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Interior: Time to assess Hawaiian homelands trust

Associated Press

Eds: Adds Jewell’s talk is first such speech in 40 years, background on Hawaiian homelands program.

HONOLULU (AP) — It’s time to assess the Hawaiian homelands trust and to think about where it should be when the centennial of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act arrives in eight years, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Wednesday.

It’s been 30 years since a federal task force addressed the topic in 1983, Jewell said while delivering the keynote address at the 12th Annual Native Hawaiian Convention.

She acknowledged newspaper articles and editorials have called for greater Interior Department oversight of the Hawaiian homelands program.

“We’re mindful of a balance struck by Congress and a continuing need for Interior (Department) and the state to work collectively together,” said Jewell, the first interior secretary to speak to a Native Hawaiian group in Hawaii in four decades.

The department will work with the Hawaiian community as it develops rules for its oversight role, Jewell said.

Jewell, who took office this year, repeatedly stressed how important it would be for the department to consult Native Hawaiians on issues like cultural resources, homelands and what people expect of the department.

She urged groups attending the convention to register themselves with the Interior’s organization list to help department officials consult a broad representation of the Hawaiian community.

Some consultations would be by phone or video conference, especially as automatic federal budget cuts squeeze spending. But she says the department wants to work with Native Hawaiian groups because that’s “what self-determination and self-governance is all about.”

“You know what is best for the Hawaiian people, the Native Hawaiian people, much more than Department of Interior does or the state of Hawaii does,” Jewell said to a round of applause.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday that the department plans to publish draft rules next month and put them out for public comment. The department expects to finalize the new rules by late March or April.

The Hawaiian Home Lands Program dates to 1921, when Congress set aside 203,500 acres of former Kingdom of Hawaii lands to provide homesteads to Native Hawaiians.