An appellate court in Hawaii just reversed the decision that granted Makila Land Co. ownership of lands in Kauaula Valley above Lahaina (See this article in the Maui News for more information). This is good news for both the Kapu ‘ohana (who claim rights to the land granted to their family with the Kuleana Act years ago), but also, to any Native Hawaiians claiming any lands. Though there is still a higher court to appeal to, at this stage, the decision indicates that Native Hawaiian families may be able to re-claim land through the courts.
In the bigger picture, courts are be becoming the most successful venue for the Native Hawaiian rights movement. Agencies (i.e. OHA) are a mess and are unreliable, or at the least, appear unreliable, which yields the same consequences with a lack us trust and an unwillingness to proceed through this venue. Furthermore, the actions in the legislative branch are idle (i.e. Akaka Bill). In the larger perspective of United States issues, the issue of Native Hawaiian rights is not urgent and there are hardly any incentives for legislatures to even look at the issue (as evidenced by Hawaii senators’ teaming up with other small state senators in a ‘you vote for my bill, I vote for yours’ type of agreement). With the same issues existing in the executive branch, we are left with the courts as the choice venue for political action.
Taking this into account, the recent decision against Makila Land Co. may hold more clout in the long run because it sets a precedence that future courts will be looking back to. The decision is not so much important for the dispute that it resolves (save for the Kapu ‘ohana) as it is for the policy that it establishes. This potentially begins a trend in Hawaiian law that can shift the balance from favoring land companies to a more sympathetic siding with Native Hawaiians.