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March 2009

Hawai`i News


Heated Ceded Lands Case Argued Before Supreme Court

by NWHT Staff


A suit filed in 1994 by OHA and four other plaintiffs to prevent the state of Hawai`i from selling ceded lands was heard by the Supreme Court at the end of February.

In January 2008, the Hawai`i Supreme Court ruled unanimously that “the State of Hawai`i could not sell ceded lands until the unrelinquished claims of Native Hawaiians are resolved.” (see “Stop the Selling of Ceded Lands” by Derek Kauanoe in Northwest Hawai`i Times January 2009) But then the State filed a petition at the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes of having that ruling overturned, and on February 25, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court heard from attorneys on both sides.

Below is an account from OHA of the arguments before the Supreme Court in Washington DC:

WASHINGTON – Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs exited the U.S. Supreme Court today optimistic that the Justices will render a favorable ruling in an appeal brought by the State Administration over the sale and transfer of ceded lands.

  “We entered the courtroom embraced by the spirit of our ancestors, our ‘ohana and Hawai`i.  Kükulu kumuhana was alive and strong from Hawai`i, across the nation, and the world and we all felt it.  Mahalo to all”, said OHA Chairperson Haunani Apoliona said.

  OHA Chairperson Apoliona along with Trustees Rowena Akana, Colette Machado and Boyd Mossman sat in the courtroom during the hour-long oral arguments.

  “We now await the court’s decision,” Chair Apoliona said.

  Trustees also took the opportunity to thank the hundreds of people who gathered at the Hawaii State Capitol, Mauna‘ala and places across the continental U.S. as a show of solidarity in support of OHA’s position before the highest court in the United States.

  “Our support for the unanimous decision by the Hawai‘i Supreme Court on January. 31, 2008, remains strong because OHA agrees with Hawai‘i’s high court that ceded lands should not be sold or transferred to third parties until the unrelinquished claims of the Hawaiian people to those lands are resolved,” Apoliona said.  

The Trustees also expressed their appreciation to those who filed amicus briefs on behalf of the Respondents including Hawai‘i’s Congressional Delegation; and to the state Legislature, a co-equal branch of government, for their Monday passage of a concurrent resolution urging Gov. Linda Lingle to withdraw the appeal.  

“Correctly, the members of the state Senate and House of Representatives have taken the position that pursuit of the U.S. Supreme Court appeal by the state Administration is detrimental to the interests of all of the people of Hawai'i and to the ongoing reconciliation process between the State of Hawai`i, the Federal Government and the Native Hawaiian people,”  Apoliona said.


In Washington State, Native Americans gathered on February 22 nd at Daybreak Star Cultural Center in Seattle’s Discovery Park in support of the Hawaiians. Organized by Old Growth Alliance, the event focused on the Supreme Court hearing on ceded lands in support of “our Hawaiian brothers and sisters.”


The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case sometime in late spring.


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