2 arrested, others rally outside Waiehu land at center of Native Hawaiian ownership debate
January 24, 2023, 4:34 PM HST
* Updated January 25, 12:43 PM
WAIEHU — Two people were charged with trespassing while others rallied holding signs Tuesday outside Waiehu land at the center of an ownership dispute between Native Hawaiians and nonprofit Maui Economic Opportunity Inc.
After MEO was declared the owner by a state court in September and notices to vacate were issued in November, the nonprofit said it was forced to use police assistance today as a last resort to clear the land. MEO is planning a 120-unit affordable rental project for the 11.5-acre parcel.
However, Native Hawaiians claiming the land is rightfully theirs said the land title issue is not resolved and displacement of kanaka is nothing short of colonial violence.
“This is every Native Hawaiian’s family story of colonization,” Kojo Pehuino said at the Waiehu site today.
“MEO is big; it’s a nonprofit,” said Laura “Lala” Johnson, who lives on the Waiehu parcel. “I’m not saying they haven’t done good to other people. Right now they are not doing good to kanaka by taking them off ʻāina.”
Terry Miller, another resident of the parcel, said the move is displacing five families of about 20 to 30 people.
“I feel sad that they can do this,” she said.
Vehicles, tents, plants and other items were hauled off the 11.5-acre property by security contracted by MEO. A sign telling people how to recover items no later than Feb. 24 was posted on entry gates this morning.
Pehuino family members for years have said the land was granted by Kamehameha I to their family and registered during the Great Mahele, creating an issue of title that needs to be addressed.
After MEO issued notices to vacate in 2021, Pehuino relatives Kahala Johnson and Laura “Lala” Johnson came forward with claims of ownership rights in the property.
Then, MEO sought court intervention.
The Second Circuit Court in September ruled that MEO has “possessory and title interest” in the property, court documents said.
MEO has a clear chain of title dating back to King Lunalilo, and thus has the right to exclude trespassers from the property to move this affordable housing project forward, the nonprofit said.
“The trespassers have been notified that they are on the wrong site – based on a Land Commission Award number, “3386,” which they have posted on signs at the site,” MEO said in a news release today.
Johnson family representative Noelani Ahia said in a news release that the land title issue is not resolved because land title issues are a civil matter in Hawai’i and a quiet title action is required to make a determination.
“Land removal is violence against native people as much today as it was 130 year ago. The ‘ohana has records and family mo’olelo that places them on this ‘āina for hundreds of years,” Ahia said. “The judge in their court case acknowledged their deep connection to this ‘āina and their ancestors role in protecting the iwi kūpuna (ancestral bones) buried in the pu’uone sand dunes. The ʻohana remains ‘onipa’a, steadfast, in their right to protect the bones of their ancestors and the ‘āina that they belong to.”
The Maui Police Department said two individuals were placed under citizen’s arrest by MEO’s security team and were later charged by MPD with trespassing. In a citizen’s arrest, the burden of proof to prove guilt in court is on the person making the arrest. Police accept the arrest if there is probable cause.
MEO said it reached out to a local shelter provider to assist any persons in need of relocation assistance as well as the Maui Humane Society to care for any animals left on the property. The belongings of trespassers will be held for 30 days and can be recovered by contacting MEO at 808-243-4316.
Laura “Lala” Johnson said families are planning to sleep outside the Waiehu parcel tonight.
“They’re doing affordable housing displacing Hawaiians,” she said. “So you taking our ʻāina, displacing our Hawaiians — to put us back on ʻāina? Is that what you are telling us? You taking Hawaiians off then you like put them back on? My na’au is sad.”