Lawmakers and leaders from the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs look on as Gov. David Ige signs historic legislation on Moloka‘i. - Photos: Treena Shapiro

A new state law reducing the minimum Hawaiian blood quantum required to inherit a homestead lease couldn’t come sooner for some descendants of Molokaʻi’s earliest homesteaders.

Under the current federal guidelines, homestead leases can only be transferred to family members who are at least one quarter Hawaiian. However, if the eligibility requirements just passed by the state are also approved by Congress, the Hawaiian blood quantum requirement for successors will be lowered to 1/32.

“This issue was really important and critical for families in the oldest homestead areas where homesteads have been in their families three, four, five generations,” said Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Chairwoman Jobie Masagatani. “Unfortunately, as much as their parents may have tried to persuade them to fall in love with the Hawaiian boy next door, they fell in love with the boy across the street, so now their children and/or grandchildren don’t have enough koko, even though they were raised on a homestead and the homestead has been in their family forever.”

Children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the 42 founding homesteaders who established the Kalanianaʻole Settlement in Kalamaʻula, Molokaʻi, gathered at Kulana ʻŌiwi on July 5 when Gov. David Ige enacted House Bill 451, now Act 80. Among them were OHA Chairwoman Colette Machado and OHA community outreach coordinators Gayla Haliniak-Lloyd and Brent Nakihei – all descended from the first wave of pioneers who paved the way for more than 6,000 Hawaiians to live on home lands today.

The bill was the first to be signed on Molokaʻi, noted Ige, who also pointed to the significance of the timing. “As we come to the 100th anniversary of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, the whole issue of successorship and being able to ensure that the leases that have already been awarded would be able to be passed on to beneficiaries (at least) 1/32 Hawaiian becomes more and more important,” he said.

For some, the change is urgently needed. “I’m 87-years-old. This matters to me,” said Iwalani Arakaki, who grew up in Kalamaʻula. If the blood quantum requirement remains at one-quarter, she won’t be able to transfer her lease to the grandson she adopted.

Similarly, Kapua Kalama Lauifi’s children are 18.75 percent Hawaiian and can only be named successors if the blood quantum minimum is dropped to 1/32. If that happens, even her grandchildren could be successors. Her family’s experience illustrates why she lobbied for a lowered blood quantum requirement:

“My great-grandfather was one of the original homesteaders. When he passed away, he gave it to my grandma, who was half Hawaiian. My grandmother married a haole man from Iowa, so my mom was only a quarter Hawaiian,” Lauifi explained. Lauifi’s grandmother had to pass her lease to her half-Hawaiian son-in-law, Lauifi’s father, until he could transfer it to her mom when the minimum blood quantum requirement was lowered to 25 percent.

“I’m 37.5 (percent),” continued Lauifi, who inherited the lease from her mother. “My kids are 18.75 because my husband is pure Samoan.”

Lauifi’s grandchildren are one-eighth Hawaiian, so a 1/32 blood quantum requirement would allow them to be successors. “We still get a couple more chances,” she said. “This is going to be our 95th year, so we would have only had four more years.” A previous rule change allows the original 99-year leases to be extended an additional 100 years, she pointed out.

Photo: Kapua Kalama Lauifi
Kalamaʻula homesteader Kapua Kalama Lauifi was a driving force behind legislation that would enable her children to inherit her homestead lease.

Luann Mahiki Lankford, who is 43.75 percent Hawaiian, said if she can’t transfer her lease to one of her children, one of her siblings would have to succeed her to hold on to the family’s homestead. “That would have meant them moving home and assuming my mortgage and I don’t think they’re prepared to do that or even want to do that,” she said. “They’re already set where they’re at.”

While the relaxed requirement would apply only to leases thathave already been awarded, state Rep. Lynn DeCoite, who represents Moloka‘i, said it will also benefit those on the DHHL waitlist by preventing leaseholders from selling their leases when there’s no eligible successor in the family. “That really was the guts behind the bill. We saw that many of the lots were being sold … but not to the person at the top of the list,” she said.

Many who live in Kalamaʻula today recall the extensive labor it took to establish Kalanianaʻole Settlement. When the first eight ʻohana arrived in Kalamaʻula in 1922, they found raw, infertile land. “There was this one house, no neighbors, only salt flats and kiawe trees,” recalled Maui County Councilwoman Stacy Helm Crivello, whose family moved from the Kualapuʻu plantation camps to Kalamaʻula when she and her siblings were young children. “We sat there and cried because how could our parents bring us here?”

Her father, George Helm Sr., was featured in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin as the Molokaʻi Miracle Farmer. “He cleared (four acres) of kiawe by hand. They didn’t have bulldozers or tools then,” Crivello described. “I don’t know what he did with the salt flats but eventually he was able to grow things. Then we didn’t have the infrastructure for water, so my father dug a well that’s still there today.”

“That’s homesteading. It’s not just building a house and you move in and everything else,” Crivello pointed out.

Nani Maioho Kawaʻa, whose grandfather George Maioho was awarded Lot 13 at Kalamaʻula, wants to honor his legacy, as well as that of Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole, who spearheaded the passage of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act in Congress. While her family won’t be immediately impacted by eligibility changes, she worries about the next generation. “It’s getting harder,” she says. “My daughter qualifies but what happens after that? A little Hawaiian is not enough.”