HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands is pursuing an amendment that would reduce the federally-required blood quantum for homestead successors. But officials stress the process is long and complicated.
The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 requires a person prove they're at least half Hawaiian to qualify for Hawaiian Home Lands. Successors must be at least a quarter Hawaiian in order to keep the homestead.
The act was made possible by Prince Kuhio Kalaniana'ole, who advocated for returning Native Hawaiian people to their land through a government-sponsored homesteading program. Officials say he intended for it to be open to all Hawaiians, but for it to pass through Congress he had to compromise, settling on a 50 percent blood quantum requirement for applicants.
"The 50 percent requirement, unfortunately, is an obligation of the program that came with this program," said Jobie Masagatani, DHHL director and chair of the Hawaiian Homes Commission. "I don't think anyone in our community would have sought it out."
There are a little more than 9,800 Native Hawaiians living on homesteads across the state and over 26,000 on the wait list.
The challenge with moving eligible Hawaiians off the list and into homes is a big one. Many people defer their award because they don't like the location being offered or they're not financially ready for a mortgage.
And DHHL officials say they're now facing another concern: Maintaining eligibility for future generations.
"Families marry into other races and the push to adjust the blood quantum, especially for successors, is a critical component of our program to keep the Homesteads in families," Masagatani said.
Acting upon a request from homesteaders, The Hawaiian Homes Commission is pursuing an amendment to reduce the blood quantum for successorship from one quarter to 1/32.
"It has to be approved by the state Legislature, signed by the governor and then it goes to the Department of Interior for review," Masagatani said. "They decide whether or not Congressional consent is required. First off, you have to have an administration that's understanding and supportive of our program and that varies depending on who is president. Then you need to get Congressional approval, which is essentially Congress passing something. It's increasingly more challenging, because the opposition to Hawaiian programs is so high and our delegation is still so junior,"
The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement supports the intent behind DHHL's effort, but is advocating for one substantial change.
"I would like to see us eliminate a quantum issue period. 1/32. 1/64. 1-anything," said Michelle Kauhane, council president and CEO.
Kauhane says future generations will face the same struggle if officials don't remove the blood quantum altogether.
"As long as the successor could change their genealogy to the original leasee who was certified, it should be able to be transferred in perpetuity. That to me would be an extraordinary change and a way to do it without creating divisiveness based on how much Hawaiian are you. We don't quantify ourselves in terms of blood quantum. A Hawaiian is a Hawaiian is a Hawaiian," Kauhane said.
Officials say there is widespread support for lowering successor requirements.
However, there is much less consensus about reducing the blood quantum needed to even apply for Hawaiian Home Lands, given the long waiting list.