William S. Richardson School of Law Library Archive’s new Jon Van Dyke Collection hosts hundreds of the late professor’s papers in a searchable database. Law professor Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie’s remarks at the March 4 unveiling reveal the richness of Van Dyke’s research:

I am honored to speak today on behalf of Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law. My colleagues and I are excited to have this wonderful new resource on Maoli–Native Hawaiian legal issues available. And I am anxious to delve into the archives and perhaps relive some of my own memories of Jon Van Dyke.

I was privileged to know and work with Jon for more than 35 years. Jon stood so strongly for justice. He was not afraid to speak out and express his opinions, but always did so with respect and aloha. I met Jon and his wife Sherry Broder soon after they came to Hawai‘i.

I remember meeting this couple at a downtown protest rally and thinking, “Hmm, will they turn out to be true allies or will they (like so many others) look to their own interests in the long run?” Jon and Sherry turned out to be strong allies and advocates, mentors, colleagues and friends.

Jon was instrumental in the success of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (NHLC), a public interest law firm advancing the rights of the Hawaiian community, serving on its board during a crucial reorganization time in the late 1970s. After I joined NHLC, Jon and I collaborated on several projects. In 1982, we went Washington, D.C., to observe the final decision-making meeting of the Native Hawaiians Study Commission. Although established to study “the culture, needs and concerns” of the Native Hawaiian community, the real purpose of the Commission was to determine whether reparations were owed to Hawaiians because of U.S. actions in overthrowing the Hawaiian Kingdom.

Photo: Jon Van Dyke
Among Jon Van Dyke’s many contributions was pushing for the creation of OHA at the 1978 state Constitutional Convention. – Courtesy photo

Jon and I sat through days of jockeying and maneuvering in which it became clear that the majority of the commissioners had no interest in the Native Hawaiian community, but instead sought to protect the United States from liability for the overthrow. Even though in 1893 President Cleveland had acknowledged the illegal actions of the U.S., no reparations and no justice were to be given the Native Hawaiian community. It was not only disheartening and exasperating, but it gave us a small glimpse of what Hawaiians, including our Queen, must have experienced in their efforts to restore the Kingdom in the 1890s.

Jon was also the spark for the Native Hawaiian Rights Handbook, which grew from the pleas of frustrated law students who wanted a text for their Native Hawaiian Rights class. Originally, I was merely going to gather the relevant laws and cases into one book. It was Jon, however, who told me that was not enough. His exact words were, “You don’t want to be just a copying service!” Jon was right – context, history and perspective were necessary. The resulting book, and its recent update, Native Hawaiian Law: A Treatise, owe much to Jon’s mentorship and advice.

Jon’s research and scholarship on Native Hawaiian issues was enormously influential. In 1998, Jon’s seminal article on the political status of Native Hawaiians was published and subsequently cited by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the article, Jon examined the historical relationship between Native Hawaiians and the federal government, arguing that the special relationship doctrine – the basis for the federal-tribal relationship – had already been applied to Native Hawaiians through numerous federal laws recognizing the unique status of the native people and lands of Hawai‘i. At the time, this was a ground-breaking concept, but now it is widely accepted. Indeed, it underpins the newly issued federal rule on reestablishing a government-to-government relationship between the Native Hawaiian community and the U.S.

Jon’s 2008 book, Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawai‘i?, synthesized more than 30-years of research on Hawaiian land issues. In examining the complex history of the Crown Lands, Jon focused on the unique status and responsibility of the ali‘i in Hawaiian society. He concluded that the Crown Lands, which Kamehameha III had set aside as his own during the 1848 Māhele, are subject to a trust to benefit Native Hawaiians. Jon argued that the Government Lands, also established in the Māhele, provided for the needs of the general citizenry of the Kingdom. In contrast, the Crown Lands supported the king who, according to traditional Hawaiian concepts, had a responsibility to care for the Hawaiian people.

Thus, Jon reframed the discussion on the very nature of the Crown Lands – the lands were not held “personally” by the reigning monarch but in trust for the Hawaiian people. Jon’s original research and carefully grounded assessment – of a vested beneficial Native Hawaiian interest in those lands – forms a key pillar of present-day and future Maoli claims to justice. Through his work and words, Jon sought to enlighten and inspire justice and healing.

Professor Kapua Sproat, Ka Huli Ao’s Director, was Jon’s research assistant and devoted countless hours working on the book – so much so that Jon invited her to be listed as a co-author. Out of respect for Jon’s scholarship and his many years of working on the book, she declined. She commented, “That’s just the kind of person that he was: a mentor; a respectful colleague; and magnanimous with his work.”

I worked with Jon and Sherry on a landmark case in which the Hawai‘i Supreme Court placed a moratorium on the sale of Government and Crown Lands until the unrelinquished claims of the Hawaiian people could be addressed. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually heard the case and, since I was not licensed to practice in the Court, Jon sponsored my admission. We lost the case. But the one fond memory I have is of Jon addressing the Court, vouching for my character, faltering as he reached my Hawaiian middle name, and then saying it perfectly.

I am forever grateful for Jon’s willingness to engage with our community and his scholarship and advocacy on our behalf. He believed in us as a people and he believed that we could come together, resolve our differences, and create a future that would serve our interests and needs – and as a result, we would create a better Hawai‘i.