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Hawaiian protests coincide with Supreme Court hearing


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POSTED: Wednesday, February 25, 2009

At 5 a.m. today, native Hawaiians who say their rights are under siege gathered at the state Capitol, churches and other places on the neighbor islands and the mainland to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s involvement in the ceded-lands controversy.

The protest rally was timed to coincide with state Attorney General Mark Bennett’s opening arguments before the high court in Washington.

Gov. Linda Lingle’s administration is appealing a 2008 Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that barred the state from selling or transferring former monarchy lands, known as ceded lands, until native Hawaiian claims are resolved. The U.S. Supreme Court decided last fall to hear the case. A decision is expected by mid-June.

The vigil was to continue until 4 p.m. Besides Oahu, similar vigils were to be held on the neighbor islands, in Seattle, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. The rally in downtown San Francisco began with prayers and meditation.

In Hawaii, every hour until 4 p.m. church bells were to be rung, pahu drums beaten, and five Hawaiian chants, or pules, were to be recited. The gates to Iolani Palace were locked and the public barred from entering the grounds to prevent attempts by Hawaiian activists to take over the historic site.

The protest at the state Capitol was organized by Ilio Ulaokalani Coalition and was attended by more than 200 people from halaus, the University of Hawaii, students from Hawaiian immersion schools, and other Hawaiian-rights supporters.

Wayne Panoke, one of the organizers, said the purpose of the rally “was to bring public awareness” to what was going on as state lawmakers debate the ceded-lands sale moratorium.

“It is also another appeal to the governor to withdraw her appeal to the Supreme Court,” Panoke added. “These ceded lands should not be sold or transferred until native Hawaiians have had the opportunity to initiate the reconciliation process.”

Esther Kiaaina, an attorney who helped drafted the 1993 federal legislation in which the U.S. apologized for its role in the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893, said she is “deeply troubled” by the governor’s actions. She said the proper forum is the state Legislature and the U.S. Congress and not the federal courts.

“I have grave concerns that the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case leading to the circumstances of the overthrow,” said Kiaaina, who worked for U.S. Daniel Akaka from 1990-99.

Lingle contends the state must confirm it has clear title to the 1.2 million acres ceded to it by the federal government when Hawaii became a state in 1959.

More than 1.2 million acres owned by the Hawaiian monarchy were ceded to the United States when Hawaii was annexed in 1898. The lands were transferred in the form of a public trust to the state in 1959.

Both houses of the state Legislature have adopted a nonbinding resolution supporting the moratorium. And lawmakers are working on bills that would restrict the sale of ceded lands by law.

In 1994 the state tried to transfer a plot of ceded land for an affordable housing project, but the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and native Hawaiian individuals sued to block the move. While a lower court ruled in favor of the state administration, the Hawaii Supreme Court reversed the decision and sided with OHA.