Why the Hawaiian Homestead Act is Important for Hawaiians 100 Years Later

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By Quentin Choy

July 9, 2021

Today marks the 100th anniversary of President Warren Harding signing the Hawaiian Homestead Act of 1921 into law.

Prince Kuhio Kalaniana’ole served as a delegate for the territory of Hawai’i in the U.S. House of Representatives following the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893 by American troops and powerful sugar merchants.

In the House of Representatives, Prince Kuhio’s proposed act aimed “to set aside roughly 200,000 acres across the Hawaiian Islands for 99-year leases to claimants at least 21 years old with 50 percent or more Hawaiian blood.”

Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole.

The act passed through the House and Senate and was signed by President Harding in 1921, allowing Hawaiians who had lost land to return to an agricultural lifestyle on their native lands.

However, these lands were some of the poorest lands throughout the islands as the prime pieces of land belonged to sugar barons and to the American military.

The Hawaiian Homestead Act brought Hawaiians closer to freeing themselves from being second-class citizens in their native lands. My former political science teacher runs a blog on Hawaiian history and culture which I highly advise you check out here: A Brief History of Hawaiian Homelands.”

Prince Kuhio served as the only person in the House of Representatives who was born to royalty. Today, he and his legacy are still revered by Hawaiians for helping them through one of their most difficult moments as a people.

Today, over 20,000 Hawaiians are on the waitlist for access to a plot of Hawaiian homestead where they can pay “leases at $1 per year for residential, agricultural, or pastoral purposes.”

Several members of my family live on Hawaiian homelands, and the financial obligation of mortgages or rent are relieved with the $1 a year lease.

This allows native Hawaiians to climb the social mobility ladder and to acquire wealth. They can then save money, invest in their families, and start businesses that can benefit local communities.

One issue that native Hawaiians face regarding the Hawaiian Homestead Act is the requirement for eligible applicants to have at least 50 percent native Hawaiian blood.

Currently, few people in Hawai’i have this much native Hawaiian blood. This is a result of interracial mixing and multiculturalism leading to many people across Hawai’i being of mixed races.

Due to this hard to meet standard, many Hawaiians want the blood percentage requirement to be lowered, allowing more Hawaiians access to these lands.

An issue of insufficient land also poses a problem, and several areas are being added to Hawaiian Homeland.

Kai Kahele is the second native Hawaiian to represent Hawai’i as a representative. Today, he and members of the Hawai’i congressional delegation honored Prince Kuhio’s foresight in the passing of the Hawaiian Homestead Act.

“The intent of the act would create a permanent homeland for Native Hawaiians, and return to the people … to their lands in order to support self-sufficiency and self-determination.”

Representative Kai Kahele (D-HI) on the 100th Anniversary of the Hawaiian Homestead Act

Senator Brian Schatz, senior senator of Hawai’i commented on Prince Kuhio’s legacy, saying “whether it’s improving Native Hawaiian housing, healthcare or education—Prince Kuhio’s work, his legacy of justice for Native Hawaiians lives on.”

The passing of the act is Prince Kuhio’s legacy, and it allows Hawaiians to hold their ground on their native land a century later.

Mahalo, Prince Kuhio for your insight and love for Hawai’i and its people.

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