Ceded lands conflict should be resolved in sovereignty talks


POSTED: Monday, February 02, 2009

WHILE the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge of the state's attempted transfer or sale of virtually any state-owned land, some state legislators are proposing to preempt the court ruling by banning such sales to protect native Hawaiian interests. The controversy more properly should be advanced to negotiations following congressional approval of Hawaiian sovereignty.

The dispute involves the status of 1.2 million acres of former crown land—about 29 percent of Hawaii's total land area and virtually all state-owned land—that was taken over by the federal government at annexation and ceded to the state at admission. The Admission Act provided that one-fifth of benefits from those lands be dedicated to improving conditions for native Hawaiians, and 20 percent of rental income has gone to that cause.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has challenged development of 500 acres of ceded land on Maui as residential housing, rejecting a check of nearly $5.6 million, a one-fifth share of the land's value. The state Supreme Court ruled a year ago that a 1993 joint resolution by Congress dictated that ceded lands be “;preserved”; pending resolution of land claims by Hawaiians.

The Apology Resolution called for “;a proper foundation for reconciliation between the United States and the native Hawaiian people.”; The issue of land rights properly belongs in negotiations that will following congressional enactment of the sovereignty bill sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka.

The Akaka Bill has stalled in recent years because of largely Republican opposition. Democrats now have more than enough command of Congress to assure enactment, and President Obama has given his support.