#197 in the Moʻolelo series, this is just a start – so much could be said about this topic, as two entire books have been published on the Kamehameha trustee scandal alone.

Beginning in 1999, a backlash to the Hawaiian sovereignty movement emerged, beginning with the Rice v. Cayetano case – a challenge to Hawaiian-only voting for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees. Going all the way to the US Supreme Court, the challenge from Hawaiʻi Island kamaʻāina rancher Freddy Rice succeeded in ending the practice of Hawaiian-only voting for OHA. (Today OHA candidates who feel they can gain votes from non-Hawaiians often remind voters in their campaign material that everyone can vote for OHA).

Efforts like Kanaʻiolowalu, the Hawaiian Roll Commission were in part meant to stem the tide of lawsuits against Hawaiian entitlements, but many disagreed with this approach.

These challenges came on the heels of the scandal involving the trustees of Kamehameha Schools, in which they were accused of mismanagement of trust assets and micromanagement of the Kapālama campus. All five trustees were eventually dismissed. Other challenges followed, including to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the Kamehameha Schools admissions policy, which gives preference to Native Hawaiian applicants “to the extent permitted by law.” The Doe v. Kamehameha Schools case garnered headlines and Kamehameha Schools settled the case, for an initially undisclosed amount, which was later revealed to be $7 million. This violation of the nondisclosure agreement was meant to stimulate more lawsuits from non-Hawaiian applicants. Kehau Watson summarized the Doe case, while it was still ongoing, and its implications for other minorities in a US civil rights framework:

The importance of Doe v. Kamehameha Schools is obvious to Hawaiians, yet this suit affects all minorities. For centuries, minority groups have suffered from educational discrimination. After the American Civil War, laws created to end slavery provided minorities a mechanism to sue schools with discriminatory policies. Ironically, White students bringing suits against affirmative action programs have been the most successful in using these laws. Doe falls in a series of suits attempting to dismantle educational programs redressing historical discrimination. In defending its preference to admit Hawaiian students, Kamehameha Schools has an opportunity to argue for a new legal standard: one where courts meaningfully consider the oppression of the group benefiting from the program and in turn place the burden on claimants to show membership within a historically oppressed class of people.

Trisha Kehaulani Watson, Civil Rights and Wrongs:Understanding Doe v. Kamehameha Schools, Hūlili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Wellbeing , 2006. (accessed at, Feb 25, 2021).

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