• Our Services

    NHLC provides legal services to confront the problems facing Native Hawaiians, including the threatened loss of their ancestral lands, the unfulfilled-promises made by state and federal government to hold Hawaiian land in trust for their betterment, and the preservation of their indigneous way of life which includes traditional means of resolving disputes (ho’oponopono or peacemaking).

    If you have a legal issue and would like to see if we can help you, please call our office at (808)521-2302 or email us at inquiry@nhlchi.org.

  • Preserving Ancestral Lands

    Quiet Title Defense

    The unique history of who has come to own and use land in Hawaii has directly shaped the struggles facing many families today. The legal system has been used by plantations, ranchers, and other large landowners to deprive Native Hawaiians of lands they were awarded during the Mahele. Through a legal doctrine known as adverse possession, these entities have gone to court to establish that they should get title to Hawaiian-owned lands.

    There is still an opportunity to reclaim some of these lands. Some corporate interests used Native Hawaiian ancestral land for their operations without getting title. So Native Hawaiian families still own these lands. Today, these Native Hawaiians are sued by companies who wish to turn former plantation land into suburbs and other development. These lawsuits are designed to “quiet title” to these lands -- to establish, once and for all, that Native Hawaiians do not have title to these lands. Alternatively, they aim to force a sale of these lands to cash out any ownership interests Native Hawaiians still hold.

    Keeping these lands in the family line is important for cultural reasons and to promote self-determination. But Native Hawaiians find themselves ill-prepared and outmatched financially to take on these legal challenges. Since NHLC began working on quiet title cases in the 1980s, NHLC has represented at least 2,300 individuals in 400 cases. NHLC has shaped novel defenses against adverse possession claims, an area largely neglected by the private bar. In that time, NHLC has preserved hundreds of acres of Native Hawaiian ancestral land.

    Expansive resources are needed to successfully defend against these claims which threaten to forever dispossess Native Hawaiians of ancestral lands, recognized as rightfully theirs in the Mahele of 1848 and under the Kuleana Act of 1850. Experts in surveying must be hired in many cases. Real estate appraisals are sometimes necessary as well. The costs associated with carving out a parcel for allotment to a Native Hawaiian family are very high.

    Family/Land Trust Creation

    Native Hawaiian families can take a proactive approach to protect family lands by forming trusts. Forming a trust ensures that family land is preserved for future generations, distributes the burdens of land ownership, and facilitates the transfer of land to one’s heirs. NHLC has assisted Native Hawaiian families with preparing the legal documents necessary to establish these trusts.

  • Enforcing Trust Obligations

    Ceded Lands Trust

    NHLC works to obtain full benefits for Native Hawaiians, who are beneficiaries of the ceded lands trust established in Hawai`i’s Admission Act and recognized in the Hawai`i State Constitution. In the nineteenth century, the Hawaiian monarchy set aside over a million acres of land for the benefit of the chiefs and the people. These lands were ceded to the United States when Hawaii was annexed. The United States transferred control of these lands to the State of Hawaii when it was admitted to the Union, subject to certain conditions. Chief among these conditions was the requirement that these ceded trust lands be used for the betterment of the conditions of Native Hawaiians. NHLC plays an important role in holding state government officials accountable for their trust obligations to Native Hawaiians.

    Hawaiian Home Lands

    In 1920, the U.S. Congress created a land trust setting aside nearly 200,000 acres of marginal lands for native Hawaiian housing, farming and ranching. Today, approximately 20,000-plus beneficiaries are waiting for a homestead lot award; some have waited for 40 years or longer and many have died on the waiting list. The right to water resources is a significant issue for Native Hawaiian homesteaders, who were often given land in arid areas.

    NHLC assists Hawaiian Homes beneficiaries with a wide range of problems including lost applications, arbitrary decreases in lot size, evictions, construction defects, successorship criteria, and community-based planning and economic development.

    NHLC also provides legal representation to individuals who want to amend their birth certificates to reflect their Native Hawaiian ancestry. These amendments are necessary to establish eligibility for DHHL awards or other Hawaiian programs.

  • Protecting Traditional And Customary Rights

    NHLC helps Native Hawaiians assert their rights to perpetuate their traditional way of life, rights guaranteed by state constitutional and statutory law.

    Water Rights

    The right to access traditional sources of water for Hawaiian crops, most notably kalo (taro), has been a pressing concern for Native Hawaiian farmers. Their right to adequate water for traditional Hawaiian crops attached to land awards issued during the mid-1800s by the Hawaiian Kingdom. State statutory law also safeguards these rights. NHLC has assisted many farmers with asserting these rights, most recently in East Maui.

    "By returning water to streams, NHLC is endeavoring to “take rights that presently appear on paper and give life to those rights which in fact are imbued with constitutional protection.”

    --Moses Haia, Executive Director

    Access Rights

    NHLC also defends the use of traditional access routes to the ocean and forests to gather, fish, and practice as their ancestors did. With NHLC’s representation, Native Hawaiians have fended off development that threatened sacred cultural sites, and traditional access routes to the ocean and forests.

    Burial Protection

    The protection of na kupuna `oiwi (Native Hawaiian burials) is also a priority for NHLC. Time and time again, construction activities have resulted in the descretion of na kupuna ‘oiwi, despite a strong mandate for their protection under state law. NHLC is at the forefront of the battle to ensure that this mandate is met.

    “Our kupuna iwi are sacred. Our mana is in the iwi of our ancestors and therefore when our iwi are desecrated, it is extremely hurtful, deeply hurtful to us. Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation at anytime when it has been approached on issues regarding burials, we have always endeavored to do our very best to protect. It is a very, very high priority. It’s in the realm of the sacred.”

    --Mahealani Wendt, former Executive Director

    Protecting Traditional and Customary Practices in Contemporary Settings

    Traditional and cultural practices are often compromised by modern institutions. NHLC has expanded its services to address contemporary challenges to their way of life.

    NHLC has worked to secure the rights of Native Hawaiians to practice the indigenous religion, though serving their sentences in prisons on the mainland.

    NHLC has also challenged the failure of hospitals to recognize the cultural significance of placentas in Native Hawaiian traditional and customary practice. Classified as toxic waste, placentas were destroyed by hospitals. This policy and practice was odious to the Native Hawaiian tradition of burying the placenta in a place of significance.


Your donation will enable the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation to provide effective, low cost legal assistance to individuals, families and communities who seek to protect their traditional cultural practices and maintain their ancestral ties to their lands and natural resources.


Join Our Email List