By Rep. Daniel Holt
The Public Land Trust issue is simply a matter of justice.
Our Lāhui’s lands were wrongfully taken by the Republic of Hawai‘i and ceded to the United States. When the State of Hawai‘i was created in 1959, these lands were placed in a trust, called the Public Land Trust (PLT). The betterment of the conditions of Native Hawaiians was specifically named as one of the five purposes of the trust.
But for years, the state did not adequately direct a fair amount of PLT resources to Native Hawaiians. So in 1978, the delegates to the State Constitutional Convention set out to make this right. The convention’s Committee on Hawaiian Affairs “felt that it was important to arrange a method whereby the assets of Hawaiian could be kept separate from the rest of the state treasury.” Therefore, the committee proposed creating the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to manage these Hawaiian assets because it was “unanimously and strongly of the opinion that people to whom assets belong should have control over them.”
In the nearly 40 years since, beginning with the 1980 law that specified that OHA would receive 20 percent of PLT revenues, the Legislature and OHA have gone back and forth to determine exactly what the Native Hawaiian people’s share of the PLT revenues should be. In 2001, the Hawai‘i State Supreme Court ruled that:
The State’s obligation to native Hawaiians is firmly established in our constitution. How the State satisfies that constitutional obligation requires policy decisions that are primarily within the authority and expertise of the legislative branch. As such, it is incumbent upon the legislature to enact legislation that gives effect to the right of native Hawaiians to benefit from the ceded lands trust.
In 2006, Act 178 was passed setting the interim annual revenues due to Native Hawaiians at $15.1 million a year “until further action is taken by the legislature for this purpose.”
At the end of the day, this is a simple matter of justice for the native people of this land. Here we are 13 years later, with clear data showing that $15.1 million is woefully too low. The constitution is clear that Native Hawaiians are entitled to a portion of the Public Land Trust. Moreover, the constitution and the courts have made it clear that this is decision for the Legislature.
This is why, when I became the House co-chair of the Native Hawaiian Legislative Caucus, I worked with my counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, as well as other caucus members and House and Senate leadership, to attempt to resolve this issue, through two bills, SB1363 and HB402, which remains alive.
At nearly every juncture since the 1893 overthrow, Native Hawaiians have been shorted what is rightfully theirs from their ancestral lands.
These are our people’s assets. We know how to best use them to help our people. Justice cannot wait any longer.