By CLAUDINE SAN NICOLAS, Staff Writer
KAHULUI – A Native Hawaiian originally from Molokai, 58-year-old Olga Kepa said she had never seen such a large crowd of Hawaiians gather as the one she saw at the Kahului rally in support of Kamehameha Schools.
"This is the biggest crowd I've ever seen," Kepa said.
Now a Wailuku resident, Kepa was among an estimated 2,000 people who came together in prayer and in protest of a federal court ruling that struck down the Kamehameha Schools' policy of giving admissions preference to Native Hawaiians.
"We are on an arduous journey for justice," Kamehameha Schools Maui Headmaster Rod Chamberlain said at the onset of the rally held Saturday on the lawn of Maui Community College.
After prayers and speeches, rally participants lined both sides of Kaahumanu Avenue for two blocks along the MCC campus and from the Queen Ka'ahumanu Center to the Papa Avenue intersection.
Most of the rally attendees were dressed in red T-shirts that read: A Kue Kalou, "Stand for Hawaiian rights." Signs read: "Kamehameha – Keep it Hawaiian"; "God Bless America, Steal the Land, Now Kill the Race"; "Honk for Hawaiian Rights."
"Everybody has the same agenda here," 1985 Kamehameha graduate Shannah Sumera Matsuda said as she waved to honking motorists on Kaahumanu Avenue. "This is huge."
Nune Fernandez, a 1981 Kamehameha graduate, flew in from Texas to Maui just to attend the rally. His mother, Gerry Honan, a Honolulu native who now lives in Napili, joined her son and wore a red silk lei he had kept as a memento from the schools' annual Song Fest in his senior year.
"Definitely this is important," Fernandez said. He planned to leave Maui today but not before expressing his support for Kamehameha Schools and his appreciation for the education he received at the Kapalama campus on Oahu.
"I got to do things I would have never done if it had not been for Kamehameha School. It was a wonderful opportunity, and I would tell today's students not to take these opportunities for granted," he said.
The Kahului rally was one of seven held statewide Saturday. A rally on Molokai and in Hana were held simultaneously with the one on the lawn at MCC. Earlier in the day, a group of another 100 school supporters – Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians – held a rally in Lanai City.
Martha Evans, who helped coordinate the Lanai City rally, said the participants found the event so inspiring that they decided to get together again today for a potluck at a beach on Lanai.
"It was very nice. No one got ugly, and we all stuck together," Evans said.
The rally with the biggest draw was held on Oahu, where crowd estimates were as high as 12,000. Several hundred were also reported to have attended rallies on the Big Island and on Kauai.
The crowd attending the rally at MCC broke out in applause when school Trustee Constance Lau announced the board's plans to appeal the most recent federal court ruling.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 2-1 decision Tuesday that found the schools' admissions practice was race-based and unlawful. The decision stems from a single mom's attempt to enroll her non-Hawaiian son at Kamehameha.
The boy has only been identified as John Doe in the case, and his lawyers are arguing that he should be allowed to enroll at Kamehameha Schools this year, which will be his senior year in high school.
One of the handmade signs at Saturday's rally specifically targeted the plaintiff in the case: "John Doe Should Go to Punahou," in reference to a prestigious private high school on Oahu.
Attorney Paul Nahoa Lucas, a member of the legal team for Kamehameha Schools, explained to the MCC crowd that the federal judges agreed that as a private entity, the schools could be held to a lower standard of scrutiny than governmental bodies, especially since the school does not receive any federal funds.
Still, Kamehameha Schools must adhere to federal civil rights statutes, and the judges ruled that its admissions policy is illegal because they operate "as an absolute bar to admission of those of the nonpreferred race."
Lucas said the appeals panel agreed that the Board of Trustees had the right to set criteria for admissions, but the preference policy was not legal.
Explaining the trustees' strategies, he said Kamehameha lawyers are asking a larger group of judges at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to re-examine the three-judge panel's ruling. If the judges don't use their discretion to review the panel's decision, Kamehameha Schools will most likely appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It's not over until it's over," Lucas said.
Lau said the preference policy gives Kamehameha Schools a means to educate Native Hawaiians.
"It is the best way for us to make sure we educate every Hawaiian," she said.
There are still many more Hawaiian children on the schools' wait lists to get into the schools. "So every single space counts," she said.
Kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., who serves as an adviser to the Maui campus and the board of trustees, received applause when he spoke in favor of granting school admissions to Native Hawaiians who show a real desire to learn.
"The smartest and best should not be chosen," Maxwell said, referring to yearslong practice of basing admission on high academic achievement.
In 2002, the Maui campus accepted its first non-Hawaiian student, causing an uproar from the Native Hawaiian community. School officials explained at the time that the student was chosen after the school had determined there were no other Native Hawaiian applicants for the grade level who were qualified for admission based on their academic qualifications.
Gerald Naliko Markel, a supporter of an independent Hawaiian nation, said he agrees with the preference policy at Kamehameha Schools, but believes that the school has failed to reach all Hawaiians.
"I don't agree with just choosing the best and brightest," Markel said.
Should Hawaii be allowed to operate as an independent nation, he said the schools wouldn't have to fight in federal court or hold any rallies to publicly defend native rights.
Lau encouraged rally participants to lobby their Congressional representatives for support for the school, to write letters for publications in local newspapers, and to talk to islands' newcomers and explain the reason for the Hawaiian-preference policy at Kamehameha.
Trustee Robert Kihune pledged that the board "would do everything we can" to fight the ruling.
"The war is not over," he said.
Kamehameha Schools was established under the 1883 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, which directed the trust to erect and maintain schools.
The two appeals court judges who rejected the policy wrote that they "do not read that document to require the use of race as an admissions prerequisite."
Kihune called the princess a visionary who saw injustices being committed against her people and attempted to correct the inequities by establishing her trust to educate Native Hawaiians.
Her will seeks to prevent extinction of a population she saw dwindle to just 40,000 by 1884, when she died, he said. He said Kamehameha Schools' foundation is to rebuild and restore Native Hawaiian culture, just as the princess had intended.
Having attended another rally in Kona, Lau said she's seen both Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians come out to support Kamehameha Schools.
Chamberlain said the Maui campus has received numerous telephone calls and e-mail messages supporting the schools' admissions policy after the court issued its ruling.
"I'm delighted," Chamberlain said of the turnout. "It's a wonderful feeling to see this level of solidarity."
One non-Hawaiian woman dressed in a red shirt waved a sign in support of Kamehameha Schools at the Kahului rally. She did not want to be identified but said she was Hawaiian "in my heart, but not in my blood."
Ron Natividad, a Native Hawaiian, said he normally doesn't attend public rallies. He made an exception Saturday, even rolling out a handmade sign that featured a brown mat spray-painted with the message: "Respect the Legacy."
He said he considered an attempt by a non-Hawaiian to enroll at Kamehameha Schools as disrespectful of the the princess' will.
"I'm getting tired of it, the lack of respect," Natividad said. "I just thought if they had respect, they wouldn't do this."
Natividad, a 1974 St. Anthony High School graduate, said he had applied to attend the Kapalama campus on Oahu but was unsuccessful.
"That was a blessing in disguise," Natividad said. He went instead to St. Anthony High School where he met his wife, Elaine. The couple said they plan to have their son tested for the 6th grade at Kamehameha Schools Maui campus.
Clifford Nae'ole, a Native Hawaiian cultural adviser for the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, said he also has had his children apply but wasn't successful in enrolling his children at Kamehameha Schools.
"It's OK, someone else went," he said.
Nae'ole came to the MCC rally holding a pole with an upside-down Hawaiian flag, a symbol of distress for the Hawaiian people. But he said he remained confident that Native Hawaiians would prevail in their battle.
"Sooner or later, the right will take over the wrong," he said.
Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2005 The Maui News.
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