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The Long Tentacles of American Colonialism

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I guess I am going to be imprisoned for crimes of Critical Race Theory for mentioning this, but it turns out that the crimes of colonialism and the Native dispossession that follows have long tentacles that continue to the present:

Kahikina, a Native Hawaiian, had been a member of the Hawaiian Homes Commission for eight years, from 2011 to 2019. The nine-person panel was charged with overseeing a federally created land trust that was designed to return Hawaiians to their ancestral lands. If you are at least half Hawaiian, it is your birthright to be able to get a 99-year homesteading lease for $1 annually.

Kahikina’s job wasn’t easy. The homesteading program has been plagued by problems — inadequate lands, inadequate funding, inadequate management — almost from its inception a century ago. Hawaiians have waited years and even decades to get a homestead and a chance to claim a piece of their native lands. There are 23,000 people on a statewide residential waitlist; thousands have died without getting a lease.

I have been reporting on the Hawaiian Homes program for more than a year now. The problems I have uncovered, along with my ProPublica partner Agnel Philip, have been disturbing. My latest story was no exception.

In 1995, the federal government promised to give the Hawaiian Homes trust priority when surplus federal lands in Hawaii became available. The government long ago had taken control of more than 1,400 acres of trust land without compensating Hawaiians. This practice mirrored what happened to a much larger extent in 1898, when the island chain was annexed by the United States and roughly 1.8 million acres of former Hawaiian kingdom land was taken with no compensation to its indigenous people.

By 1995, it was payback time: Congress passed what was called the Hawaiian Home Lands Recovery Act to make amends for the more recent taking. Three years after its passage, the federal government and the trust reached a landmark settlement, and nearly 1,000 acres were to be returned to Hawaiians.

But within a few years, one transfer fell through, and today, more than a quarter-century later, the U.S. government still owes millions of dollars of land to the trust.

And unbeknownst to Kahikina and many others, Congress was undermining its pledge of redress by passing at least half a dozen pieces of special legislation allowing land deals to go around the recovery act. Over the past decade, the federal government has authorized roughly 40 such sales to private parties without offering the land to the trust, a practice one Hawaiian who has been on the homesteading waitlist for nearly a decade called “a slap in the face.”

Why, it’s almost as if white domination over the land and people of color is something that whites don’t actually want to deal with!

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