Bittersweet battle


POSTED: Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rancher James P. Akiona was 27 years old when he first applied for a 300-acre Hawaiian homestead lot on the Big Island in 1952. He finally got his Honokaia property in 2007, some 55 years later—many of them spent on legal wrangling with the Hawaiian Homes Commission.

But on the day he was to get an award for his fight for the land, Akiona was in a hospital fighting for his life. He suffered a torn artery in his brain, relatives said.

Yesterday, Akiona's family, most of them from Kona, accepted the 2009 Native Hawaiian Advocate Award on his behalf from the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. The award was presented at the Eighth Annual Native Hawaiian Convention to Akiona and Mahealani Perez-Wendt, retiring executive director of the organization.

Nyna Akiona, his wife of 59 years, recounted the frustrating battle her husband waged for decades.

“;We waited all these years,”; she said. “;There was a new commission chairman every four years, and my husband went to every one. We've had disappointment after disappointment, but my husband never gave up.”;


In 1990, Akiona received a 100-acre lot in Puukapu—inadequate for commercial ranching—instead of the 300 acres he wanted. The Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. helped Akiona and his friend Sonny Kaniho (a noted Hawaiian activist who died Aug. 14) initiate a lawsuit on behalf of about a dozen “;aged Hawaiians”;—others in similar straits. They sued the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for failing to make larger homestead lots available for commercial ranching, she said.

They won the case in 1995, but by then a lot of the old Hawaiians had died, and “;now look at my husband,”; Nyna Akiona said, referring to his hemorrhagic stroke. “;I blame the system for doing what they did.”;

The Akionas have seven children, 22 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren. Their son James Akiona Jr. said, “;What my dad has accomplished for my children and my children's children—we now have some place ... for future generations.”;

Grandson T.J. Akiona, who works on the ranch with other relatives, said, “;My grandfather always said, 'Ho'omanawanui: Be patient. God going take care. One day it's gonna come.' He didn't know how long it would take, but he was gonna fight it to the finish.”;

His grandfather is still struggling for adequate water to support ranch operations as guaranteed under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, he said.

“;But fighting for his life is the biggest battle he has now,”; Akiona added.