DHHL: DNA tests won't be required to prove ethnicity

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands said it won't require Hawaiians to take a DNA test to prove their ethnicity.

The clarification comes after the department proposed new rules to allow DNA testing, setting off concern among some homesteaders.

"There is this mistrust about how this information could be used. One homesteader told me could they use it to send out to other medical facilities," said Native Hawaiian attorney Lehua Kinilau.

"They're generally leery of the department's history."

Hokulei Lindsey, DHHL's administrative rules officer, said the misconception "has to do with whether it's a blood quantum test or an ethnicity test."

"But once there's an understanding that it's very narrowly drafted to be a parent-child testing then the reaction has been positive."

Camille Kalama is an attorney representing a man who did use DNA to apply.

She says people don't understand the testing can only be used to prove someone's parentage and not if they are Hawaiian or not.

"It is really a matter of proving who's the father. It's not about proving who their grandfather or their great-grandfather is," she said. "We would have real concerns if the department were to require the tests in order to establish that someone was eligible and if the department were to do the tests themselves."

The rule-making procedure was initiated after Kalama's client, Molokai resident Leighton Pang Kee, sued the DHHL to allow DNA testing.

Kee applied for a homestead lot in 2012 but was denied. His birth certificate only listed the name of his mother, who was 80 percent Hawaiian. That made him 40 percent Hawaiian, or below the 50 percent requirement to qualify for a homestead.

However, his father, who didn't marry his mother, was 100 percent Hawaiian, meaning Kee had over 90 percent Hawaiian blood. Kee was able to prove he met the blood quantum requirement by taking a DNA test but the DHHL wouldn't accept it because they didn't have any rules in place for the tests.

The lawsuit was eventually resolved, placing Kee on the homestead list and requiring the new DNA rules.

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