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Hawaiians seek unified front in Waikiki march
Published: Jan 16, 2009

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Write

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Native Hawaiian groups traditionally hold somber observances on or near Jan. 17 to commemorate the day Queen Lili'uokalani was overthrown, but this year's events appear to be more emotionally charged due to the recent debate over the use of ceded lands.

Organizers say tens of thousands are expected to participate in a march and rally in Waikiki today to protest Gov. Linda Lingle's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of a January 2008 Hawai'i Supreme Court ruling that bars the state from selling or transferring ceded lands until Native Hawaiian claims to those lands are dealt with.

Lingle officials say they are duty-bound to fight the Hawai'i court decision because the case clouds the state's title to ceded lands, and that the position is the same as previous administrations.

Nonetheless, it has drawn the ire of Hawaiian organizations that run the gamut of Native Hawaiian interests. Wayne Kaho'onei Panoke of the 'Ilio'ulaokalani Coalition, which is organizing the march and rally, said representatives from the traditional Royal Order of Kamehameha I to independence groups such as Hui Pu are participating.

"This is one issue we can all agree upon that it's wrong," Panoke said.

Ceded lands are the 1.2 million acres once owned by the Hawaiian government and subsequently taken over by the United States as a result of the 1898 annexation.

State Attorney General Mark Bennett said any claims Hawaiians have to the lands should not be argued in a courtroom, but in negotiations among the state, the U.S. government and a Native Hawaiian governing entity. Hawaiians may have a moral claim to ceded lands but they do not have a legal one, he said.

Two new groups formed in recent months in response to the U.S. Supreme Court case. The Hawaiian Independence Alliance is an umbrella group for 10 organizations, while the Kupu'aina Coalition consists largely of University of Hawai'i law and other graduate students.

Law student Davis Price of the Kupu'aina Coalition said it's urgent for people to participate today because years of Native Hawaiian rights successes are at risk.

"It (the state's position) undermines much of the legal framework for the progress that has taken place up to this point," Price said. "It's a slap in the face to the people who have worked their whole lives to re-establish the culture and Hawaiians' place in Hawai'i."

State Sen. Clayton Hee, D-23rd (Kane'ohe, Kahuku), also pointed to recent legal setbacks such as the Rice v. Cayetano decision, which opened Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections to all Hawai'i voters, and the domino effect they could have on Native Hawaiian programs and causes.

"If Hawaiians don't show up (for the march), it is as strong a statement as if Hawaiians do show up," Hee said.

While some Native Hawaiian critics have accused the governor of turning her back on their concerns, Lingle this week said her actions are based on what's best for all Hawai'i residents.

"It's no secret that I have a deep love for the Hawaiian people and it's developed over several decades, but everything I did I believe was in the best interest of all the people of Hawai'i," she said. That includes her support of the Akaka bill creating a process for establishing a federally recognized Native Hawaiian entity and removing property tax on Hawaiian homestead lands, she said.

Lingle said her administration will proceed with its appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court "because it's our obligation to represent all the people of this state on this issue. This land is owned by all the people of this state." She noted that the lawsuit stems from former Gov. John Waihee's attempt to develop affordable housing for all Hawai'i residents on ceded lands in the early 1990s.

The march down Kalakaua Avenue starts at 10 a.m. at Saratoga Road and ends at Kapi'olani Park, where a rally will run through the late afternoon.

Happening separately this week at the park is the annual weeklong vigil protesting the overthrow. The vigil is being staged by the Reinstated Hawaiian Government.

The vigil has been held at the grounds of 'Iolani Palace in previous years.

Tomorrow, the independence group Living Nation will hold its own gathering commemorating the overthrow and its impacts. Group spokeswoman Lynette Cruz said added emphasis will be put on the impacts of statehood, adding there is a sense of urgency among Native Hawaiian groups in the face of the Supreme Court fight.

The gathering is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 'Iolani Palace grounds. Cruz said the group has a DLNR permit.

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