance of a land trust program that never amounted to the law’s intent.
“I don’t think there are very many people anywhere in this state who would say Hawaiian Homes is an awesome success,” Danner said. “I think we all embrace the fact that it has been a failure. It has not produced what Kuhio intended. So, there are about 100 of us three years ago who sat down to try and investigate, ‘Why is this?’ And that’s when we found that the all-important rule-making never got done.
“I’m excited about this, I think we’re all excited about this, because we’re fulfilling the work of Prince Kuhio.”