'It was in our best interest to settle'
|||Money buys time for Kamehameha Schools|
|Video: Kamehameha Schools leader speaks to students|
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
With one legal battle over, many Hawaiian groups and individuals say their next focus should be defeating other challenges threatening programs that benefit Hawaiians.
"I'm telling you we still have to fight because while our challenge might be over right now, there are all kinds of challenges before us as a native people," Dee Jay Mailer, Kamehameha Schools chief executive officer, told students at the Kapalama campus. The speech was videotaped by the school and a copy given to the media.
But first it was time to celebrate at the Kekuhaupi'o Gym with songs of joy and thanks during an emotional assembly.
Jared Ushiroda, a Kamehameha graduate whose son is in kindergarten there, had a "big sigh of relief" when he learned about the settlement.
"The school was founded to help out the Hawaiian kids, and it's going to stay that way for now," he said.
Kamehameha board chairman J. Douglas Ing said that while school officials felt the Hawaiians-first admissions policy was correct and legal, they had no assurances the U.S. Supreme Court would have agreed if it had chosen to hear the case.
"It was in our best interest to settle," Ing said. "We didn't think that there was a strong possibility but that risk is always out there. We went into this case with the idea that we're going to take this case as far as it can go and we're going to win. But there are no guarantees and there certainly were no guarantees from our lawyers that we would win the case."
The settlement does not bar others from challenging the admissions policy. However, Ing said, "They would have to go initiate the case before the United States District Court here in Hawai'i, and from there they would have to take it to the 9th Circuit and the law is in our favor there at the 9th Circuit."
All of that, he said, makes a "very strong disincentive."
Attorney Bill Meheula, who has been helping defend the Office of Hawaiian Affairs against legal challenges, said it made good sense for Kamehameha to settle.
"Given the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court at this time, it is unknown what the result may have been although based on case precedent, it should be that Congress has authority (over the admissions policy)," he said.
Moses Haia, an attorney with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., agreed. "That's a chance, a huge chance, that if the Supreme Court took it, the decision may have required some significant changes to the admissions policy," he said.
Even Richard Rowland, who heads the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii — which has opposed the federal Native Hawaiian Recognition Bill, also known as the Akaka bill, and Hawaiian-preference programs — believes it will be a hard climb for the next student or group who challenges Kamehameha.
But he also believes that there will be no shortage of opponents ready to step up to the plate.
"There's still an open invitation for people who have their kids apply and then turned down, to sue," Rowland said. "I think it's probable that people will be standing in line looking for a way to sue Kamehameha Schools."
Mailer, in addressing the students yesterday, said the end of the lawsuit is important not only to the school and its community, but to federal programs aimed at helping Hawaiians.
"We cannot ignore the treacherous landscape before us," she said. "We have all seen the systematic attempts to take Hawaiian Homelands, dismantle the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, to eliminate federal funding for programs that serve to improve the well-being of Native Hawaiians, as the indigenous people of this state, to manage and control our own resources."
The settlement allows Kamehameha supporters to refocus their energies at "the bigger picture of unity among all other Hawaiian organizations and maybe all the legal challenges they're going to be facing as a whole in the future," said Adrian Kamali'i, president of Na Pua A Ke Ali'i Pauahi.
Kamali'i, a Kamehameha graduate, said he's not looking at any particular political or cultural issues. "I think all the different Hawaiian organizations know that legal challenges are a part of the future," he said. "How do they address that together?"
Many said they now believe Hawaiians should concentrate on supporting the Akaka bill.
"What I'm concerned about is that the Congress recognize the Hawaiian people as an indigenous people or as Native Americans," said Roy Benham, a former teacher and OHA trustee. "Everybody else does."
Formal recognition would help Hawaiians prevail in future lawsuits, said Clyde Namu'o, OHA administrator. "The need to pursue the Akaka bill becomes even more significant because we know there are going to be other challenges that may be trying to get past the 9th Circuit decision," he said.
Members of Hawai'i's Congressional delegation and top state officials — all of whom support Kamehameha's admissions policy — applauded the settlement.
"I hope that Kamehameha Schools will now be able to carry forward its special mission and fulfill the dreams of Princess Pauahi," U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye said.
Gov. Linda Lingle, in showing her support, said in a release, "I believe Kamehameha Schools is perhaps the most important institution for preserving Hawaiian culture for future generations."
Hawai'i's Congressional delegation had filed an amicus brief in support of Kamehameha Schools that urged the Supreme Court not to review a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the case, thereby upholding the admissions policy and "restating our position that Native Hawaiians are indigenous peoples, as are Alaska Natives and American Indians," said U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono.
The settlement allows Kamehameha Schools to focus on providing education for Native Hawaiian children, she said.
Hirono said Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, author of the Native Hawaiian Recognition Bill, said he will continue to push the legislation through Congress.
"I am pleased that both parties have resolved their differences. But the matter of federal recognition for Native Hawaiians remains unresolved," Akaka said in a news release. "I remain committed to working with my colleagues in Congress to enact legislation formalizing the existing legal and political relationship that Native Hawaiians have with the United States."
'NOTHING BUT POSITIVE'
The political implications and legal ramifications of the Kamehameha Schools settlement were "nothing but positive" for the Native Hawaiian bill, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie said.
On the Kapalama campus, sophomore Wiliama Sanchez said students erupted in cheers when principal Julian Ako announced the news via campus TV yesterday morning.
"It was just like a giant weight was lifted for everyone, and everyone was just excited and ecstatic," said Sanchez, whose great-grandfather, grandmother and uncle attended Kamehameha.
"There were cheers everywhere," he said. "Everyone was yelling. We were just relieved and happy about the news. ... It was so hard to do the rest of the day because we were so excited."
Parents also said they were relieved to hear the lawsuit had been settled.
"Hawaiians have been stripped of so much that they should be able to have something of their own, a school where they can learn," said Mahele Nitahara, a Kamehameha alumnus whose daughter attends the third grade at the school.
"The people who are challenging it, I don't know why they do it," said Nitahara, also a part-time teacher. "I don't understand because if they really wanted to go to Kamehameha they would see the values that are instilled in the children there. They wouldn't challenge it if they had any respect for the things that are taught."
Jen Puaoi, who also graduated from Kamehameha and has a first-grade daughter at the school, said she was "overjoyed."
"It was a battle that they were fighting for a long time," the 26-year-old payroll clerk from Pearl City said. "If others were allowed to attend, then they wouldn't be able to help as many Hawaiians as they are helping now."
Jeff Domdoma, Puaoi's cousin, is not Hawaiian but was happy to hear about the dismissal.
"It's a local lifestyle — everybody born and raised in Hawai'i knows that only Hawaiian and part-Hawaiian kids go to Kamehameha," he said. "It's from the will. We should just leave it alone."Advertiser reporters Lynda Arakawa and Dennis Camire contributed to this story.
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at firstname.lastname@example.org.