ThousandsWAILUKU -- Organizers say thousands of Hawaiians and supporters will begin a three-day demonstration Friday at Maui's main airport here to protest a lawsuit in federal court that threatens to eliminate state programs benefiting Hawaiians.
A three-day event is planned
on Maui to protest a lawsuit
challenging native rights
By Gary T. Kubota
The lawsuit also is challenging a state measure recognizing traditional Hawaiian gathering and religious rights that allow natives to have special access to the mountains and ocean.
The demonstrations are scheduled from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.
From construction workers to environmentalists, the demonstration is expected to draw a wide range of residents -- including some who normally sit on opposite sides of issues and many who normally don't participate at protest gatherings.
The group organizing the "Act of Aloha" demonstration, Na Kupuna O Maui, does not plan a sit-in to disrupt airport operations, said spokeswoman Blossom Feitera. In fact, anyone who wants to engage in obstructive tactics was asked not to come, she said.
Feitera said demonstrators will be holding placards and distributing brochures to visitors and residents about the lawsuits.
"The fact of the matter is we're trying to get people to understand the situation in Hawaii," Feitera said. "We can do that without getting arrested."
At issue is a lawsuit challenging a 1978 Hawaii constitutional amendment that supports Hawaiian homesteading, the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and native access and gathering rights.
Attorneys for former state Sen. John Carroll and Patrick Barrett argue that the amendment is discriminatory and violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Two lawsuits have been consolidated into one.
The hearing for a preliminary injunction is scheduled for March 12 before U.S. District Judge David Ezra.
The lawsuit seeks to halt the state from receiving and spending money for programs that exclusively benefit Hawaiians.
Sherry Broder, attorney for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said the programs are similar to those provided to other native Americans.
"We are confident that we will be able to defend Hawaiian rights and entitlements," Broder said.
But a number of Hawaiians aren't as confident, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year in the Rice vs. Cayetano case.
The court barred the state from allowing only Hawaiians to run for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and also opened the selection of trustees to non-native voters.
"Obviously, this is a very bad Supreme Court," said Dana Naone Hall, a Hawaiian and leader of the native rights group Hui Alanui O Makena.
Hall said the real issue has to do with reparations to Hawaiians due to their loss of sovereignty and guaranteeing that they benefit from lands ceded from the federal government to the state as provided through the statehood admissions act.
Some Hawaiians also have been disappointed by the lack of congressional action in recognizing Hawaiians as members of a sovereign entity and entitling them to benefits similar to other native Americans.
A congressional bill -- the "Akaka Bill" -- has been reintroduced seeking sovereign recognition.
Many Hawaiians fear if the lawsuit is successful, their families may lose their Hawaiian homestead lands and that lands previously set aside exclusively for Hawaiians would be awarded to other races.
"I support the Hawaiian people and their move to hang on to what they have," said James Rust, a Hawaiian and a supervisor with the construction company Goodfellow Bros Inc. "I will be out there."
Rust will be standing with people such as Hall, with whom he has been at odds on development issues, including the expansion of the Kahului Airport.
Rust, who has been helping to organize the demonstration, said he expects 2,000 to 3,000 protesters.
For many, it will be the first time they've appeared at a protest, said Kalani Tassill, president of the Paukukalo Hawaiian Homestead Community Association.
"I never had to do something like this," said Tassill. "This is new."
William Helfand, co-counsel for Barrett, said the lawsuit by his client was about racial discrimination and not about taking away leases from Hawaiian homesteaders.
"Telling people they're going to lose their homes is more politics than reality," Helfand said. "Whether leases are given in the future -- that remains to be seen."
Helfand said Barrett, a veteran, would benefit from government assistance and might qualify for homesteading if the opportunity was opened to all races.
"He's an individual who believes what America promises and that is equal treatment under the law," Helfand said.
Helfand said that while some Hawaiians argue that they are members of a sovereign nation, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided otherwise.
Rice vs. Cayetano arguments
Rice vs. Cayetano decision
Holo I Mua: Sovereignty Roundtable