Who Owns The Crown Lands of Hawaii

What are “Hawaiian Kingdom Crown Lands” (Crown Lands of Hawai`i) and who owns these lands?

Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawai’i? (VanDyke, Jon M. University of Hawai`i Press, 2008) is a well-researched book by some of the top legal experts in Hawai`i and succinctly answered this question: The Native Hawaiian People. In its Foreword Ellison S. Richardson, former Hawai`i Supreme Court Chief Justice (1966-82) states “This book should move this process forward because it explains with clarity and detail what has happened to the Crown Lands and why the Native Hawaiians still have a strong legal claim to all of these lands.” He further states “Once this (The Native Hawaiian Government) is re-established, negotiations will begin to return lands and resources to Hawaii’s native people in order to compensate them for the takings and subjugation that occurred.”

When the US and European powers invaded the Pacific Islands and overthrew its rulers and subjugated its native people largely during the first half of the 19th century King Kamehamea III agreed in 1846 (largely responding to the pressures of the foreigners) to transform Hawaiian lands from common ownership to private property. The 1848 land division, or Mahele, as it was called, divided the land among the mo`i (king), the ali`i (chiefs), and the maka`ainana (commoners). This was also done in the hopes of keeping the lands largely in Hawaiian hands even if a foreign power would invade, overthrow the Kingdom and lay claim to the lands. The king’s share of the common lands was further divided into Government and Crown Lands. While the Crown Lands were initially managed by the king himself, a 1864 court decision and statue the following year imposed the ruling that the Crown Lands could not be sold or bought by the king but should be managed as a unit by future monarchs who also derived their income from it. While government lands were created to provide for the general population, the Crown Lands further evolved into a resource not only to support the king but also the dwindling Native Hawaiian people decimated by the many “white man’s” diseases they came in contact with. So, the “Crown Lands” had and still have a special meaning for Native Hawaiian people.

However, only a small portion of the 1848 land division had gone to the maka`ainana (commoners). Queen Lili`uokalani, soon after ascending to the throne in 1891, therefore instructed to “Set aside choice sections of Crown Lands for homestead subdivision in 10 acre lots on a 30 years term for lease and cultivation: the first 5 years to be rent free, balance to be nominal yearly rent of $1.00 per acre” with the hope that these lands would go primarily to Native Hawaiians.

After the 1893 illegal overthrow the subsequently illegally constituted “Republic of Hawaii”, waiting for annexation to the USA, joined government and Crown Lands in 1895. This deprived the queen of any source of income and the Hawaiian people to the link to their lands and their independence. However, the Crown Lands were not government lands and had evolved into a resource to support the Hawaiian Kings and Queens who defended the Native Hawaiian culture and spirit. They were a collective resource to also support the common Hawaiians. Nevertheless, the “Republic of Hawaii”, during its four year of existence propped up by supporters in the US Congress, ruled in favor of white landlords over commoners, extending the racial policies already implemented during its 1887 “Bayonet Revolution.”

An 1896 Census stated “that 57% of all the taxable land was controlled by persons of European or American ancestry “who had taken over most of Hawai’i’s land…manipulated the economy for their own profit.”

Nevertheless, the 1898 Joint Resolution by the US Congress pertaining to its illegal annexation of the Kingdom of Hawaii recognized the special conditions of Hawaiian lands and required that revenues from Hawaii’s Public Lands be put into a separate fund for the inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands for educational and other purposes. These provisions recognized the unique legal status of the Hawaiian lands, the special right of the Native Hawaiian People to these lands and their revenues, and the continuing obligations of the United States toward Native Hawaiians which have also been acknowledged by Congress in the 1900 Organic Act (Van Dyke p. 213).
With the strong support of Territorial Senator John Wise and “Territory of Hawaii” delegate Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana`ole, Congress in 1921 enacted the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (HHCA), setting aside 203,500 acres which had been part of Crown and Government Land. Its purpose was largely to reverse the dying of the Native Hawaiian race by providing independent livelihood as its population was continuing to decline. It was finally acknowledged/admitted that the Hawaiians had a continuing legal claim to a share of the public lands/Crown Lands because the maka`ainana (common people) did not receive a fair share (only 0.8% or about 28,600 acres) of the public lands during the 1848 Mahele (land division), as most of their land went unclaimed and reverted back to the crown. Senator Wise specifically stated that the Crown Lands were largely still available to the Hawaiians because they were being held in long-term leases.

However, sadly, when the bill came for passage in 1921, the Republicans who controlled the Hawaiian Territorial Legislature and also tightly controlled the US Congress as well as the Presidency, caused the bill largely to unravel because of special interests. The sugar industry strongly opposed the bill as they desired to retain virtually all arable land. Former Chief Justice Alexander Harrison of the Territory of Hawaii (1911-17), now speaking as attorney for the Parker Ranch, had also tried his best to have the bill scuttled by stating ”I believe it is un-American and unconstitutional… there are hundreds of white men out there who feel they are absolutely against it.” The Hawaiian blood quantum for eligibility to receiving homestead land was subsequently raised from the proposed 1/32 to ½ of Hawaiian blood in order to greatly reduce the number of eligible people. The success of Hawaii’s sugar industry to also keep almost all of the agriculturally productive land out of the Home Lands Program basically defeated its purpose. Most land available for livelihood homesteading was therefore “in remote locations, on dry, leeward sides of the islands characterized by poor soil and rough terrain with almost all of the land also lacking water for irrigation or domestic use.” Such land was denounced as “lands that even a goat couldn’t live on.” While Hawaiian leaders made the best of the “bones thrown at them” and tried to make the initial five year trial period a success it was not very meaningful when the Congress in 1926 expanded it on a permanent basis to 203,500 acres of largely unproductive land.

However, overall, the 1921 Home Lands Program was an important milestone because the US government accepted its trust responsibility and acknowledged that the Crown Lands were lands held by the Hawaiian Monarchs in trust for the Native Hawaiian People and that the Native Hawaiians have a legal claim for the return of these lands.

All three branches of the US government have acknowledged over time that the Hawaiian Kingdom was illegally overthrown in 1893 with the support of the US military and politicians in, what could be considered a conspiracy and violations of international law. Hawai`i was then illegally annexed by the USA in1898 through the Newlands Resolution in response to the US’s war against Spain and the desire to fulfil its call of “Divine Destiny” which required Pearl Harbor as their own to be victorious throughout the Pacific.

Hawaiian Kingdom Crown Lands: Island of O`ahu

The Thomas Jefferson School in Waikiki is located on
Crown Lands of Hawai`i

When the Crown Lands of Hawaii were confiscated in 1893 by the illegally instituted “Republic of Hawaii” after the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, most of these Crown Lands were still held in long-term leases. Their confiscation robbed the queen and her Hawaiian supporters of any income to fight such injustices in court while the continuation of the leases provided income to the “Republic of Hawaii” for its illegal activities and racial prejudices. The “Republic of Hawaii’s” new voting requirements were even more onerous than what its supporters had pushed onto the Kingdom of Hawaii with the 1887 Bayonet Revolution and insured that the new republic would be controlled by property-owning and income-generating white businessmen until the takeover by the USA.

The Hawaiian Kingdom Crown Land on which the extensive Thomas Jefferson Elementary School site is located was part of the 171 acres Crown Land whose lease(s) expired in September 1919. Specifically, it was located in the Ili o Wakikiki Ahupua`a of the Kona District of Oahu. Most of this land was situated in Kapiolani Park which was considered very valuable. A portion of it was also rice land.

On March 10, 1931, Governor Lawrence M. Judd of the “Territory of Hawaii”, citing paragraph q of Section 73 of the Hawaiian Organic Act of 1900, by Executive Order No. 468 “hereby set aside for public purposes, to be under the control and management of the Department of Public Instructions,” a section of Kaneola Crown land. The Thomas Jefferson Elementary School was founded on this site in 1933. On October 21, 1941 further portions of the Kaneloa tract were used for school expansion. The Thomas Jefferson Elementary school site was further expanded in 1973 and 1974 on the Kaneloa Crown land.

The 10,673-acre Thomas Jefferson Elementary school site, controlled by the Department of Education, was assessed in 2016 as $127,852,000 and listed as residential property.

Whatever the monetary value the Department of Education and the State may have put on the property in an attempt to again swap out the school site for perhaps high rise construction in the not too distant future and preempt claims by Native Hawaiians, it must be remembered that a “clouded title” may hover over the site itself. It has been reported that the Jefferson School site was originally part of Kapiolani Park but was traded in about 1905 for a section of beach frontage to increase Kapiolani Park in this direction. If so, what was/is the legal basis for this?