Director’s Column

Hahai Pono I Ke Ala Kukui Me Ka Huli Ao:

Pursue the Path of Enlightenment Through Justice

D. Kapuaʻala Sproat, Acting Director

Aloha mai e nā hoa makamaka!

At Ka Huli Ao, we stand on the shoulders of our kūpuna.  We would not be in existence today without the vision and hard work of so many, including Chief Justice William S. Richardson and Interim Dean Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie.  These trailblazers and thoughtleaders understood the power and potential of Native Hawaiian Law before it was a thing.  In fact, it is largely these two individuals who made Native Hawaiian Law its own thing.  They did so by pursuing the path of enlightenment through justice.  At Ka Huli Ao, we model this approach to learning and service.

Ka Huli Ao’s fundamental mission is to promote education, scholarship, community outreach and collaboration on issues of law, culture, and justice for Native Hawaiians and other Pacific and Indigenous peoples.  We utilize our research and teaching as vehicles to advance the quality of life and just law for Native Hawaiians, the Hawai‘i community, and other Pacific and Indigenous communities.  We also focus on social impact priorities, which include:

  • Developing an awareness of Native Hawaiian culture, history, and law that facilitates healing, justice, and respect for Hawaiians as well as all of Hawai‘i’s people;
  • Contributing to the evolution of Native Hawaiian law to integrate Hawaiian cultural understandings, protect traditional resources, and promote justice; and
  • Increasing the number of lawyers and community collaborators who are knowledgeable about, and committed to, advancing justice and respect for Hawaiians and other Pacific and Indigenous peoples.

We understand that we cannot realize our vision and mission on our own and are proud of the many partnerships that we have forged over the last decade or so.  In particular, our collaborations with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (“OHA”), Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (“DHHL”), and a cohort of federal entities in the Resilient Hawaiian Communities Initiative exemplify how Ka Huli Ao seeks to enlighten our students and staff by seeking justice for Native Hawaiians and other underrepresented communities.

Since our inception in 2005, Ka Huli Ao has worked closely with OHA on a myriad of issues.  Together, we have built capacity in Native Hawaiian communities by researching, publishing, and facilitating a series of trainings centered around four legal primers on issues near and dear to our Maoli communities (including traditional and customary Native Hawaiian rights, water and the public trust, iwi kūpuna (Native Hawaiian burials), and adverse possession and quiet title (vehicles to appropriate ancestral lands)).  These have proved to be hugely popular and thousands of copies were distributed to OHA beneficiaries and others who are passionate about Native Hawaiian Law.  We have created opportunities for law students interested in specializing in Native Hawaiian Law by, for example, funding summer fellowships in Washington, D.C. with members of Hawaiʻi’s congressional delegation and other key players on native rights issues.  See Ka Huli Ao Student Summer Fellow Experience in Washington, D.C., in this issue of Ka Moa‘e.

Ka Huli Ao and OHA have also expanded service learning opportunities for students interested in mastering Native Hawaiian Law through the Aʻo Aku Aʻo Mai Initiative.  The initiative was founded in 2011 at OHA’s request for kōkua with the Bartell v. Heirs or Assigns of Manuela case, which involved attempts to clear title to Native Hawaiian ancestral land on Molokaʻi.  In that instance, more than twenty OHA beneficiaries were named as defendants and contacted OHA for legal assistance.  In turn, OHA contracted with Ka Huli Ao to assist these and other beneficiaries through its Environmental Law and Native Hawaiian Rights Clinics.

During the Initiative’s first two years, our collective efforts yielded significant direct services for OHA’s beneficiaries.  Over the course of four semesters, law students enrolled in both clinics assisted 156 pro se defendants (individuals representing themselves in a court case without the assistance of an attorney) and their ʻohana in two different cases, published E ʻOnipaʻa I Ke Kūlaiwi:  A Legal Primer for Quiet Title and Partition Law in Hawaiʻi, and facilitated thirteen workshops on the Quiet Title and Partition Process and the primer in particular.  In addition, the Initiative trained roughly 40 law students in these areas of law.

Given our strong partnership and success, the Initiative’s focus has expanded to assist OHA beneficiaries in rural communities through free trainings, the distribution of legal primers, and direct legal assistance on a range of topics.  Over the last two years alone, we provided direct legal assistance to 80 pro se ‘ohana embroiled in an administrative trial on Maui, trained more than 40 law students in Native Hawaiian law, and all together directly assisted or trained more than 400 individuals on Maui and Hawaiʻi Islands in various areas of Native Hawaiian Law, including water rights and traditional and customary Native Hawaiian practices.  We are also doing exciting work on Kauaʻi this semester; see Environmental Clinic Update: Ko‘olau and Halele‘a Moku of Kaua‘i in this issue of Ka Moa‘e.

At bottom, Aʻo Aku Aʻo Mai embodies our educational philosophy that the learning process is reciprocal.  And, given the tremendous amount that our students learn by working on legal issues with practitioners and other community members in our rural, neighbor island communities, we hope that they will reciprocate with their legal knowledge and pay it forward both while in law school and beyond.

More recently, we have worked closely with OHA to expand the reach beyond law students and practitioners to key decisionmakers impacting Native Hawaiians and our resources.  For example, since 2013 we have partnered with OHA to design and facilitate Native Hawaiian Law trainings for recently appointed members of State and County Boards and Commissions.  In 2015, Governor Ige signed Act 169 into law, which requires members of designated state boards, commissions, and councils to complete a Native Hawaiian Law training facilitated by Ka Huli Ao within one year of their initial appointment.  Maui County followed suit in 2016, mandating our training for Planning Commissioners from the Islands of Maui, Molokaʻi, and Lānaʻi.  Other entities have also sought such trainings from Ka Huli Ao, including Governor Ige’s Cabinet, the University of Hawaiʻi’s Board of Regents, the National Park Service, and many others.  Since 2013, Ka Huli Ao has partnered with OHA to facilitate at least two Native Hawaiian Law Trainings each year.  Thus far, over 600 people have participated in more than eight trainings.

Ka Huli Ao has also begun to expand the reach of these trainings.  In 2016, we designed and facilitated a Native Hawaiian Law Training for the superintendents of all of the National Parks in Hawaiʻi and a host of other participants.  In 2017, Ka Huli Ao organized and delivered a four-part discussion series on traditional and customary Native Hawaiian rights in Kona, Hawaiʻi Island.

And more opportunities await us.  In 2017, Ka Huli Ao was humbled to join the Resilient Hawaiian Communities Initiative.  This two-year effort was developed at the request of and funded by the United States Department of the Interior (“DOI”) and will support two Native Hawaiian communities in developing resiliency plans to combat climate change.  Our partners include the Pacific Island Climate Change Cooperative, DOI Office of Native Hawaiian Relations, and the National Park Service’s Pacific Islands Office.  Funding has also been provided for Ka Huli Ao to hire a Post-J.D. Fellow to support the two communities in developing their resiliency plans.  Expressions of interest were submitted by various communities in November and the selections of both the communities and the Post-J.D. fellow are imminent.  For more information, please see:

Ka Huli Ao is also excited to announce that it will continue to expand its outreach activities.  We recently entered into an agreement with DHHL to design and facilitate water law trainings in ten Hawaiian Home Lands communities on six different islands.  Funding will enable both the trainings and a Post-J.D. Fellow to support this work.  Finally, Ka Huli Ao is deeply honored to partner in the Island Girl Initiative, which will expand the work started by the Aʻo Aku Aʻo Mai Initiative and make possible more live-client clinical training opportunities for law students in rural neighbor island communities.  This will help us to graduate students who are prepared to practice, while also expanding the services available to communities in need.

Through these and other efforts, Ka Huli Ao continues to hahai pono i ke ala kukui me ka huli ao.  We follow in the footsteps of our kūpuna and pursue the path of enlightenment through justice.  We hope you will join in our efforts!

To help with these and other Ka Huli Ao initiatives, please make a tax-deductible donation at:  With your support, we look forward to continuing to draw the best from Maoli tradition in pursuit of scholarship, enlightenment, and justice for Kānaka Maoli and all of Hawaiʻi’s people.

To show our appreciation for contributions of $150 or more, we will send you one of our new 18 oz. vacuum-insulated Ka Huli Ao stainless steel water bottles. The bottle will be sent to the address you provide on the online gift form.  If you would like it sent elsewhere, please note that in the comment section.

Mahalo piha!