HAWAII: U.S. Government Returns Land to Native Hawaiians

HONOLULU, Hawaii, June 16, 2021 (ENS) – U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to head a Cabinet agency, allowed her emotions to show Monday as she announced the transfer of 80 acres of surplus federal land to a trust for Native Hawaiians.

“The Native Hawaiian Community has waited more than 20 years for the federal government to address a $16.9 million credit owed by the United States to the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust,” Secretary Haaland said Monday.

“Today’s action is an important step in our commitment to resolving the Hawaiian Home Lands Recovery Act settlement,” she said. “We thank the Department of Commerce, General Services Administration, State of Hawaii, and Native Hawaiian Community members who provided their input during consultation on this transfer.”

The 80-acre parcel of surplus federal property at the former NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center on Oahu’s southern shore now will be included in the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust. The land can potentially provide homesteads for 200 to 400 Native Hawaiian families.

“We are pleased that Native Hawaiians will now have access to the 80 acres in Ewa Beach where the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center once resided,” said Deputy Secretary Don Graves. “With this overdue transfer, this parcel of land will soon be called home for hundreds of Native Hawaiians.”

Secretary of the Interior
Deb Haaland, 2021
(Photo courtesy Dept. of the Interior)

The transfer will help fulfill the terms of a settlement agreement authorized by Congress in 1995 to compensate Native Hawaiians for the lost use of 1,500 acres of land set aside as potential homelands but later acquired and used by the U.S. Government for other purposes.

In 1998, the Interior Department and the state of Hawaii identified a site for transfer under the Hawaiian Home Lands Recovery Act, HHLRA. In 2000, that site became unavailable, leaving a credit of $16.9 million owed to the Trust by the United States.

The U.S. General Services Administration notified the state of Hawaii of the availability of NOAA’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center site in 2020. The former Pacific Tsunami Warning Center land represents the best available property suitable for residential development offered to the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust by the United States under the HHLRA.

After an appraisal, environmental review, and consultation with the Native Hawaiian Community, the Interior Department notified the General Services Administration that the site is suitable and approved the conveyance to the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust to satisfy $10 million of the $16.9 million credit.

“Residential lots on Oahu are of the highest demand from applicants on the waiting list,” said William J. Aila, Jr., who chairs the Hawaiian Homes Commission. “This land transfer is an opportunity for beneficiaries that is truly in line with the spirit of the Hawaiian Home Lands Recovery Act.”

During the announcement Secretary Haaland shared her mixed emotions, “It’s a happy day, but it’s also a sad day because we remember the tragedies that befell the Native Hawaiians throughout a tumultuous history,” she said. “Since that time, our country has learned a great deal. And now we are in an era where we recognize the importance of healing the generational traumas that caused pain and heartache.”

Featured image: NOAA’s Richard H. Hagemeyer Pacific Tsunami Warning Center at Ewa Beach, Oahu is near the newly returned Hawaiian lands. (Photo courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA)

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