New Native Hawaiian law treatise to help guide, define island legal issues

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Beverly Creamer, (808) 389-5736
Media Consultant, William S. Richardson School of Law
Posted: Oct 6, 2015

Melody MacKenzie
Melody MacKenzie
Susan Serrano
Susan Serrano
D. Kapuaala Sproat
D. Kapuaala Sproat

A new 1,400-page volume on Native Hawaiian law that touches everything from traditional and customary rights, to self-determination, to securing land titles will be unveiled this week during a special book-signing reception at the Hawai‘i Supreme Court. Then, on Tuesday, October 20, the public is invited to an open reception and signing from 5 to 7 p.m. at the UH Law School to introduce the editors and authors.

The volume, Native Hawaiian Law: A Treatise, was compiled and edited by three members of the faculty at the William S. Richardson School of Law who specialize in Native Hawaiian law.

Fifteen years in the making, the new work offers a comprehensive overview as well as historical background for Native Hawaiian law as it relates to U.S. law as well as international law. It also provides detailed explanations of many aspects of law affecting Native Hawaiian cultural and natural resources.

“In doing this new book we realized how much further Native Hawaiian law had been developed since its predecessor, the Native Hawaiian Rights Handbook,” said editor-in-chief Professor Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie '76, director of Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law at the Richardson Law School.

Executive editors are Susan K. Serrano ’98, director of Research and Scholarship at Ka Huli Ao, and D. Kapua‘ala Sproat ’98, also a professor at the Law School who is an expert on Hawaiʻi water rights, among other specialties.

The book will clarify many recurring issues that arise in Hawai‘i, said MacKenzie.

“There’s been an explosion in laws that affect the Native Hawaiian community,” continued MacKenzie. “There has been a substantial increase in the case law, and the federal and state regulatory regimes that affect Native Hawaiians particularly, and Native Hawaiian cultural and natural resources.  In the first book we couldn’t include some important areas and now we’ve covered them.”

Said Law School Dean Avi Soifer, “This extraordinary scholarly accomplishment is also an invaluable tool to aid understanding of the intersection of western law and Native Hawaiian cultural practices.  There are multiple reasons to be excited by and proud of what Professor MacKenzie and her team accomplished. In fact, this book is a watershed moment for the Law School and its reach will extend far beyond lawyers and scholars.”

The new book updates and continues the handbook, published in 1991, also edited by MacKenzie.  It provides additional or new perspectives on legislative action, court cases and legal decision-making that have impacted the field over the past quarter century.

“Our state courts have been very supportive and expansive in their interpretation of Hawaiian tradition and custom, and in relation to the trust issues surrounding the national lands of the Hawaiian Kingdom,” said MacKenzie. “We wanted to make sure that these important areas of law were well explained.”

MacKenzie notes that the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court case, Rice v. Cayetano, which left open the question of the U.S. relationship with the Native Hawaiian community, was a watershed moment.  “It seemed critical that we relook at Native Hawaiian legal issues and ensure that our Native Hawaiian voice was heard,” she said.  “What we did in the first book was examine the body of law that affects Native Hawaiians uniquely and needs to be acknowledged or recognized. The second book shows not only that there is this body of law, but also that it’s a substantial and robust body of law that our courts and legislature have taken very seriously.  The newest book also situates Native Hawaiian law within the broader context of international human rights law and developments related to indigenous peoples.”

During work on this volume, writers and editors had to update frequently as new laws and court decisions occurred.  As one example, MacKenzie noted that quite recently “the governor signed into law community-based subsistence fishery rules for Hāʻena, in many senses a recognition of traditional fishing practices.

“This is the first time that rules have been adopted for a community-based subsistence fishery area,” she said. “The legislature has designated other areas, but there are no rules in place.” 

Another example MacKenzie cited involves developments relating to self-government and the possibility that the U.S. Department of Interior may adopt a rule to reestablish a government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community.

“One of the real challenges of doing this book was the constant evolution in the law,” MacKenzie said. “The legislature would do something or a new case would come down and we’d have to change everything!”

A sampling of the many areas covered by the treatise includes:

  • The Public Land Trust
  • Water Rights
  • Traditional and Customary Access and Gathering Rights
  • Burial Rights
  • The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act
  • Judicial Methods for Securing Land Title
  • The Island of Kaho‘olawe
  • Konohiki Fishing Rights
  • Native Hawaiian Health
  • Hawaiian Language and Education.

The volume is a joint project of Ke Huli Ao at the Richardson School of Law, and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, published by Kamehameha Publishing with support from a number of funders including the State Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation, Kosasa Family Fund, Pōhaku Fund/Tides Foundation, Sukamto Foundation, Pūʻā Foundation, and Spoehr Family Fund.

The book is available in bookstores, through Apple iBooks, and on Kindle, and through Kamehameha Publishing, with the paperback version priced at $50, the electronic version at $30, and the boxed hardbound edition at $100.

Also, the Native Hawaiian Law Treatise may be ordered via this website: ​

For more information, visit: