Native Hawaiians, graduates expect battle to continue

The Maui News
Wednesday, December 06, 2006

By LEHIA APANA, Staff Writer

PUKALANI – With a victory in federal appeals court, Kamehameha Schools supporters on Maui were celebrating success in a battle while knowing that their struggle is not over.

"As an alumnus, I'm happy that the will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop has been upheld. All that she wanted was to provide for the future of Hawaiian children, and this decision helps ensure that through education the Hawaiian people can continue to progress," said retired Maui Circuit Judge Boyd Mossman.

The Maui trustee with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and a longtime Maui prosecutor, Mossman said he was "very pleased" with the legal outcome in favor of his alma mater's admissions policy.

The full 15-judge 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday reversed a previous decision by a three-judge panel that found the Kamehameha Schools admission policy amounted to unlawful discrimination.

But Mossman added that the school's legal struggles are not over and that the latest ruling is "another step in a long path."

Pukalani Kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., who serves as an adviser to the Kamehameha Schools Maui campus, agreed that "there's still a long way to go."

"I think we have to be happy that it was reversed, but there's still another process," Maxwell said, referring to the expected appeal of the 9th Circuit decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kamehameha Schools was established under Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop's 1883 will, which directed the trust to erect and maintain the schools for boys and girls, giving preference to Hawaiian children.

"The appeals panel today affirmed what we have always argued: that our policy, which is based on the intent of our founder Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, is legally justified and right. It helps thousands and harms no one," said Robert Kihune, chairman of the board for Kamehameha Schools.

In a written statement, Kihune a Lahaina native, graduate of the Kapalama campus and a retired Navy vice admiral said, "The fight is not over," and the school's legal team expects the opponents of school policies will file an appeal.

"As long as our policy is at risk we will do whatever it takes to preserve our right to offer preference to our Native Hawaiian people," Kihune wrote.

Maxwell said the princess sought to reverse the inequities suffered by her people, and that she realized the best way to do that was through education. He said a school with that kind of vision is necessary today more than ever.

"It was needed back then and it's needed even more now," said Maxwell. "Hawaiians are already oppressed, and we make up many of the social ills of the community; so a school like this is so important in bringing up our culture."

Kamehameha Schools currently serves more than 6,500 students at K-12 campuses on three islands and at 31 preschool sites statewide.

Admission to the schools is highly prized, both for the quality of education and the low cost compared with other private schools in the islands. Non-Hawaiians may be admitted if there are openings after Hawaiians and part-Hawaiians who meet the criteria have been offered admission, based on a policy giving preference to children of Hawaiian ancestry.

Maui resident Jenavi Correa, a 2001 graduate, said she was blessed to attend the school as a boarder at the school's Kapalama campus on Oahu. She remembered being involved in Hawaiian cultural events, including the school's annual Song Contest and Makahiki games.

"I wouldn't have had those experiences in other schools, and I really appreciate that legacy that Pauahi left," Correa said.

She added she is disappointed that the school's admissions policy has been challenged so aggressively.

"It's another struggle against the Hawaiian people's fight to preserve our rights. Our culture is being lost, and changing the school's enrollment process would be another step backwards," Correa said.

Maxwell said that for a non-Hawaiian student to take a school spot that could go to a Hawaiian child is "such a letdown."

"I wouldn't have grumbled if all the Hawaiian students who wanted to go to Kamehameha were served, but they are not all being served," he said.

Bill Medeiros, a 1968 Kamehameha Schools graduate, echoed Maxwell's concerns, saying that the school should be allowed to follow its founder's vision.

"The main focus is not that Kamehameha Schools is trying to discriminate against other ethnicities, they are trying to ensure the will of Pauahi, which is to promote our Hawaiian education and culture," Medeiros said.

Blossom Feiteira, who helped to set up the Hawaiian Community Assets program to assist Hawaiian families in buying their own homes, said she was "excited" about the court's ruling.

"They have finally begun to understand the intent of Pauahi's will to provide Hawaiian children with education. It's absolutely wonderful," Feiteira said.

She said that the school's struggles are not over, but the appeals court decision was a step in the right direction.

"Congratulations to Kamehameha. It's about time they got a win," said Feiteira. "Now we need to keep on fighting it."

Mossman added that a favorable decision for the school will have positive effects for other programs providing benefits to Native Hawaiians.

"As a trustee for OHA I'm also happy with the decision as it applies to the recognition that the indigenous people of Hawaii can be recognized hopefully by the Congress in the future," he said.

Lehia Apana can be reached at lehia@mauinews.com.

Copyright © 2005 The Maui News.

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