State evicts
6 Hawaiian families

The Hawaiian Homes chairman says
it was not easy but it was
the right thing to do

By Pat Omandam

The state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has removed six families from their homestead properties in Keaukaha and Panaewa in Hilo in what is believed to be the largest group eviction of homesteaders.

"We sit here today with heavy hearts," said Hawaiian Homes Chairman Micah Kane. "As native Hawaiians it wasn't an easy thing to do, but we feel it was the right thing to do to allow our department to move forward."

Kane said the six former lessees and their families had repeatedly ignored lease violations and had combined loan delinquencies of more than $250,000.

He said every effort was extended to help them resolve these issues over the past six years. Ultimately the department revoked their leases last fall. Kane said the Lingle administration is moving on a goal to put 20,000 Hawaiians on homesteads in the next five years.

The evictions were carried out about 8:30 a.m. yesterday by a convoy of vans carrying 80 state sheriffs, Hilo police, and officials from the state Attorney General's Office and state social services.

Kane said the large number of security officials was a precautionary measure. In 1996, Hilbert Kahale Smith died from a fire he started while being evicted from the Anahola homestead on Kauai.

Three people resisted the evictions and were arrested, including homesteaders Patrick Kahawaiolaa and Richard Kela.

Kahawaiolaa, who was the president of his community association, has been an outspoken critic of Hawaiian Homes policies. He and others have previously protested a Wal-Mart store built on Hawaiian Home Lands and homesteaders being charged for water. Kahawaiolaa was among seven protesters arrested after they cemented over their water meters in 1997.

Kahawaiolaa said this morning that he and others dispute how the department manages a number of issues, including interest rates on loans, and requirements to pay county taxes and water fees.

The protesters had been making payments -- not the amounts required -- but stopped in the mid-1990s because the department refused to accept money from them and canceled their leases, Kahawaiolaa said.

Ben Henderson, deputy director of the Hawaiian Home Lands Department, said these families have a long history of challenging department policy and that problems with them began about 10 years ago, when the first of the six fell behind in their mortgage payments. These former lessees now have loan delinquencies of between $25,000 and $70,000.

"Evictions are never pleasant," Henderson said. "They are a last resort for DHHL after all other efforts have failed. Regrettably, these actions are necessary in these cases to preserve the integrity of the Hawaiian Home Lands trust."

Deputy Attorney General Kumu Vasconcellos described the department's actions leading up to the evictions as thorough, exhaustive and fair.

"This was a matter of principle for these individuals, and to make their point, they made a deliberate choice not to pay their loans. They made a deliberate choice not to pay their water bills. They made a deliberate choice not to pay their real property taxes," Vasconcellos said.

"This was an exercise similar to civil disobedience and with full knowledge of the eventuality that they may lose their lease someday," Vasconcellos said.

Star-Bulletin reporter Rod Thompson contributed to this report.

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