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DNA tests urged for homestead applicants

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  • Patrick Kahawaiolaa grew up on a Big Island homestead. When he met his future wife, he recalled, he confirmed her ancestry with her answer to where she was from. (Pat Kahawaiolaa via AP)

  • Houses in the the Hawaiian homestead community of Papakolea in Honolulu. The state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has proposed rules that would allow people applying for a homestead lease to use DNA evidence to prove ancestry. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

When the state deemed Leighton Pang Kee ineligible for one of the most valuable benefits available to Native Hawaiians — land at almost no cost — because he couldn’t show that he was at least 50 percent Hawaiian, he sued.

Pang Kee knew he was, and needed to figure out a way to prove it. According to his lawsuit, his mother was at least 81.25 percent Native Hawaiian, but his birth certificate didn’t list his biological father.

But he knew who his father was. Pang Kee, who was adopted, found his late father’s brother and got a DNA sample that showed there was a 96.35 percent probability that Pang Kee and the man were related, the lawsuit said.

While that initially wasn’t enough for the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the agency eventually settled, and has proposed rules that would allow the use of DNA evidence to prove ancestry.

Hawaiians don’t typically fixate on how much Hawaiian blood they have when it comes to asserting ancestral identity.

“A Hawaiian is a Hawaiian is a Hawaiian,” said Michelle Kauhane, president and CEO of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement. “Whether they have a drop or more than 50 percent.”

One of the only times blood quantum is relevant is for applying for a homestead lease. Those with at least 50 percent Hawaiian blood quantum can apply for a 99-year lease for $1 a year.

After the settlement last year of Pang Kee’s 2012 lawsuit, the department agreed to enact the rules. The department is now taking comments from beneficiaries about the proposed rule to allow DNA testing for proof of eligibility.

The rule-making process could take up to two years, the department said. There’s some confusion among beneficiaries about the proposed rule, said Paul Richards, past president of the Waimanalo Hawaiian Homes Association.

The idea of using DNA to prove ancestry conjures up commercials advertising DNA-testing kits. But those tests can’t prove someone has Hawaiian ancestry, just that someone has general Polynesian ancestry.

The testing to prove Hawaiian ancestry is more like a paternity test, said Camille Kalama, an attorney for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which sued on Pang Kee’s behalf.

The ideal testing situation would be if someone can use DNA to test directly with their father, who is able to document Hawaiian ancestry. The next best situation would be to test against the full sibling of the father, she said.

“It’s a very small segment of applicants who are in this situation,” Kalama said. “It’s even smaller for the amount of people who have a relative to test.”

As part of the settlement, Pang Kee and a woman with a similar situation are now on the homestead waiting list.

Wailana Dasalia said having a rightful place on the list comes with achieving “closure on who I am.”

Growing up on Kauai, she always knew who her father was but because her parents weren’t married, his name wasn’t on her birth certificate. Without his bloodline, Dasalia was only one-quarter Native Hawaiian in the eyes of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. With DNA proof that he’s her father, she’s 65 percent, she said. Her father is also on the waiting list.

Passed by Congress in 1921, the Hawaiian Homestead program is meant to provide economic self-sufficiency to Hawaiians by allowing them to use land to live on.

One theory about the origin of the 50 percent requirement is that it was required with the idea that eventually there would be no one left who could qualify, said Williamson Chang, a Native Hawaiian law professor at the University of Hawaii.

That hasn’t happened, as evidenced by the number of people on the homestead waiting list: more than 27,000 applicants. As of Nov. 30, there were 9,814 people leasing residential, agricultural and pastoral homestead lots statewide.

Identifying Hawaiians based on their blood quantum is a very un-Hawaiian idea, Chang said.

“They are not people who divide,” he said. “The idea of Hawaiian is much broader than race. … If it weren’t for the federal government, Hawaiians wouldn’t have a reason to be concerned about blood quantum.”

Patrick Kahawaiolaa grew up on a Big Island homestead, where kupuna, or elders, urged him to not let the Hawaiian race die off. “It was ingrained in me by my father,” he said. “You get married; you make sure you marry a Hawaiian.”

When he met his future wife, he recalled, he confirmed her ancestry with her answer to where she was from: Papakolea, a homestead community in Honolulu.

“Hawaiian children will never be able to buy a piece of property,” he said, referring to Hawaii’s expensive real estate, “but by their birthright, are entitled to a piece of property.”

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  • The “blood quantum” idea first came about when John Wise and Prince Kuhio argued for the Hawaiian Homelands Commission Act of 1920. It was first discussed that anyone with as little as 1/32 blood quantum should be allowed to apply. But, this went against Prince Kuhio’s secondary argument that the “Rehabilitation Act”, as it was commonly called at the time, was not just a back to the land opportunity, but to “save a dying race”. In addition, there was only so much land, and there wouldn’t be enough for all, let alone folks with greater blood quantum. So, the 50% amount was agreed upon. After all, who can say that folks with one drop of Polynesian-Hawaiian blood can be called a “dying race”? In any case, almost 100 years later we know that Polynesian-Hawaiians are NOT a “dying race” and the program has been a dismal failure. It’s time to end all these racist programs, not enlarge them into a “one drop nation”.

    • There was also a secondary issue that was only spoken about behind close doors in smoke filled rooms. That issue was commonly called the “Japanese problem”. Japanese immigrants that had once been slaves under the Kingdom’s indentured servitude program were then in big numbers homesteading farm lands. It was concerning to many that they would eventually gobble up all the good land. So, the program was also seen as a way to stop the trend. This fact is just another example of the discrimination that Japanese and Chinese residents of Hawaii had to endure before Statehood. Remember, they were also not allowed to vote unless they had been born here. Polynesians had the largest voting block, and so controlled politics, up until the 1940s when Japanese and Chinese children that had been born here reached voting age.

      • The misunderstanding with the current implementation of the homesteading program designed by John Wise and Prince Kuhio(Hawaii’s Territorial Rep. to U.S. Congress) is that its premise at the time was (1) to “save a dying race”, (2) to accomplish this by taking away homesteading by everyone and allowing only Polynesian-Hawaiians to homestead, (3) putting them back on the land to farm. While the act has been amended since then, the original act of 1920 Sec. 207 clearly said: “The commission is authorized to lease to native Hawaiians the right to use and occupancy of a tract of Hawaiian homelands within the following acreage limits: (1) Not less than twenty nor more than eighty acres of agricultural lands; or (2) Not less than one hundred nor more than five hundred acres of first-class pastoral lands; or (3) Not less than two hundred and fifty nor more than one thousand acres of second-class pastoral lands”. Does that sound like a “buy a Polynesian a condo in Kona” program? Now almost a hundred years later the Polynesian-Hawaiian race has not “died”, and the “Rehabilitation Act” as it was commonly called at the time, has gone so far a field from its original intent that it has reached a point that it cannot be realistically implemented. How is saddling tutu with a $350,000 mortgage(average DHHL loan) on someone elses land she does not own, nor will she ever, helping her to “economically self sufficient”?

        • Totally ridiculous! The 1921 “Rehabilitation Act” clearly states that one must have a a blood quantum of 50% or better. By the above quote “A Hawaiian is a Hawaiian is a Hawaiian,” Michelle Kauhane, president and CEO of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement says “Whether they have a drop or more than 50 percent.” You can see their little game. How is someone 1/512th Polynesian going to claim they are eligible? Really?

          Then there is the quote by the sovereignty activist and U of H law professor (the enemy within) saying: “One theory about the origin of the 50 percent requirement is that it was required with the idea that eventually there would be no one left who could qualify, said Williamson Chang.” THIS IS NOT a “theory” MR. CHANG and you know it you LIAR!! Its goals were the opposite. When Prince Kuhio (Hawaii’s Representative to the U.S. Congress for twenty years) and John Wise presented the idea to Congress they claimed that Polynesian-Hawaiians “are a dying race”. That obviously has not happened! This program’s time is past. There is no evidence that they are a “dying race”! In last U.S. census 550,000 people claimed to be Polynesian-Hawaiian. That’s more than ever existed in the entire history of Hawaii!

          How about the quote from Patrick Kahawaiolaa that “Hawaiian children will never be able to buy a piece of property,”. My goodness I hope he hasn’t victimized the children around him with that statement. There are many, many successful Polynesian-Hawaiians that are doctors, lawyers, teachers etc. Where do these degrading thoughts come from? From getting free stuff because of his race.

          Time to put an end to race based outdated entitlement programs for good. This program is completely unconstitutional. Homesteading in Hawaii should be allowed by ALL races, like it was before 1921 here, and like it is in all other States.

        • DiverDave, fully agree with your posts, and add there must be DNA tests for those already with HHC leases.

        • As you have all the answers, are the “Go To Guy” for all DHHL issues, you know it all, you need to go straight to DHHL, kick the losers out, take charge and solve this ongoing debacle by end of 2016. Should be child’s play for such an expert like you.

          We are waiting…………

        • You apparently have reading comprehension problems localguy. I want the “program” to be abolished!

      • Who did this “supposed” indentured slaves work for? The white Sugar barons of Hawaii. In the south, the slaves picked cotton and tobacco for the white plantation owners. Lol. Dog bark up wrong tree.

    • Bd, I didn’t even mention the corruption and mismanagement that is rampant in the program. Just two years ago it was leaked that the program was $100 million in default from loans not being paid, lease payments not paid, and property taxes in arrears. There needs to be an audit, but it is continually resisted. There is a lot of secrecy in management. The program originally was set up to be self funding. As lease, and loan payments would come in the money would go to fund new homesteads. There has never been ANY profit generated from the homestead program, and has just become a funding BLACK HOLE, that money goes in, but nothing ever comes out.

  • It great that they will do testing . It will open the doors for more to be accepted into the program. so many have been left out due to adoptions and being hanai out and not have the documents they needed

  • it’s not the DNA testing. Mr.Pang Kee going to go on the list at #27,001. Lol. You can get on the list but the states DHHL program going make you wait 30 years. That’s why the courts have zapped the state with this inept action. The State is the problem. Many Hawaiians can afford a mortgage but the DHHL drags its feet. Think of all those homeless families with multiple wage earners. They can’t afford a 675k mortgage, but might afford a 350-400k mortgage. Governor the homeless problem can be solved. One term man.

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