What is NHLC?
The Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (NHLC) is the only non-profit, public interest law firm in the state of Hawai`i focusing and concentrating in the unique area of Native Hawaiian Rights law. Through advocacy, litigation, education and community building, NHLC provides legal assistance to families and communities engaged in perpetuating the culture and traditions of Hawai`i’s indigenous people.
The law firm was originally founded by several grass roots leaders in 1974 and initially operated as a volunteer-run referral service. But the high demand for direct help, especially from families who needed legal assistance in protecting their lands, transformed NHLC to where it now provides low cost legal help to approximately 700 clients annually.
The mission of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (NHLC) is to strengthen and enhance the lives of Native Hawaiians and Native Hawaiian communities through the protection & recovery of ancestral & trust lands, natural resources, & the preservation of customs and practices vital to the perpetuation of Hawai`i’s indigenous people.
NHLC is the only non-profit, public-interest law firm in the state focusing in the unique area of Native Hawaiian Rights law. NHLC carries out its mission by integrating native values into the practice of western law and jurisprudence.
NHLC’s expertise can be categorized into the following areas:
Quiet Title Defense:
The scarcity of land in Hawai`i and its unique history of who has come to own and use these lands has directly shaped the struggles facing many families today. These individuals and their `ohana are often named as defendants in a Quiet Title lawsuit and find themselves ill-prepared and outmatched financially to take on the legal challenges and costs of protecting their title interest. Since it began working on such cases in the 1980s, NHLC has represented at least 2,300 individuals in 400 Quiet Title cases.
Protection of trust lands such as the Ceded lands and Hawaiian Home Lands:
NHLC works to obtain full benefits for beneficiaries of the ceded lands trust as set forth in Hawai`i’s Admission Act and recognized in the Hawai`i State Constitution. Because the ceded lands trust is managed by the state, NHLC plays an important role in holding government officials accountable.
In 1920, the U.S. Congress created a land trust setting aside nearly 200,000 acres of marginal lands for native Hawaiian housing, farming and ranching. Today, approximately 20,000-plus beneficiaries are waiting for a homestead lot award; some have waited for 40 years or longer and many have died on the waiting list. NHLC has assisted Hawaiian Homes beneficiaries with a wide range of problems including lost applications, water rights, arbitrary decreases in lot size, evictions, construction defects, successorship criteria, and community-based planning and economic development, etc.
Protection and expansion of traditional and customary rights:
NHLC helps individuals, families and communities assert rights embodied in state law and the state Constitution. These include Kuleana rights — rights that are attached to fee simple awards issued during the mid-1800s by the Hawaiian Kingdom. Many of the individuals seeking help for their Kuleana lands are farmers who are losing access to traditional sources of water or access to their lands as more urban development occurs throughout the state. Another example of rights needing protection are Ahupua`a tenants rights which involve the right to gather, fish, plant and exercise cultural practices in areas that have traditionally served Hawaiian communities. The protection of na kupuna `oiwi as well as traditional sacred sites is also a priority with NHLC
Moses Haia III – As of January 1, 2010, Moses Kalei Nahonoapi`ilani Haia III is NHLC’s new executive director. He is a1994 graduate of the William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai`i. He was a solo practitioner prior to coming to NHLC. His practice involved labor and employment law, civil litigation and native Hawaiian rights. Mr. Haia also worked on the water rights case involving Waiahole Ditch. Since coming to NHLC in 2001, Mr. Haia has worked on a number of important native rights cases including Kelly v. Oceanside (protection and preservation of ancient burials, the traditional trail known as the Alaloa, the native Hawaiian traditions and customs related thereto, the state and county governments’ public trust duties, and illegal urban development on agricultural land).
Alan T. Murakami – Alan Murakami is NHLC’s litigation director. He has been with NHLC since 1985 and has specialized in native rights litigation. Mr. Murakami is a graduate of the University of Santa Clara with a B.A. in Economics. He earned a Masters Degree in Economics from the University of Hawai`i and his Juris Doctorate Degree from the University of California at Davis in 1978. He has a long and distinguished legal career with legal services as managing director of both the Moloka`i and Wai`anae offices of the Legal Aid Society of Hawai`i from 1981 to 1983. He is a member of the Hawai`i Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the Japanese American Citizens League and is a national board member for the Rural Community Assistance Corporation and the Community Based Economic Development. In 1999 the state wide organization of the Hawaiian Civic Clubs honored Mr. Murakami for his legal advocacy to Native Hawaiians, especially beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust. He is licensed to practice law in the following jurisdictions, the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and U.S. Court of Claims.
David Kimo Frankel – David Frankel joined NHLC in 2006 as a staff attorney. He graduated from the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawai`i in 1992. At NHLC, Mr. Frankel focuses on Native Rights cases. He worked as a staff attorney at Legal Aid since 2001 and served as director of the Sierra Club Hawai`i Chapter from 1996-1998. He has worked within state government as well, as a planning and policy analyst for the Office of State Planning, committee clerk for the State House of Representatives, and legislative auditor for the County of Hawai`i.
Andrew B. Sprenger – Andrew Sprenger is a 1990 graduate of Mercer University School of Law in Macon, Georgia. He has been with Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation since 2002, where he concentrates on native Hawaiian land title matters. Prior to his work with NHLC, Mr. Sprenger worked as an attorney for legal services offices in the Navajo Nation and in the Federated States of Micronesia. Mr. Sprenger has also worked as a staff attorney for U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit where he primarily reviewed civil rights, habeas corpus and environmental appeals for the bench. He is a member of the Hawaii State Bar, the New Mexico State Bar, the Navajo Nation Bar, and is licensed to practice in the Supreme Court of the Federated States of Micronesia and the island state of Pohnpei, FSM.
Camille Kalama – Camille Kalama is a 2005 graduate of the William S. Richardson School of Law. She joined NHLC in 2006 after clerking for one year at the Hawaii Supreme Court. Ms. Kalama views her work with NHLC — to protect and preserve native rights and resources — as her kuleana or responsibility as a Native Hawaiian. She was involved in the Polynesian Voyaging Society and in 2001 was named NCAA Woman Athlete of the Year for the state of Hawaii. At NHLC, Ms. Kalama’s focus is on Native Rights and Hawaiian Homes.
Major Funding Sources