5 Hawaiians’ Lawsuit Against OHA Back On

Gordon Y.K. Pang, Honolulu Advertiser, August 8, 2007

A group of five Native Hawaiians who want the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to spend most of its money on people with 50 percent Hawaiian blood or more will get another day in court.

A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco yesterday ordered U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway to hear the case in her Honolulu court after she rejected it last year.

The five Native Hawaiians are suing OHA because they believe the agency has too many beneficiaries. They argue that most of OHA’s $28 million annual budget should be spent on people with 50 percent Hawaiian blood or more.

The lawsuit was filed by Virgil Day, Mel Ho’omanawanui, Josiah Ho’ohuli, Patrick Kahawaiola’a and Samuel Kealoha, all of whom are 50 percent Hawaiian or more.

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Most other challenges against OHA and other Hawaiians-only programs have come from those who feel that funds should not be given to specific groups based on race. The lawsuit filed by the five men is unique in that it argues OHA has too many beneficiaries.

NO OPINION ON MERITS

The three-member panel of the 9th Circuit Court reversed Mollway’s decision in August 2006 to throw out the case on the grounds that prior case law could not support it. Recent U.S. Supreme Court cases have undermined prior case law that formed the basis for the Day lawsuit, Mollway said.

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Yesterday’s decision by three of the 28 members of the 9th Circuit allows the case to proceed, but does not not express an opinion on the merits of the allegations.

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The five men charged that OHA “expended trust funds without regard to the blood quantum contained in the definition of native Hawaiians” as spelled out in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920.

OHA WILL FIGHT

OHA officials, however, have said their mandate is different and that they are bound not by the blood quantum requirements found in the homestead act but rather the Hawai’i Admission Act of 1959.

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The thrust of the lawsuit is the charge that the trustees have spent trust funds lobbying Congress for passage of the Akaka bill, which seeks to create a government entity that would represent all with Hawaiian blood regardless of their quantum.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges trustees have “expended trust funds for all-expense-paid vacations and political junkets for themselves and their staff in the guise of lobbying for passage of the Akaka bill.”

OHA trustees have previously stated that they have spent at least $1 million lobbying for the Akaka bill.

FUNDING CHALLENGED

The lawsuit also challenged OHA’s funding of the nonprofit Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. and Na Pua No’eau Education Program, saying it goes beyond what is allowed in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, language that was later incorporated into the state Constitution.

Under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, money generated by the so-called ceded lands—former Hawaiian crown and government lands—is supposed to benefit those with 50 percent blood quantum.

Currently, about 10 percent of OHA’s $28.5 million in funding comes from state taxes, with the rest from ceded lands.

OHA administrator Namu’o said that there are currently no programs designed to benefit 50 percent Hawaiians specifically. In the past, the agency had a homesteader loan program that benefited homesteaders, who need to be at least 50 percent Hawaiian.

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the homestead act are targeted for 50 percent Hawaiians, he said,

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[Editor’s Note: The full text of the Ninth Circuit ruling can be read here.]

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