Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 5, 2003

Kamehameha settlement OK'd

By Vicki Viotti and Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writers

A federal judge's decision yesterday to approve a settlement allowing a non-Hawaiian to continue his education at Kamehameha Schools stoked the fires of the controversial case, with the debate this time centering on the issue of the Hawaiian adoption tradition known as hanai.


Kamehameha Schools acting CEO Colleen Wong tries to console Kaho'onei Panoke at the Prince Kuhio Federal Building. Panoke was upset by the settlement allowing Brayden Mohica-Cummings to attend Kamehameha Schools.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

.S. District Judge David Ezra ruled that the settlement is in the best interest of the plaintiff, 12-year-old Brayden Mohica-Cummings, and does not interfere with the public interest because the legal review of the schools' admission policy will continue through an appeal of a similar case.

However, although he acknowledged that the issue of the child's link to a Hawaiian family through hanai is not an issue in the case, Ezra delivered his opinion that "ancient Hawaiian law" would support the argument that the plaintiff's mother, Kalena Santos, is Hawaiian.

Under the settlement, Kamehameha will allow Mohica-Cummings to stay in school and the boy's family will drop its legal challenge to the school's Hawaiian-preference admissions policy. The settlement required Ezra's approval.

Sitting in the courtroom, Santos wiped away tears as Ezra spoke. She was adopted by a man of Hawaiian ancestry as his hanai child and, although the issue is not cited in the court case, Santos has said that was the basis for her son's school application.

It was a distinction Ezra did not take lightly. Quoting from a 1958 state Supreme Court decision that in turn invoked "kingdom law," Ezra cited two kinds of Hawaiian adoption, which he called a "sacred relationship": keiki hanai and keiki ho'okama. Both were in effect when the schools' benefactor, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop wrote the will that provides funding for the school, Ezra said.

"This was the law of the kingdom," he said, repeatedly tapping his bench with his finger. "This was the law of Hawai'i at the time Bernice Pauahi Bishop made her will. She was a brilliant woman. She understood the law."

School officials later declined comment on the hanai issue. Trustee Douglas Ing said the school appreciates Ezra's approval and can now "look forward to defending the policy" through an appeal of Judge Alan Kay's Nov. 17 decision to support Kamehameha in a case involving an unnamed non-Hawaiian boy who also is challenging the admission rule.

But others outside the courtroom were angered by Ezra's interpretation.

"How dare he?" asked Kaho'onei Panoke, vice president of the '?lio'ulaokalani Coalition. "It does not mean that the child inherits your bloodline. His incorrect definition is very, very disrespectful. ... It tells me that he (Ezra) did not live among Native Hawaiians and if he did, he did not learn well."

The group's president, Vicky Holt Takamine, added that Bishop herself was the hanai sister of Queen Lili'uokalani.

"Neither of them claimed the genealogy of the other," she said.

A teary-eyed Santos said outside the courtroom that Ezra's comments on her adoption "touched my heart." She also thanked Kamehameha for making her son feel welcome. As she left, however, protesters shouted angrily after her.

There seems to be room for disagreement about the question of Hawaiian adoption.

Pat Namaka Bacon, the Bishop Museum cultural specialist who is the hanai daughter of the late Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Pukui, said the term hanai means the adoption of an infant or very young child, whereas ho'okama refers to the adoption of an adult or older child no longer needing nurturing. The 83-year-old Bacon, who is of Japanese ancestry, is known as an expert in Hawaiian language.

Kamehameha's policy of preferring children Hawaiian by blood, not adoption, dates at least to Bacon's childhood. Pukui asked Kamehameha to admit her hanai daughter but was told Hawaiian ancestry was required.

"But she didn't carry a grudge," Bacon said. "She said, 'That's OK.'

"I was raised to be nonconfrontational. If they don't want you, you don't force yourself there. You won't find happiness in an environment that doesn't want you.

"I think that people want to break Pauahi's will," she added. "I think it's sad. We have a lot of Hawaiian children who need an education, and you can't let everyone in."

Although Bacon supports Kamehameha's position, she added that her mother disregarded unkind remarks from some about her hanai child and treated her as flesh-and-blood.

Kawaikapuokalani Hewett, a kumu hula and hanai father of three grown children, said he believes hanai relationship is equivalent to blood.

"If that Hawaiian family stands up and says, 'This is my hanai daughter,' that's the beginning and the end for me," Hewett said. "If Hawaiians are not honoring our traditions, then are we Hawaiians?"

Kekuni Blaisdell, a Hawaiian sovereignty activist and a Kamehameha graduate, has a biological daughter who also attended. However, he added that he did not seek admission for his Japanese-born hanai son because he is not of Hawaiian ancestry.

Blaisdell said Mohica-Cummings has no hanai claim — that distinction belonged only to his mother, he said — but should be allowed to remain out of fairness.

"The child was already accepted in school, and it would be harmful to take him out," he said.

He's a little disturbed by all the anger the issue has generated.

"I thought it was a very special case," Blaisdell said, "but I'm not going to march in the streets about it."

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8053. Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.