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Native Hawaiians want their share of paradise

They demand royalties for land annexed by the US, but the state and some residents balk at paying all reparations.

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What is the price of a stolen kingdom? That is the question many Hawaiian activists are posing as the state government tries to put to rest a decades-long dispute over royalties owed to native Hawaiians for use of lands annexed from their ancestors by the US.

The activists believe the state is putting far too small a value on the lands, which comprise 1.8 million acres throughout the archipelago. And they want more money to deal with the dire social problems engulfing many native Hawaiians who disproportionately populate Hawaii's welfare rolls, jail cells, and poor neighborhoods.

"This is a struggle to ensure that the state is living up to its obligations. We are only asking for what the state agreed to, no more and no less," says Haunani Apoliona, head trustee for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), the agency created to ensure that the land revenues assist native Hawaiians.

The Hawaiians have an ally in Republican Gov. Linda Lingle who has spoken strongly in favor of settling the dispute quickly and in terms favorable to the natives. Democratic party politicians opposing the settlement say that they must balance the needs of a small group against those of the whole state. They claim that such a compensation would put even more budgetary stress on a government facing hard choices due to the slowdown in tourist arrivals from Asia.

At issue are the so-called "Ceded Lands." The Hawaiian monarchy owned these lands until 1898 when this property entered a public trust upon US annexation of the islands. But as condition of annexation any revenues derived from uses of these lands were designated for "...the benefit of the inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands for educational and other public purposes," with the exception of lands used by the government. Those lands include prime real estate in the Waikiki resort district as well as land now occupied by Honolulu International Airport.

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