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Man sues to use DNA to qualify for Hawaiian homelands program

October 4, 2012
The Maui Weekly

The Associated Press - A Molokai man has filed a lawsuit seeking to use DNA to prove his ancestry so he can qualify for the Hawaiian homelands program, which leases land at almost no cost to Native Hawaiians.

Applicants must have 50 percent Native Hawaiian ancestry to qualify for the program, and the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands allows for birth certificates and other records, such as marriage and death certificates, to be used as proof.

But Leighton Pang Kee argues in a lawsuit filed this week in Circuit Court that the agency's rules on what can be considered "documented proof" are unclear.

Kee was adopted and his birth certificate doesn't list his biological father, the lawsuit states. He contends that DNA establishes his Native Hawaiian ancestry and should be accepted as proof.

The lawsuit "is focused on the need for DHHL to create a policy that allows for a beneficiary to submit DNA evidence to show their genealogy," said Camille Kalama, one of Kee's attorneys with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. "It's one more way of proving who your mother or father is."

The Hawaiian homelands program was established as a way to make it possible for Native Hawaiians to live on Hawaiian land. It provides them with 99-year leases at $1 per year.

After he was deemed ineligible for homelands benefits, Kee found his father's brother living on homestead land in Nanakuli and obtained DNA from him. The DNA showed a 96.35 percent probability that Kee and the man are related.

Kalama noted that Kamehameha Schools allows for DNA to show ancestry.

Being able to prove one's Native Hawaiian lineage is important not only for homelands rights, but for other benefits such as scholarships, Kalama said.

"You're affecting multiple generations by that one break," she said.



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