Success in the Judicial Branch of Government


Photo: Robin Puanani Danner

There’s much to be thankful for as Native peoples over the last few months, even in the midst of a global pandemic. In our democracy, there are essentially three branches of government. The Executive Branch consisting of government agencies led by the President of the United States, State Governors and County Mayors; the Legislative Branch consisting of the Congress, State Legislatures and County Councils; and the third, our Judicial Branch, consisting of Courts and Judges at every level.

Notable successes have recently been rendered in the Judicial Branches of our governments for the three groups of citizens in our country that predate our U.S. Constitution – American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. “Predates” means our populations and our sovereigns were already here; living and governing ourselves in the now 50 States. The only non-immigrant citizens in the U.S.

Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations

This uncomfortable reality, in which a great country wanted to be built, or a great State here and there wanted to exist, could only happen by taking our ancestral lands. It’s a dilemma that few elected officials of the Executive Branch and Legislative Branch care to educate themselves about, especially here in Hawaiʻi.

The founders of this country described Native peoples in our founding document, the U.S. Constitution, establishing a solemn obligation to Indigenous peoples as political bodies of people, and not merely a “race of people.” When any government official refers to a Native program as “race-based,” it’s a tell-tale sign that we have serious ignorance in our midst. That may be for another article and another day.

This month let’s rejoice in the success of the Judicial Branch of our governments. Here at home, Native Hawaiian plaintiffs on the waitlist won a major court case against DHHL and state government in the Kalima case. It clearly states what SCHHA has known for decades – the absolute failure of state government to meet its trust obligation established under a federal law called the 1959 Hawaiʻi Statehood Act. It should be required reading for every state and county official running for, or in, office. Yes, the Statehood Act.

In South Dakota, the Standing Rock Tribe won a major victory in the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL) case. And in Oklahoma, a case at the U.S. Supreme Court yielded a decisive win in the McGirt case, reaffirming that federal/tribal treaty-defined boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation still remain in force today. That the words “trust lands” are “forever set apart as a home for the Creek Nation” mean something.

Three major successful cases in the Judicial Branch of our great democracy. Yes, there will be wins and losses in every branch of government; there will be missteps in every branch of government. Hawaiians witness this almost daily in the Executive and Legislative Branches here in Hawaiʻi.

Nevertheless, SCHHA is grateful for these three monumental wins in the Judicial Branch that reflect a great country seeking to be a more perfect union that lives up to its promises. The Executive and Legislative Branches in Hawaiʻi would do well to read the Statehood Act and the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920. It’s not hard to imagine a county councilman, a state senator, a state house representative, a governor, a mayor in this state, running to serve the people of Hawaiʻi, who has never read these powerful foundational laws that make the elected offices in this state possible. We are a condition of Statehood. Let’s encourage elected officials and appointed agency officials to find the time to read their obligation. It is their kuleana.