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    Did the U.S. steal lands?

    (back to Essentials)

    One argument made by the activists is that lands were “stolen” or taken from the Hawaiian people “without compensation”.

    Facts: At the 1893 revolution, ownership of the public lands of the Kingdom of Hawaii went to the Provisional Government, then to the Republic of Hawaii and then the public lands were granted (“ceded”) to the U.S. upon annexation in 1898. Except for the parts of the lands “as may be used or occupied for the civil, military or naval purposes of the United States, or may be assigned for the use of the local government” the revenues and proceeds of the ceded lands were to be “used solely for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands for educational and other public purposes”. At that time, about 30% of the inhabitants of Hawaii were of Hawaiian ancestry and the remaining 70% were of other ancestry. When Hawaii became a State in 1959, the ownership of the ceded lands (except for those retained by the U.S. for military bases, national parks and similar public purposes) was transferred back to Hawaii’s government, the State of Hawaii.

    In 1848, some of these lands (the “government lands”) had been given to the kingdom’s government for all the subjects of the kingdom and some (the “crown lands”) had been reserved by the King as his own property.

    In 1865, the lands originally reserved by the King (i.e., the crown lands) were placed in the hands of a Commissioner of Crown Lands for the support of the King as head of the government. When the monarchy ended, they were retained by the government and used for other public purposes.

    None of those public lands were ever owned or controlled by individual Hawaiians except for the lands reserved by the King, and then only for a few years. Since 1865, they were all government lands dedicated to the needs of all the people of the islands. Although the government changed hands in 1893 and again in 1898 and again upon statehood in 1959, these lands remained and still are government lands dedicated to the needs of all the islands’ people.

    As to the privately held lands, no Hawaiian person lost a single square foot of land as a result of either the overthrow of the Kingdom, or the annexation of Hawaii to the United States. All private propery titles and rights were respected and recognized by the Provisional Government and Republic of Hawaii, as well as the United States. Indeed, the largest private landowner in Hawaii is still a trust created by a person of Hawaiian ancestry, Bernice Pauahi Bishop.

    We aren’t the first to reach this conclusion. The military did a careful and thorough study of the issue and published its findings in Section 6.6 of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for Land Use and Development at Bellows AFS, available at public libraries. BellowsAFS Intro. Letters to Steven Kubota and Anthony Sang in Appendix D of that FEIS provide detailed analysis of certain points. A more technical legal analysis appears in Patrick Hanefin’s article “Nothing Lost, Nothing Owed” in the 1982 Hawaii Bar Journal at page 87, available at the Hawaii Supreme Court Library, Ali’iolani Hale.