By Lt. Governor Duke Aiona
The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding ceded lands should not be looked at in terms of “winners” or “losers.” Rather, it should serve as a clear reminder that we, as a community, must commit to reaching a fair and lasting resolution on ceded lands.
Despite the disappointment being felt by some, the U.S. Supreme Court decision does not in any way affect our Administration’s ongoing commitment to the Native Hawaiian community.
I am proud to be a Native Hawaiian, and I remain committed to preserving and protecting Native Hawaiian rights, entitlements and programs. I have been a vocal advocate for the passing of the Akaka Bill, both at home and in Washington, D.C.
I have also proudly marched in defense of the Kamehameha Schools admission policy, and have continually supported the unique and enduring role of our ali‘i trusts. I remain committed to working directly with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) and other stakeholders in the Hawaiian community to advance a full and fair settlement to the longstanding ceded land claims.
Contrary to the misinformation being circulated by a few individuals, our Administration has no intention of selling or transferring any particular ceded lands.
The current lawsuit that reached the U.S. Supreme Court did not begin with this Administration. It began with the Waihee Administration’s efforts to sell ceded land on Maui and Hawai‘i Island back in the late 1980s and early 1990s to provide affordable housing.
OHA and others ultimately sued the Waihee Administration, and in January of 2008, the Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruled that the 2003 Congressional Apology Resolution dictated that ceded lands could not be sold or transferred until the unrelinquished claims by the Native Hawaiian community were fully resolved. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision correctly held that the Hawai`i Supreme Court ruling was incorrect.
As a person of Native Hawaiian ancestry, the Apology Resolution is significant to me. It is a document that both acknowledges past wrongs and represents hope for a brighter future.
Those who diminish the role of the Apology Resolution as being merely a “symbolic” gesture are wrong, and I believe such rhetoric is insensitive to the Hawaiian community. I also understand that Native Hawaiians have a spiritual and emotional connection to the ‘āina that is rightly recognized by the Apology Resolution and, in some cases, codified by Hawai‘i law.
However, despite what the Apology Resolution means to me as a Native Hawaiian, I simply could not agree that it had any affect on the legal status of ceded lands. After repeated analysis, I found nothing on the face of the Apology Resolution that supported the Hawai‘i Supreme Court’s decision.
Regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, my longstanding belief has been that the resolution of the ceded land issue is a political question, not a judicial question.
The legislative branch, not the courts, should determine how, or if, reparations must be made to the Native Hawaiian people. Indeed, the Akaka Bill and the Apology Resolution (both legislative instruments) contemplate future negotiations between the State, the Federal government, and a Native Hawaiian governing entity.
Neither the Akaka Bill nor the Apology Resolution contemplates a lawsuit that clouds the State’s title to ceded lands, nullifies the Admission Act, and diminishes the State’s ability to fully negotiate as the clear and absolute title holder to public lands. After all, if the State does not hold clear title to its lands, what authority can it have to negotiate any settlement with Native Hawaiians?
From the onset of this controversy, my position has remained consistent. I will not support the sale or transfer of any particular ceded lands. I also remain a steadfast supporter of the Akaka Bill, and I look forward with great enthusiasm to its expected passage by Congress.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision serves as a clear reminder of the task at hand. There will be no “losers” if we, as a community, seize this valuable opportunity to achieve a fair and lasting settlement for the Native Hawaiian community.