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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 21, 2002

Hawaiians' concerns go beyond school issues

 •  Q&A: Princess' will stipulates preferences
 •  The trustees
Should Kamehameha Schools admit non-Hawaiians? Join our discussion

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

The decision to admit a non-Hawaiian to the Maui campus of Kamehameha Schools has become a rallying point for complex issues in the Native Hawaiian community ranging from sovereignty to entitlements.

Installation of roof tiles has been among projects ongoing this month at the Kamehameha Schools campus in Pukalani, Maui. The Maui campus became a center of controversy when Kamehameha Schools, breaking tradition, admitted a non-Hawaiian boy into the eighth grade there.

Maui News via Associated Press

While petitions circulate in the state and alumni debate the intricacies of the Kamehameha admissions policy or the odds of getting accepted to the elite school system, many say that the controversial Maui decision goes to the heart of a Native Hawaiian community at risk and under attack.

"Kamehameha is the vehicle Hawaiian people have to rise socially, politically and economically," said Pohai Ryan, a 1980 graduate. "This is not just about a child getting into Kamehameha Schools."

Many Hawaiians have denounced the admission of a non-Hawaiian eighth-grade boy, which marks the first time since the 1960s — when children of faculty members were allowed to attend — that non-Hawaiians have been accepted. Kamehameha Schools is a $6 billion trust founded by the estate of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, great-granddaughter of King Kamehameha I.

Public emotion and concern over Native Hawaiian issues last reached fever pitch after the 1999 Supreme Court decision in Rice v. Cayetano, which gave non-Hawaiians the right to vote in elections for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

The issues at work are complex both legally and politically.

They range from Kamehameha Schools itself — the number of Hawaiian students served, the threats to its tax-exempt status and admissions preference — to larger problems of how the community should deal with the erosion of state and federal programs for Hawaiians.

And with such a range of issues on the table, there appears to be no consensus about just what should be done to protect Native Hawaiian programs and agencies.

Other entitlement areas

"Kamehameha is the vehicle Hawaiian people have to rise socially, politically and economically. This is not just about a child getting into Kamehameha Schools," said Pohai Ryan, a 1980 graduate.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Many believe the Kamehameha Schools decision represents a slippery slope that could go beyond opening up the door for future legal challenges to its admissions policy, and could mean lawsuits that threaten entitlement programs or similar trusts such as the Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center.

"This thing did not happen in a vacuum," said Richard "Dickie" Wong, a former Kamehameha Schools trustee.

There were reminders of lingering legal issues at a forum Thursday night to discuss the Kamehameha Schools decision.

Patrick Barrett — the California native who has sought to invalidate a 1978 amendment that created OHA, adopted the federal Hawaiian Home Lands program and provided for native gathering rights on private property — quietly attended the forum at the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.

While a federal judge tossed out Barrett's lawsuit on a technicality, the legal merits it raised have yet to be tested.

"(The Kamehameha Schools decision) is one small part of everything that is going on," said Mehanaokala Hind, who said she was outraged that Barrett would attend the forum. "We need to look at things in a broader scope."

Wide-ranging issues

"I think what's killing us is we don't have enough information," said Adrian Kamali'i, a 2000 graduate.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Legal threats to Native Hawaiian programs have increased in the last few years.

The 1999 Rice decision came as a surprise to many in the state. OHA had been created in 1978 for the betterment of Native Hawaiians by using revenues from ceded lands — 1.8 million acres taken by the U.S. government after annexation. Now, a non-Hawaiian sits on the OHA board for the first time.

In another blow to OHA last year, the Hawai'i Supreme Court overturned a 1996 ruling that could have forced the state to pay the agency hundreds of millions of dollars for the use of ceded lands once controlled by the Hawaiian kingdom.

In Washington, D.C., a Native Hawaiian recognition bill has been stalled for more than a year. The bill would allow the creation of a Native Hawaiian government similar to those of American Indian tribes, and many advocates hope it would help protect Native Hawaiian entitlements.

Kamehameha Schools had been seen by many as the one thing Hawaiians could be secure in calling their own.

"The Hawaiian community looks to Kamehameha not only for its educational mission, but because it's the last vestige of Hawai'i, and for the opportunities the Bishop Estate and Kamehameha Schools can provide for the survival of our Hawaiians," said Oswald Stender, the former Kamehameha Schools trustee who was pivotal in the ouster of fellow trustees on a board that came under attack for mismanagement of the powerful estate.

The five new Kamehameha Schools trustees who replaced them will only allude to larger legal issues that may threaten the tax-exempt status of the trust and the Hawaiian preference policy.

"There is a boundary, there is an edge to which we can talk," trustee Nainoa Thompson told school alumni last week. "If I say anything further it would put the institution at greater legal risk."

Rise in legal challenges

The trust faced three legal challenges between 1971 and 1995, and since 1995 has faced an additional 11 legal challenges. Thompson said a 1992 audit by Arthur Andersen showed that if the estate were to lose its tax-exempt status, it would cost $1 billion in back taxes and cause the estate to lose 42 percent of its earnings each year to federal taxes.

The Supreme Court held in a 1983 case, Bob Jones University v. United States, that if a school's admissions rules violated a national public policy against racial discrimination, the IRS could revoke the school's tax-exempt status.

Trustees have relinquished several federally supported programs to avoid challenges to the Hawaiian preference policy. They gave up federal money for the free and reduced-price lunch program, scholarships, college counseling sessions and a drug awareness program. Earlier this year students and alumni were astonished when the trustees withdrew the school from the JROTC program, a mainstay requirement for boys there.

'Draw the line now or ... '

Lilikala Kame'elehiwa, director of the UH Center for Hawaiian Studies and a member of Kamehameha Schools CEO's advisory board, said the admission of a non-Hawaiian to Kamehameha Schools cannot stand.

"Either you draw the line now or you have hundreds more coming," Kame'elehiwa said.

Others in the community, however, say the Maui decision is isolated.

Toni Lee, president of the alumni association and a member of the CEO's advisory board, said the admissions policy is constitutionally solid and has been held up by the IRS on previous occasions. People who want the trustees to go against their own policy to reject the non-Hawaiian student now aren't paying attention to history, she said.

"The old trustees didn't follow policy," Lee said. "We're going to ask this group to do the same? I don't think so. Yes, communication was lousy. They're caught between a rock and a hard place. It's a wake-up call."

Many Hawaiians simply want to start with getting more answers to questions they have about how the Maui decision came about and why the admissions procedures were apparently different from those regarding students on O'ahu or the Big Island.

"I think what's killing us is we don't have enough information," said Adrian Kamali'i, a 2000 Kamehameha Schools graduate.

Trustees have promised a six-month series of community meetings on the admissions policies.

But as they stand by their decision, many say they will have to come up with a strategy to prevent a repeat and stem the tide of legal challenges.

"Yes, we have aloha," said Manu Kaiama, director of the Native Hawaiian Leadership Project. "We also know how to fight."

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.