Kaua’i Stands Up to Defend Hawaiian Land

Photo: Katy Rose, Breaking the Spell

Protest a ‘solidarity action’ with O‘ahu rally

By Michael Levine – The Garden Island
Published: Saturday, December 27, 2008 1:10 AM HST

A group of 25 to 30 activists lined both sides of Kuhio Highway in Lihu‘e yesterday afternoon, waving Hawaiian flags and holding signs voicing their displeasure with Gov. Linda Lingle’s handling of the controversial ceded lands issue.

The demonstration, organized by the Kaua‘i Alliance for Peace and Social Justice, was described by those involved as a “solidarity action” with a similar protest taking place in front of the state Capitol on O‘ahu. That rally drew about 100 people, according to an Associated Press report.

At issue is the Lingle administration’s continued appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruling handed down in January that prohibited the state from selling or transferring more than a million acres of public lands that had belonged to the Hawaiian monarchy prior to the 1893 overthrow.

In 1993, President Clinton signed the Hawai‘i Apology Resolution, acknowledging American wrongdoing in the overthrow. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs used that resolution as the basis for a lawsuit filed against the state in the mid-1990s seeking an injunction to prevent the selling or transfer of the ceded lands.

That effort was largely fruitless until the Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruling overturned an earlier Circuit Court decision early this year.

“Until January 2008, we had won the case,” Hawai‘i Attorney General Mark Bennett said in a phone interview yesterday. “We believed we had no choice but to appeal that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court because we believe the ruling is contrary to law.

“In appealing, we are simply carrying forward the same position that the state has had for 14 years.”

When asked to clarify that position, Bennett explained that the state owns the lands and holds them for the benefit of all of the people of Hawai‘i, a power the state was granted by the U.S. Congress when it was admitted to the union.

More than 30 states have filed briefs on the state’s behalf in preparation for the hearing in front of the Supreme Court, which Bennett said is scheduled for Feb. 25, 2009. He said he expects a ruling by the end of June 2009.

Yesterday’s protests were designed to “pressure the Lingle administration to back off its appeal to the Supreme Court and honor the moratorium on the sale of the lands,” according to literature distributed by the Kaua‘i Alliance for Peace and Social Justice.

“Lingle uses the idea that the general public needs to benefit from this land, but as a member of the general public, I don’t want to benefit at the expense of the native Hawaiians,” said Katy Rose, one of the events organizers. “It’s important to show our support and show that we stand behind them in their efforts.”

Rose said the response to the sign-holding was largely positive, with a lot of drivers-by honking and giving thumbs up and shakas.

“It’s important because this land used to belong to the native Hawaiians,” said Raymond Catania, another activist. “Local people understand that we should support them on this because they’re on the bottom of society and they need our help. This is their birthright, nobody should take it away from them.”

Community organizer Jimmy Trujillo agreed that the “indigenous people’s right to self-determination … doesn’t need to be impeded by our government,” going so far as to say he believed the government should support the sovereignty movement.

“It’s just an opportunity for the community to show (its) displeasure with the current administration’s decision to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the state Supreme Court decision,” Trujillo said, describing Lingle’s action “fraud” and “illegal.”

“To sell stolen property is a crime in most courts, but that’s what our governor is trying to do.”

The timing of the protests – President-elect Barack Obama is vacationing with his family on O‘ahu this week – could raise awareness of the issue.

Rose said there was a large march planned for Jan. 17 on O‘ahu, and her group was planning a solidarity action on that date as well.

“People have the right to protest and let their voices be heard,” Bennett said, “and we’re certainly listening.”

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