Why Freddy Rice Went to Court


Keli‘i Akina, Ph.D., Trustee, At-Large Hawaiians have lost a dear friend who stood for the Aloha Spirit.

Big Island rancher Harold “Freddy” Rice passed away on January 5, 2018.

I first learned about Freddy when I studied the U.S. Supreme Court case Rice v. Cayetano. That case now ensures that all Hawai‘i citizens may vote in the election of government officials who serve as Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustees. Freddy poured his soul into standing up as the plaintiff in this case.

On the surface, Rice v. Cayetano upholds the U.S. Constitution, protecting the rights of all citizens to participate in public elections of government officials. But, for Freddy Rice, there was a deeper and more personal reason he went to court and endured much personal attack and cost in doing so. To understand that, let me share some background.

Hawai‘i has a unique situation in which its state constitution sets aside some revenues from the Public Lands Trust (formerly lands belonging to the Kingdom of Hawai‘i) for the betterment of the conditions of Native Hawaiians. This is, in fact, a requirement for statehood, as established by the federal government in the Admission Act of 1959. Many people consider this provision to be an important form of justice for Native Hawaiians, addressing the transition of the Hawaiian Kingdom ultimately to a state. Other people take exception to this law, preferring that no single people group receive preferential entitlements. In 1978, the Hawaii Constitutional Convention established the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), in part, to administer the funds from the Public Lands Trust in a way that betters the conditions of Native Hawaiians.

That’s where Freddy comes into the picture. Freddy was a good friend and kupuna of mine whom I admired greatly for his courage and his kindness. On my trips to visit him at his ranch in Waimea, we would sometimes spend time together in town where I learned that Freddy was a man greatly beloved by his neighbors, especially Native Hawaiians who considered him a true kama‘aina.

As he frequently explained to me on his ranch, Freddy was never opposed to the Hawaiian people, or to OHA. He knew OHA was established to help the Hawaiian people by bettering their conditions through housing, jobs, education, healthcare, etc. And these were all things Freddy wanted for Native Hawaiians, especially those he personally knew who struggled to make a living on the Big Island.

For his efforts, Freddy Rice was widely misunderstood and his motives impugned. Fortunately, time has helped vindicate Freddy, and demonstrated that every citizen of the state has an interest in helping ensure that those charged with overseeing Native Hawaiian programs do so with honesty and integrity. Freddy simply wanted to use his right to vote to help make sure good OHA trustees, who would better the conditions of Native Hawaiians, got elected!

Whether one agrees with the U.S. Constitution, the Hawai‘i Constitution and the 1959 Admission Act in their setting aside of Public Lands revenue to help Hawaiians, almost everyone agrees that those funds should definitely not be squandered. Freddy, as a local rancher and businessman, wanted good management of those funds for all his Hawaiian neighbors.

Now that’s the spirit of E Hana Kākou / Let’s Work Together!

Trustee Akina welcomes your comments and can be reached at TrusteeAkina@OHA.org. He is always glad to meet with beneficiaries and community members and welcomes invitations to participate in or speak at community functions.