HAWAII STATE CAPITOL (KHNL) - A bill that calls for a moratorium on the sale and transfer of ceded lands was introduced at the state Capitol Wednesday morning. It's the focus of a heated debate between native Hawaiian groups and the state.
Members of native Hawaiian groups packed a room at the Capitol to listen to the Legislative Hawaiian Caucus talk about rights for their people. There are many issues they're tackling this session, but the question of ceded lands is at the top of their list.
"At the heart of the culture is the 'aina, at the heart of any native indigenous people, is its relationship with the land," said Sen. Clayton Hee, D-Kahuku, Laie, Kaaawa. "And we are talking about the disenfranchisement of native Hawaiians and the 'aina."
"We have so much to risk and right now if we don't do this moratorium and send that strong message to the governor, we could lose a lot of our programs," said Rep. Mele Carroll, D-House Hawaiian Affairs Committee Chair.
Gov. Linda Lingle, R-Hawaii, believes the lands in question came from the federal government with a clear title.
"And bill that says there's going to be some restriction on whether or not you can sell and what kind of majority you need and so on, implies that they belong to the state," said Lingle during a press conference Monday. "It gives the state legislature the authority to make these proposals or to carry them out, and in that sense they're supporting our position that these lands did come to us from the federal government with clear title. If they didn't have clear title, they wouldn't be in the position to comment on them now."
But native Hawaiian groups say ceded lands should be protected for their people.
"No one is concerned but we are very concerned with the disposition of our people and children from their land," said Mililani Trask, a native Hawaiian leader from Hilo. "Time has come now for us to organize and move as Martin Luther King and Gandhi have."
Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court is getting ready to examine the Hawaii Supreme Court's decision preventing the state from selling or transferring ceded lands until native Hawaiian claims are settled. Lingle believes the highest court in the land will side with her.
"The brief that was filed at the United States Supreme Court to answer a very narrow question: whether or not federal lands, the lands they gave to us at statehood, whether we received clear title or not. That is the only issue before the United States Supreme Court," said Lingle. "Gov. Waihee believed we got clear title. Gov. Kayatano believed we got clear title," said Lingle. "And we believe it as well."
Members of the Legislative Hawaiian Caucus hope to get support from their colleagues to push this bill through.
"It's probably the most important bill that affects native people this year in the session," said Hee, who is also the chair of the Hawaiian Affairs Committee. "It's as important as any other bill I can recall since first coming to the legislature in 1983."
The Legislative Hawaiian Caucus hopes to pass other native Hawaiian-related bills, ranging from taro to Hawaiian language.