Wednesday, February 16, 2005

State agrees
to settle land suit

The deal for six Hawaiians
comes after almost 50 years of
waiting to obtain ranching parcels

They have waited for nearly 50 years to become Big Island ranchers.

And yesterday, some of them found out they may just get to rustle up large herds after all.

The Hawaiian Homes Commission agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries whose names were improperly removed from waiting lists for large pastoral land leases in 1956 and 1961.

Even though their names were added back to the waiting list in 1983, they were denied the opportunity to win leases for land large enough for commercial ranching.

Now, the Hawaiian Homes Commission will offer 2,000 acres of ranch land in Honokaia, between Waimea and Honokaa, to the beneficiaries named in the lawsuit. They came to be known as the Aged Hawaiians because they have waited for land for so long.

The 2,000 acres only recently became available to Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries. It was previously leased to Parker Ranch, said Micah Kane, Hawaiian Homes Commission chairman.

Kane said the case took a long time to resolve because the beneficiaries had to restate their case every time a new administration took office. He said all it took was a willingness to make a decision.

Jimmy Akiona was 50th on the Waimea pastoral waiting list in 1952 when the commission awarded 48 lots. No. 49 died, moving Akiona to the top of the list. "So they said on the next awarding of land, I would be No. 1. So I waited till today," he said.

Akiona was left waiting because the commission canceled the list he was on, started a new waiting list, canceled that one as well, and failed to notify any of the people on either list of its actions.

No one knows why the commission canceled the lists.

The Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. sued the commission in 1989 on behalf of Akiona and 14 other beneficiaries. They sued when the commission refused to allow them to argue their case for large pastoral land leases. At the time, the commission granted leases for land that could support only two to five head of cattle.

Akiona, 78, hopes for a lot big enough to support 400 head of cattle. He wants to pass the land on to his children and grandchildren. And while he is happy for the opportunity to finally realize his 50-year- old dream, he is sad for the beneficiaries who died before realizing theirs. Only six of the 15 plaintiffs are alive today.

Because of her failing health, Irene Torrey was awarded an undivided interest lease to the Honokaia lands prior to yesterday's ratification. On Feb. 3, Torrey signed the lease over to her son.

"Because if anything had happened to the mother, then it would go back to the Hawaiian Homes," said Akiona's wife, Nyna. "So the son signed it Thursday (Feb. 3). They had it notarized. Friday she died."

Torrey was 78.

Hawaiian Homes Commission

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