Lawsuit challenges Hawaiian land rules
A man wants the Hawaiian Homes Commission to be put in charge
HILO » Patrick Kahawaiolaa doesn't want to destroy the system that awards leases to native Hawaiians, but he does want to destroy the controlling Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
He thinks the Hawaiian Homes Commission can run the land system without a department, and doing so would end injustices he believes exist.
There's a small chance that he may upend both the department and the system. He's basing a federal lawsuit against the department on racial grounds, that non-Hawaiians are barred from Hawaiian Homes leases.
Deputy Attorney General Clayton Lee Crowell opposes that suit brought by Kahawaiolaa, 61, a retired postal worker, and five others.
The law prohibits Hawaiians from trying to protect the rights of non-Hawaiians, Crowell said. In legal language, Kahawaiolaa and the others don't have "standing," he said.
U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway already ruled against Kahawaiolaa. But there is no certainty about a pending appeal until a ruling comes from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Kahawaiolaa suit can be compared to two other recent Hawaiian cases.
Kamehameha Schools argued to the 9th Circuit Court last month that special treatment for Hawaiians is right at that private institution, but Kahawaiolaa argues special treatment is wrong for Hawaiian Homes beneficiaries.
While about 2,700 Hawaiians learned last week that the state Supreme Court is letting them sue for being excluded from Hawaiian Homes land, Kahawaiolaa's group already had land. They want other benefits that they believe old laws grant them.
For example, up to 2003, Kahawaiolaa reduced his monthly mortgage payments to the department, believing the 1920 Hawaiian Homes law allowed him to pay 2 percent interest instead of 8 3/4 charged by the department. The department evicted him and the others in 2003.
Crowell said Kahawaiolaa simply isn't reading the old laws correctly.
Kahawaiolaa also complains in the suit that another group of Hawaiians at nearby King's Landing got special treatment, being allowed to remain on department land after illegally "squatting" there instead of getting a lease as others do.
Kahawaiolaa's sense of injustice goes back to 1958 when, as a 13-year-old boy, he watched a department employee insult his father.
During six years in the Navy, Kahawaiolaa learned that nothing got done without the right paperwork.
In 32 years as a postal worker, many of the years as a union representative, he learned he needed records to make changes. Thus he developed his present reliance on reading those old laws.
At 390 pounds, he's also not the scared 13-year-old of 1958. "I'm a hell of a lot more boisterous," he said.
But could his lawsuit end Hawaiian Homes leases to Hawaiians only? "I don't think that will happen," he answers. "I don't worry about that."