Susan K. Serrano

Welcome to the first issue of Ka He‘e! Ka He‘e is an integral part of the Center’s effort to increase knowledge and understanding of the unique aspects of Native Hawaiian law. As part of my position as Director of Educational Development, I work with students and recent graduates to facilitate and support the Center’s research, scholarly writing, and discourse on laws and policies affecting Hawaiians. We seek to provide a vehicle for academics, students, attorneys, advocates and community members to work creatively together to develop coordinated and carefully thought out research on and approaches to Native Hawaiian law.

Why are these new research initiatives and approaches important for Native Hawaiian law? There are many reasons, but I’ll focus primarily on one.

For nearly three decades, a highly-coordinated and sophisticated network of groups and individuals has carefully—and sometimes quietly—moved a national, long-range agenda. Over time, think tanks, scholars, advocacy groups and media experts in this network have strategically used the language of “civil rights” to dismantle hard-earned gains by women, people of color, immigrants, workers, lesbians and gays and others. This has not been a series of isolated incidences, but a well-planned and orchestrated effort.

That far-reaching network now extends into Native Hawaiian rights issues here in Hawai‘i. Many of the same groups and individuals involved in the national dismantling of civil rights have imported similar rhetoric to twist Hawaiian history and Hawaiian claims to self-determination.

In particular, national think tanks and scholars have laid the rhetorical foundation for some of the legal challenges to Hawaiian rights by using concepts like “racial preferences” and “reverse discrimination” to characterize Hawaiian programs, as in Rice v. Cayetano. They have invoked images of Southern segregationists standing in the schoolhouse door to describe Kamehameha Schools. The Rice and Doe v. Kamehameha Schools cases are therefore not simply about a white rancher who wants to vote for Hawaiian affairs or a student who wants to go to a school for Hawaiian children. Instead, they are also part of a larger, coordinated national campaign involving politics, law, media and money.

What have been the results of these concerted efforts in recent years? The United States Supreme Court struck down under the 15th Amendment a state constitutional provision that provided a Hawaiian-only voting limitation in elections for Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated a state constitutional provision that required candidates for the OHA Board of Trustees to be Hawaiian. Individuals have attempted to dismantle Kamehameha Schools’ admissions policy using a Reconstruction Era civil rights statute. Others have challenged the constitutionality of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, and Hawaiian state statutory and constitutional traditional and customary rights.

In this present-day context, the Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law works to critically examine the law’s understanding of Native Hawaiian history, identity, and current programs. Individuals at the Center have engaged in legal research and scholarship on issues such as Native Hawaiian land reclamation, environmental justice, human rights and international law, the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, and Native Hawaiian access to non-profit resources and capacity building. Some of the recent articles by Center staff include the following:

Natural Resources and Environment: The Center’s Director, Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie and the Director of Educational Development, Susan K. Serrano, along with recent law graduate Koa Kaulukukui, co-authored a short article: A New Kind of Environmental Justice: Indigenous Hawaiians Reclaiming Land and Resources, that will appear in an upcoming issue of NATURAL RESOURCES & ENVIRONMENT.

Asian-Pacific Law & Policy Journal: The Center’s Director, Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie, recently published an article in the Asian-Pacific Law & Policy Journal, Native Hawaiians and the Law: Struggling with the He‘e, 7 ASIAN-PAC. L. & POL’Y J. 7 (2006).

Hawai‘i Bar Journal: The Center’s Director co-authored an article with Professor Jon Van Dyke in the July 2006 HAWAI‘I BAR JOURNAL titled An Introduction to the Rights of the Native Hawaiian People, 10-JUL HAW. B.J. 63 (2006).

Human Rights Magazine: The Center’s Director has written an article, Ever Loyal to the Land: The Story of the Native Hawaiian People, 33-SPG HUM. RTS. 15 (2006).

There are many other significant and urgent issues facing Native peoples in Hawai‘i, the continental U.S., and around the globe. Through the powerful tools of research and scholarship, the Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law seeks to encourage awareness of those issues, provide new insights for those interested and engaged in Native Hawaiian law, and contribute to the base of knowledge on indigenous peoples—locally and worldwide.