Hawaiian HomelandsHawaii's Efforts to Address Land Use Issues Gao ID: RCED-94-24 May 26, 1994
Although the Interior and Justice Departments maintain that the federal government has never had a trust responsibility to native Hawaiians, the state of Hawaii disagrees. Hawaiian state courts and the state's Attorney General have concluded that the federal government had a trust responsibility during the territorial period, and the state's Attorney General believes that such a responsibility continues today. In GAO's opinion, territorial governors lacked authority to withdraw Hawaiian homelands for nonfederal public purposes through executive orders and proclamations. However, many of these unauthorized withdrawals appear to have (1) benefitted native Hawaiians or (2) involved lands that were unsuitable for authorized homeland uses, such as homesteading or leasing, during the territorial period. Territorial governors also lacked authority under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act to withdraw homelands for federal purposes through executive orders or other means. Because such withdrawals took place more than 50 years ago, there is no guarantee that all information relevant to these withdrawals is still available. Therefore, GAO is unable to express an opinion on the propriety of homeland withdrawals for federal purposes. GAO believes that the methodology used by a consultant to the state to estimate the lost income from and the current market value for parcels of lands was generally reasonable.
GAO found that: (1) Hawaii disagrees with Departments of the Interior and Justice that the federal government does not have a trust responsibility to native Hawaiians; (2) state and federal courts have concluded that the government currently has no trust responsibility, but federal courts have yet to determine whether such a responsibility existed while Hawaii was a territory; (3) Hawaiian courts and its Attorney General have concluded that the federal government had a trust responsibility during the territorial period and the state Attorney General believes that the trust responsibility continues to exist; (4) territorial governors lacked the authority to withdraw Hawaiian homelands for nonfederal public purposes; (5) many of the governors' unauthorized withdrawals benefitted native Hawaiians or involved lands that were unsuitable for authorized homeland uses; (6) the President had the authority to withdraw homelands for federal purposes and he could have delegated the authority to the territorial governors or ratified their actions; (7) the methodologies to estimate income loss and current market value were generally reasonable; (8) Hawaii plans to submit a claim for federal compensation for the withdrawn lands; and (9) if Congress decides that compensation is merited, the amount of compensation should reflect rental revenues received and benefits to native Hawaiians from the withdrawn homelands.