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“Native Hawaiian Law: A Treatise” is an invaluable cultural resource for lawyers as well as lay people. Above, East Maui taro farmer Paul Sinenci and wife Pauline cherish their copy of the book. The treatise and its predecessor “The Native Hawaiian Rights Handbook” inspired confidence in the Sinencis and other taro-farming families who are advocates for stream restoration. Read their story in a special section below.

‘Native Hawaiian Law: A Treatise’ culminates its 15-year journey

Oct. 19, 2015

Members of the literary, law, and Hawaiian communities stood in reverent silence recently as an oli aloha echoed through the halls of historic Aliʻiōlani Hale, home to the Hawaiʻi State Supreme Court.

The welcome chant signaled the start of the private book launch for “Native Hawaiian Law: A Treatise,” produced by Kamehameha Publishing in partnership with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (NHLC) and Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law (Ka Huli Ao). The treatise examines the vast body of law that impacts Kānaka Maoli – from trust lands and shorelines to self-determination.

The event celebrated a tremendous triumph for Native Hawaiian rights, which stands in stark contrast to what took place at Aliʻiōlani Hale in 1893. It was there that America-backed businessman and lawyer Lorrin Thurston dictated a proclamation that deposed Queen Liliʻuokalani and restricted the rights of Native Hawaiians.

Kamehameha Publishing Director Ron Cox says the venue was chosen for its historical significance.

“Ali‘iōlani Hale was not only a beautiful venue for us to come together to celebrate the launch of this long-time effort, it is a physical and symbolic marker of the history that is chronicled in the treatise, the struggles and hard-won victories for Native Hawaiians that have and continue to unfold in and around its halls, chambers and grounds.”

The 1,400-page treatise was a kākou effort guided by Editor-in-Chief Melody MacKenzie, a University of Hawaiʻi law professor and director of Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law.

It is the long-anticipated follow-up to the 1991 “Native Hawaiian Rights Handbook,” also edited by MacKenzie, who was then a senior staff attorney for the NHLC.

“Up until the publication of the handbook, American society did not acknowledge that Native Hawaiians have unique rights that are distinct from its other citizens,” says MacKenzie. “The handbook came at a time when Native Hawaiian law was growing and we were seeing some positive decisions in the courts and in the legislature.

“The handbook was an attempt to assess the impact of those decisions as well as to actually recognize that – yes, here is a body of law, a robust body of law, that we can call Native Hawaiian rights!”

In 2000, NHLC Executive Director Mahealani Wendt and Linda Delaney, land officer at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, approached MacKenzie to discuss an update of the handbook. After securing partners and funders, the NHLC gave MacKenzie the green light to revise the handbook – a monumental undertaking.

MacKenzie was supported by executive editors Susan Serrano, director of Research and Scholarship at Ka Huli Ao; and law professor Kapua‘ala Sproat, who teaches in both Ka Huli Ao and the law school’s environmental law programs.

Two associate editors rounded out the team: Avis Poai, director of archives and legal history at Ka Huli Ao; and Ashley Obrey, who was an NHLC staff attorney at the time of the project, but who now serves as a KS Hawaiʻi island asset manager.

More than 20 authors contributed to the resulting treatise including Kamehameha Schools Senior Counsel Nāhoa Lucas, who co-authored the chapter on the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act; and KS Cultural Specialist Kaʻanoʻi Walk, who co-authored chapters on family relationships, and Native Hawaiian education.

MacKenzie credits her mentor and law school namesake – Chief Justice William S. Richardson – for helping her team navigate through the most difficult legs of the legal journey.

“He was always in the background, gently guiding and supporting us,” says MacKenzie, who served as a law clerk for Richardson.

“He played a pivotal role at a crucial time in our history. He had lived through the territorial period and seen how the law had been shaped by the appointment of judges from the U.S. who didn’t understand Hawaiʻi, Hawaiians, or island communities. He very much believed that Hawaiʻi law should reflect Hawaiian values and culture.”

With numerous authors, five editors and three publishing partners, Cox says that the Native Hawaiian Law treatise has been one of the most complex and challenging projects Kamehameha Publishing has taken on to date, and will no doubt inform similar collaborative community efforts in the future.

“As we launch this important work, I think about our new strategic vision at Kamehameha Schools and the next generation of ‘ōiwi leadership we are ultimately aiming to develop and prepare through our educational initiatives and resources over the next 25 years,” says Cox.

“Tools like the Native Hawaiian Law treatise will be so valuable for those future koa – in their learning by increasing understanding and helping to set context, and in the work they will do by arming them for advocacy and informed action for the future of the lāhui.”

The treatise is available for purchase at booksellers and the Kamehameha Publishing website. The digital edition is also available for e-readers at and in the Apple iTunes bookstore.

Law books inspires confidence in Maui taro farmers

The following story was shared by Mahealani Wendt, former executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation. It illustrates how the power of knowledge can impact an entire community.

The recent release of “Native Hawaiian Law: A Treatise” was greeted with much happiness in the East Maui taro farming villages of Keʻanae-Wailuanui.

For many years, there had been a one-book lending library in the villages. Long out of print, the treatise’s predecessor the “Native Hawaiian Rights Handbook” had been passed around from farmer to farmer, its dog-eared pages worn from use.

My husband Ed – a community leader whose handbook had been passed around – said that the book gave him and his fellow taro farmers confidence that they were on the right path.

The handbook had been especially important because for many decades, he and the other families had sought restoration of streams critical for their taro farming. Along the way they had reached out to and obtained assistance from attorneys, but the authoritative handbook's accessibility was also a source of strong added reassurance.

They were humble families who didn't want to “make trouble” and merely wanted to continue the ancestral lifestyle of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. They were God-fearing, law-abiding citizens and many were veterans. They wanted to do things in a pono way, and understanding Hawaiian water law gave them more confidence.

Taro farmer Paul Sinenci and his wife Pauline recently made the two-hour post office drive and waited for over an hour to retrieve their copy of the Treatise. “Uncle Pauly” now reads it every chance he gets, and his fellow farmers joke that he carries it around like a Bible. Lately, they've been having long discussions about fishing rights.

Mahalo nui to editor Melody MacKenzie, Kamehameha Publishing, and the many contributing researchers and writers who made this important book possible. Knowledge is power, and the treatise will continue to strengthen our community’s resolve to honor and perpetuate the traditions of their kūpuna.


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