This groundbreaking piece of legislation was born from harrowing events for the Hawaiian people. Pre-Western contact, an estimated 400,000 to over 800,000 people lived in the Hawaiian Islands. However, by 1840, the number of Native Hawaiians had declined by 84% due to disease and displacement by foreign settlers. In 1893, a U.S.-backed group of sugar and pineapple plantation owners deposed Queen Liliuokalani and lobbied the U.S. president for annexation of Hawaiʻi, which occurred in 1898. Leading up to, and following the U.S. overthrow, Hawaiians were forcibly removed from their land, and denied the right to practice their native culture, religion, or language.
To combat this dire situation, in 1920, Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole delivered an impassioned speech to Congress, in which he proclaimed: “The Hawaiian race is passing…and if conditions continue to exist as they do today, this splendid race of people, my people, will pass from the face of the earth.” In response, Congress passed the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, which set aside 200,000 acres of land across the islands for homesteading by native Hawaiians. Today, the homesteading program is managed by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which provides thousands of beneficiaries with 99-year homestead leases at $1 per year to live on, grow crops, or raise animals.
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An 80-acre plot of surplus federal land on the island of O’ahu will be offered to 200 to 400 Native Hawaiians at a rate of $1 per year for 99 years. They are part of a waitlist of 28,788 Native Hawaiians who await land promised to them by a 1920 law.
“Residential lots on Oʻahu are of the highest demand from applicants on the waiting list. This land transfer is an opportunity for beneficiaries that is truly in line with the spirit of the Hawaiian Home Lands Recovery Act,” William J. Aila, Jr., Chairman of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, said in the Department of the Interior’s announcement on June 14.
The 80-acre parcel of land in ‘Ewa Beach, Hawaii is part of a former Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, providing homesteads for up to 400 Native Hawaiian families, the Interior Department said.
The move is part of an effort to compensate Native Hawaiians for 1,500 acres of land that the government designated to become Native homelands but then used for other purposes, the Interior Department said. Under the 1920 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (HHCA), the 1,500 acres should have been distributed to people who are at least half Native Hawaiian.
Under the 1995 Hawaiian Home Lands Recovery Act (HHLRA), the government began transferring surplus federal land into the Hawaiian Homes Land Trust to pay back the value of the 1,500 acres it took. However, this process was slowed by federal laws that allowed the government to bypass the HHLRA and sell dozens of surplus properties to private groups, according to an investigation published last month by ProPublica and the Hawaiian Star-Advertiser.