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Man sues to prove lineage through DNA

Kee says his Native Hawaiian ancestry is sufficient to gain access to homelands

By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher

LAST UPDATED: 2:43 a.m. HST, Sep 27, 2012

A Molokai man has filed a lawsuit seeking to use DNA to prove his ancestry so he can qualify for the Hawaiian homelands program.

The program provides Native Hawaiians with 99-year leases at $1 per year. To qualify, an applicant must prove 50 percent Native Hawaiian ancestry. The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands allows for birth certificates and other documents such as marriage and death certificates to be used as proof.

Leighton Pang Kee's lawsuit, filed this week against the department in Circuit Court, says he was adopted and that his birth certificate doesn't list his biological father.

The lawsuit contends the rules on what can be considered "documented proof" are unclear.

The department had no immediate comment.

The lawsuit "is focused on the need for DHHL to create a policy that allows for a beneficiary to submit DNA evidence to show their genealogy," said Camille Kalama, one of Kee's attorneys with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. "It's one more way of proving who your mother or father is."

Kalama said Wednesday other applicants have reached out for help when they've been denied benefits because they lack proper documentation, usually because they were born out of wedlock and their birth certificates don't list a father's name. But as far as she knows, this is the first lawsuit that seeks to use DNA.

According to the lawsuit, Kee was born in 1960 in Honolulu to a mother who is at least 81.25 percent Native Hawaiian and a father whose birth certificate shows his parents were Native Hawaiian. His father died in 1983.

Kee grew up knowing about his bloodline, Kalama said.

After Kee was deemed ineligible for homelands benefits, he found his father's brother living on homestead land in Nanakuli and obtained DNA from him. The DNA showed a 96.35 percent probability that Kee and the man were related, the lawsuit said.

Kalama noted that Kamehameha Schools allows for DNA to show ancestry. The private schools on Oahu, Maui and Hawaii island give admissions preference to Native Hawaiians.

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