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Hawaii's Own

A look at a century of annexation

Part 2 of 6

Associated Press
Monday, August 10, 1998
(Published in the Hawai'i Tribune Herald and the Maui News)

by Ron Staton
Associated Press

Editor's note: Hawaiians did not have a word to describe themselves when Capt. James Cook arrived in 1778. Now there are nearly two dozen descriptions that influence their daily lives. This is the second of a six-part series on the Hawaiian people.

HONOLULU - Adelaide "Frenchy" DeSoto and her hustband have lived in their four-bedroom house on Oahu's Waianae Coast for decades.

The 69-year-old DeSoto's home is on lands set aside by the federal government in 1920 for those, like herself, with at least 50 percent Hawaiian blood.

Like many older parents, the DeSotos want to turn their homestead over to a son and move to a simpler, one-bedroom apartment. But the family bloodline makes that difficult.

DeSoto married a non-Hawaiian, so her six children are 25 percent Hawaiian. Under federal law, that's not enough Hawaiian for a homestead in DeSoto's lifetime.

At the same time, though, that's enough Hawaiian to qualify for a Hawaiian private school and federal aid for Hawaiians.

"The blood quantum issue is intentionally divisive," DeSoto said. "It was a devious plot, but it has survived for decades."

Hawaii's native people are defined differently by various federal, state and private agencies. Those definitions, based on blood quantum, influence where Hawaiians live, go to school or work.

The state Office of Hawaiian Affiars, or OHA, lists 19 different federal and state methods for identifying a member of the Hawaiian race. Some depend on self-identification, others on genealogical research.

There even are differences over when the "n" in "native" is capitalized before "Hawaiian." The state uses "Native Hawaiian" for those with any Hawaiian blood, and "native Hawaiian" for those with 50 percent or more Hawaiian blood.

OHA, which is mandated to serve all Hawaiians, says about 208,000 island residents, or nearly 20 percent of the total population, have some Hawaiian blood.

In 1984, OHA conducted the only modern-day study of Hawaiian blood quantum. It found that 8,200 Hawaiians, or about 1-in-25, had 100 percent blood quantum, while about 72,700, or nearly 1-in-3, had at least 50 percent.

Yet OHA's statistics differ from the U.S. Census Bureau's, which depend on self-identification. The bureau said there were nearly 139,000 Hawaiians, or 13 percent of the total population, in the state in 1990.

"This is a reason for us to move forward and re-establish our nation of Hawaii," said Kina'u Kamali'i, leader of Ho'omalu Ma Kualoa, a group working to unite the Native Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

"The Hawaiian people want a single definition. We have to be one people," said Kamali'i, a former state legislator and former OHA trustee.

Eighty percent of Hawaiians participating in mail-in plebiscites in 1989 and 1990 wanted a single definition, she said.

A government definition of "Hawaiian" first emerged from the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920, which provided for the rehabilitation of native Hawaiian people through a government-sponsored homesteading program.

That law said applicants for homestead lots must have 50 percent Hawaiian blood, the criteria also incorporated into the 1959 Admission Act making Hawaii the 50th state.

If a homesteader's children are between 25 percent and 50 percent Hawaiian, like the DeSotos', they only can take over the homestead when their Hawaiian parent dies. If subsequent generations are less than 25 percent Hawaiian, the homestead goes back into a lottery.

"There is nothing in the act that perpetuates ohana (family)," said DeSoto, chair of OHA's board of trustees.

The Admission Act used that definition to determine which Hawaiians would benefit from revenues generated by ceded lands. Those are the 1.4 million acres of crown lands ceded to the government following the 1893 overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani and the 1898 annexation of the islands by the United States.

But under all other federal programs, a Hawaiian is defined as one whose ancestors were in Hawaii prior to 1778, when Capt. James Cook made the first Western contact here.

OHA, an agency created by a 1987 [SIC] state constitutional amendment to improve the living conditions of Hawaiians, uses the same criteria for its programs and elections.

Yet most of OHA's revenues come from ceded lands, thus conflicting with the Admissions Act requirement of at least 50 percent blood quantum for beneficiaries.

"This definition was set by Congress and was not something the Hawaiian people voted on," Kamali'i said. "It is up to the native people to make the decision and not up to Congress or the (state) Legislature."

Surrounded by Hawaiian artifacts in her OHA office, DeSoto is less charitable.

"Congress had the audacity to try to identify us," she said with an icy glare. "The ultimate insult is having non-native people define who we are."

Both DeSoto and Kamali'i say congress created the 50 percent criteria with the idea that eventually there would be no such Hawaiians left, let alone any full-blooded Hawaiians.

"It was in the back of their minds in Congress that we were a dying race and they hoped we would go away," Kamali'i said.

Kali Watson, director of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, won't discuss Congress' motives in 1920 but acknowledges that the Hawaiian Homes definition is divisive.

He also notes that Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole, the delegate to Congress who pushed through the Hawaiian Homes Act, argued for low blood-quantum of one-sixteenth or even one-thirty-second.

Yet Watson expects that the definition eventually will be changed "to reflect the changing circumstances," that is, the declining number of 50 percent Hawaiians.

But he will leave it to Hawaiians who don't qualify for homestead lands to advocate the change. There is a waiting list of 29,543 people seeking residential or agricultural lots.

Watson is urging OHA to support a congressional proposal providing up to $150 million in affordable housing assistance for Native Hawaiians, even though it requires at least 50 percent Hawaiian blood.

When discussing the issue, Kamali'i finds it hard to describe what it means to be a native Hawaiian.

She ponders the question, saying she doesn't want it to be "a Western thought." Finally, she says it's a sense of pride and dignity.

"I am Hawaiian and that should be good enough. I know who I am."


NOTE: accompanying the AP story is a photo of French DeSoto with the follwoing caption: "Adelaide "Frenchy" DeSoto, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs chairwoman, listens to discussions during an OHA meeting in Honolulu last month. DeSoto says the Congress' criterion used to define a Native Hawaiian is "devious" and "intentionally divisive."

Another captioned pair of photos showing before and after photos of Waikiki says:

"Below, the view of Diamond Head from Waikiki was relatively clear in 1900, bottom photo, but hotels and apartment buildings dominate the city's skyline today. On Wednesday Hawaiians will observe the centennial anniversary of the United States' annexation of Hawaii."


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