US to transfer federal property for Hawaiian home lands

HONOLULU (AP) — The U.S. is giving Native Hawaiians surplus land as compensation for acres that were meant for homesteading but used instead by the federal government. The land transfer also attempts to help right wrongs against the Indigenous people of Hawaii, officials said Monday.

The 80 acres (32 hectares) in Ewa Beach formerly used for the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center will eventually provide up to 400 homes while helping fulfill terms of a settlement authorized by Congress in 1995 to compensate Native Hawaiians for 1,500 acres (607 hectares) that were set aside for homelands but subsequently acquired and used by the federal government for other purposes, officials said.

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s voice choked with emotion while making the announcement Monday.

“Yes, it’s a happy day, but it’s also a sad day because we remember the tragedy that befell the Native Hawaiians throughout their tumultuous history,” said Haaland, the first Native American woman to lead a U.S. Cabinet agency. “Since that time, our country has learned a great deal. And now we are in an era where we recognize the importance of healing the generational traumas that caused pain and heartache.”

The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 was meant to provide economic self-sufficiency to Hawaiians by allowing them to use land to live on. Those with at least 50% Hawaiian blood quantum can apply for a 99-year lease for $1 a year.

The transfer of land to Hawaii’s Department of Hawaiian Home Lands is a step in the right direction, but there’s a long way to go, said U.S. Rep. Kaialiʻi Kahele, noting that about 11,000 are waiting for residential homes on Oahu. Overall statewide, there are 28,788 on a waitlist for land, according to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

It’s exciting to see Haaland leading the department, said Kahele, who is Native Hawaiian.

“You hear the passion in her voice,” he said. “She understands the generational trauma that has been caused to Indigenous peoples in this country by the federal government over the last 100 to 200 years.”

The transfer “helps to right the wrongs of past policy,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves said.

There is no timeline yet for development of the properties.