After decades of “negotiations,” OHA and the State have reached an agreement over the revenue from the so-called “Ceded lands.” (See my article from the Hawaiʻi Independent: Making Sense of the Ceded Lands: An Historical Assessment for an overview of these lands). There are a couple of ways to look at this settlement – one “inside” and one “outside.” Jon Osorio alluded to this in his article anticipating the settlement. An inside view looks at it from the perspective of OHA and other state insiders. From this perspective, the settlement has potential. The $200 million value of the lands may underestimate the potential value of these lands, as they are downtown and waterfront. It settles a long-standing claim for Hawaiians without affecting future claims, either to further revenue or to sovereignty itself (this is Abercrombie in his liberal mode – an article in a Big Issand newspaper questions which Abercrombie weʻre seeing at different moments). $200 million increases OHAs net worth by approximately 50% (a little more actually). Itʻs been said that OHA is now being forced into the role of land manager, but that began years ago with the acquisitions of Waimea Valley and Waokeleopuna on Hawaiʻi Island, a fact that seems to have been left out of the discourse surrounding this settlement. In my view, OHA, as the de facto (if not de jure) Hawaiian government should have land as a primary asset – after all, to be Hawaiian is to be of this land. While more radical Hawaiians make very valid arguments as to OHAʻs authority, and the fact that this is a transfer, basically, from the state to itself, the mainstream Hawaiians are moving ahead. In their view these are real gains for Hawaiians.
However, there is another view, which Iʻm calling “outside” only in the sense that most of those who hold them are outside of the corridors of power. In this view, OHAʻs legitimacy is undermined not just by the illegality of the overthrow itself, but of the US governmentʻs own recognition of this illegality. Some point out that the lands granted are, first of all, backfill. They are not a part of the original island of Oʻahu. One not-too-radical group called it “a dump.” Even Richard Fassler noted the environmental problems with the site, the costs of cleanup, and how the state is likely glad to be rid of it.
The bigger issue for outsiders is the giving up of the claim itself. Claims are always a tricky matter. In New Zealand, for instance, the question has arisen as to whether the settlement of claims ever actually satisfies the claim. Many Maori say claims are never fully satisfied. And that may be the case here – certainly it is the case for future claims, but considering that Hawaiʻi Courts already awarded OHA billions in revenue (which was never paid), it is hard to argue that $200 million settles it. It is, as with many such things, not least the Akaka Bill, better than nothing. And nothing is what Hawaiians have had for decades (under the Democrats, it should be noted) – nothing but a claim.