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Star Advertiser: Federal legislation seeks to lower blood quantum for Hawaiian homestead successors

July 14, 2021

New federal legislation introduced by Hawaii Congressman Kai Kahele would pave the way for more Hawaiians to succeed family members’ homestead leases.

The resolution, which would approve amendments to the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act initiated by state lawmakers, seeks to lower the blood-quantum requirement from one-quarter to one-thirty-second for spouses, children, grandchildren and siblings seeking to succeed a family member’s homestead lease.

Co-sponsors of the Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana‘ole Protecting Family Legacies Act include U.S. Rep. Ed Case of Hawaii and a handful of other Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

In 2017 the state Legislature passed a bill lowering the blood-quantum requirement for some successors to one-thirty-second, with Gov. David Ige signing the legislation into law. But to implement the change, the proposal also needs approval from Congress and the U.S. Department of the Interior, which is currently reviewing it.

“I want to do everything I can to help ensure future generations of Native Hawaiians benefit from the original intent of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act — that is, to return Native Hawaiians to their lands with prompt and efficient placement in order to support self-sufficiency and self-determination,” Kahele said Tuesday in a news release.

He said the legislation reflects Prince Kuhio’s “original draft, vision and intent.”

Kahele introduced the resolution Friday, the centennial of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1921, which was championed by Prince Kuhio as a nonvoting delegate to Congress. The act set aside about 203,000 acres of former crown and government lands for homesteads for Hawaiian tenants with a blood quantum of at least 50%, with parcels leased for $1 annually over 99 years.

In 1986 legislation was approved to lower the blood-­quantum successor require­- ment for spouses and children from one-half to one- quarter. The one-quarter requirement was extended to grandchildren in 1997 and to siblings in 2005.

Advocates of the 2017 push to lower the requirement to one-thirty-second include the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. They said many older homestead lessees faced the potential loss of their ancestral lands because none of their descendants were one-quarter Hawaiian and wouldn’t qualify to take over the leases.

“The department supported this amendment in 2017 when it passed through the state Legislature, and we continue to support it today,” said DHHL Director and Hawaiian Homes Commission Chairman William Aila Jr. “It will be especially helpful for lessees in older homesteads, including Kalamaula, Hoolehua or Keaukaha, whose original leases are reaching the time for extension.”

But some argued the legislation would exacerbate the already long list of 28,792 Hawaiians still awaiting homestead lots. Since passage of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, only about 9,950 homestead lots have been built, with nearly 200 applicants nearing completion. DHHL, state and federal officials have come under fire for what many say is mismanagement of the land trust and a lack of accountability and oversight.

Robin Danner, chairwoman of the Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations, the largest statewide group repre- senting Hawaiians eligible for homesteads, and Mike Kahi­kina, chairman of the Association of Hawaiians for Home- stead Lands, a nonprofit of beneficiaries on the wait list, agreed that lowering the blood quantum would reflect Prince Kuhio’s vision.

Danner said it would provide homestead families, ranchers, farmers and homeowners with stability, allowing them to invest in their land knowing they could pass it down to future generations.

But both also agreed the legislation must go hand-in-hand with efforts by DHHL to build more homestead lots to address the wait list and for lawmakers to hold the agency accountable.

State Rep. Stacelynn Eli, who lives with her parents on a Nanakuli homestead and is on the wait list herself, said she’s heard similar stories from community members.

“There are kupuna who are worried that if something happens to them, what will happen to their children and grandchildren if they’re not allowed to stay on the land?” said Eli, who represents the neighborhoods of Ewa Villages to Maili. “I think lowering the blood quantum for successors is the right thing to do.”