Earth Foundation

Stewards of the Land, Sea and Native Cultures

Problems for Native Hawaiians

Development Challenges in the Hawaiian Islands: Paradise Losing

In the traditionally politically fractured Native Hawaiian statewide community, it would appear potentially unlikely that Native Hawaiians will unite to save the natural treasure of their people, lands, and their islands. Land development and the battle to preserve Hawaii’s natural resources continue throughout the Islands. Non-Native Hawaiians tend to feel that land is a commodity, BUT Native Hawaiians feel that land is alive and should be preserved. Some might say that if you take away the land, then you also take away the Heart of the Native Hawaiians. The greatest tragedy currently facing Hawaii is that some Native Hawaiians do not yet realize the importance of the land to their being.

Challenges to Native Hawaiians

Native Hawaiians can be characterized as large-hearted and predominantly humble people. Sadly, since the year 2000, Native Hawaiians have witnessed the erosion of many of their “institutions in the face of relentless legal challenges”1 from non-Hawaiians. These legal battles have been notable for their lack of a united front against non-Hawaiians. Furthermore, legal losses have not yet persuaded Native Hawaiians to “pull together behind positive efforts to prevent more painful losses in the future.”1 Unless this behavior pattern changes soon, further traditional lands and institutions will be lost.

Sadly, Hawaii and its great Native Hawaiian people are unfortunately continuing to suffer from being a conquered nation and people, overthrown more than a hundred years ago. There are many parallels with what has happened to the American Indians. And, the price of living is high in today’s Hawaii. Many Native Hawaiians are holding down 2 to 3 jobs and trying to support their families.

Currently, Native Hawaiians face some of the most difficult challenges yet. Hawaiians risk the loss of land worth BILLIONS of dollars, in addition to their federal and state government entitlements. Such entitlements include the Hawaiian Homelands promised to Hawaii by the U.S. government in different settlements.

The source of this challenge is “Rice vs. Cayetano”, an U.S. Supreme Court decision in the year 2000 that ruled against the Native Hawaiians and their rights. The Rice vs. Cayetano decision states that “Native Hawaiian” is a racial and not a political or tribal status. Utilizing this legal precedent, opponents of Native Hawaiians continue to claim that land settlements to Native Hawaiians are racially discriminating against non-Native Hawaiians. This includes much of the Hawaiian Homelands promised to Native Hawaiians. But it is important to remember that Hawaii was the Native Hawaiians’ land and independent nation a little over a hundred years ago. Now the Hawaiians are being threatened with not being able to even keep the lands they were promised in different settlements they made with the government. Unfortunately, more than five years after the Rice ruling, Hawaiians remain splintered and without a clear strategy for meeting the challenge posed by non-Hawaiians.

“As the stakes have risen, the battle has gone beyond land, entitlements, and political rights. Hawaiians are fighting for stewardship of their own culture. Hawaiians see their language used against them while adversaries load their assaults with traditional Hawaiian words like ‘aloha,’ ‘kokua’ and ‘imua’….Some opponents of Hawaiian entitlements have taken up the argument that the Hawaiian culture belongs to everybody, not just Native Hawaiians.”1

The various opponents of the Native Hawaiians could possibly include: the federal or state governments, major land companies, or other individuals and/or companies—all of whom potentially would like to control Hawaiian land and would substantially profit from ownership of Native Hawaiian lands.

SOLUTIONS to the Challenges Faced by Native Hawaiians

“This is an ideal time for Native Hawaiians to assert their interests”1 especially since both political parties are courting Native Hawaiians as a key swing vote. For example, “as long as the U.S. Congress refuses to pass the Akaka Bill, which recognizes Hawaiian indigenous rights,”1 programs designed exclusively for the benefit of Native Hawaiians will “remain vulnerable to legal assault.”1 America “has found ways to accommodate the indigenous rights of American Indians and Alaskan natives within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution.”1 The preservation of Hawaiian rights will also depend on accommodations from the U.S. government and significant pressure from Native Hawaiians.


1 “Hawaiians must pull together,” by David Shapiro (Honolulu Advertiser, July 17, 2002)