Ke Ao Maoli

Kaohi: Remember Kahale Smith..soon after the death of Kahale Smith I spoke to his brother

Remember Kahale Smith

E Ho`omana`o Kakou Ia Kahale
Remember Kahale Smith


On January 18, 1996, Hilbert C. Kahalelehua Smith lost his life in the flames that consumed his home, which he had ignited rather than let himself be evicted by the Department of Hawaiian Homelands and State Sheriffs, following 18 years of struggle over the home with DHHL. Whether suicide or accident, Kahale’s death is a tragedy, and a call for justice for Kanaka Maoli.

Below is a tribute to Kahale by his dear friends Michael and Sondra Grace of Anahola, and following are links to other tributes and related news articles.

Hilbert “Kahale” Smith was a friend to everyone in Anahola. He embodied the spirit of aloha. He never had a negative word for anyone and he always tried to bring the divergent parts of our community together. He came to the beach every day, usually in the late afternoon, for a swim and a quiet time with nature. He was a Hawaiian who tried to work in the American system.

It is ironic that he died because of the inability of the Hawaiian Homes Commissioners and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to find a solution to twenty-year-old problems. It is ironic because Kahale believed that the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act could work for the native Hawaiian beneficiaries.

In 1985 Kahale and other members of Kahea, Inc. came to our tent at Makapu`u Beach Park. They had heard we were going to be evicted and the wanted to help us. They gave us a copy of the Act and taught us the word “jurisdiction” and they explained why the City and County of Honolulu had no right to arrest us. Thus began our ongoing struggle to get the kanaka maoli people back on the land.

After five years we saw that the answer didn’t lie in Hawaiian Homes, but in rebuilding our sovereign, independent Nation. Kahale stayed with his belief that justice could be found with Hawaiian Homes and continued his work with Aupuni O Hawai`i. We honor his determination.

At the same time we hold the Commission and the Department responsible for the death of Kahale Smith. And even more culpable is the Department of the Attorney General and the Governor himself. In spite of thousands of Hawaiians telling them that things had to change, that the system doesn’t work, the officials turned a deaf ear to all of us. We went to court, we occupied land, we were arrested hundreds of times, we went to thousands of meetings and hearings. And we must not forget the 30,000 plus Hawaiians who died quietly on the waiting list. Kahale didn’t want much. He just wanted his home to be safe and to have something to pass on to his children. And he wanted his Hawaiian people to have justice. Me ke aloha pumehana o Kahale. We will continue your life’s work and learn from your aloha. Kahale, you are our hero.

Michael and Sondra Grace
P.O. Box 372
Anahola, Kauai 96703 Hawaii

Tributes for Kahale Smith

“This Wasn’t Suicide”, Interview with Henry Smith, Jr., Native Hawaiian activist and brother of Gilbert Kahale Smith., January 20, 1996, by Carol Bain

A Tribute to Kahale Smith
By Kawehiokalaninui-I-amamao Kanui, Hilo Office, Nation of Hawaii

E na`i i ka pono `a`ole i pau
A tribute by Laiana Wong

Never a gentler man walked…
A tribute by Michael J. Barretto

News Articles

Column on Kahale Smith
by Sue Dixon, Editor, Kauai Times, January 19, 1996

Anahalo man dies in DHHL eviction
`Upena Kukui Internet News, Friday, January 19, 1996

Hawaiian dies during eviction
Kauai man burns home, himself, after long court fight with state
The Honolulu Advertiser, Friday, January 19, 1996

Smith loved, hated Hawaiian Home
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Friday, January 19, 1996

A step-by-step anatomy of a tragedy
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Friday, January 19, 1996

Hawaiians angered by fiery death on Kauai
They’re outraged at eviction action
Honolulu Advertiser, Saturday, January 20, 1996

Big Island vigil to mourn Kauai homestead activist
Honolulu Advertiser, Saturday, January 20, 1996

State goals, Hawaiian rights issue collide
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Saturday, January 20, 1996

Critics focus on home land fire death
Honolulu Advertiser, Tuesday, January 23, 1996

2 agencies in accord on eviction decisions
Honolulu Advertiser, Saturday, January 27, 1996

Kauai Times, Wednesday, August 28, 1996

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A Tribute to Kahale Smith

By Kawehiokalaninui-I-amamao Kanui, Hilo Office, Nation of Hawaii

The State of Hawai'i Department of Hawaiian Homelands is responsible for the death of Kahale Smith. Although he is gone, his spirit will always be remembered in our hearts as a gentle giant who enjoyed more than anything in his life, were moments that allowed him an opportunity, to swim with his grandson in the Anahola Bay.

Kahale Smith, a soft spoken intelligent Hawaiian was one among 65 other native Hawaiian families who waited many years on the deadly State of Hawaii's Department of Hawaiian Homelands "waiting list" only to get the shaft instead.

After waiting many years he finally got a lot. Billie Beamer who served as the chairperson, awarded Kahale his lot during a groundbreaking ceremony on the Anahola subdivision and was responsible for allowing shoddy construction; poor electrical wiring, termite eaten lumber and poor plumbing that prompted a suit filed by Kahale and the 65 families. Beamer has since done nothing to make right the wrongs she is responsible for in this situation, she serves a trustee with the OFFICE OF HAWAIIAN AFFAIRS.

After years of litigation, mitigation and finally intimidation by the department and the State's Sheriff's department forced many to "settle-out-of-court" for less than they deserved. Kahale was a researcher, creative and very patient he went for the long haul and put his money into escrow, hoping that the department would in good faith someday repair his home. We believe that they are in clear violation of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 in the situation of Kahale Smith because he was not "back in his mortgage" as they would like the public to believe and they did nothing to repair his termite eaten, shoddy constructed home he continued to live in, as he waited for 18 years.

The State's Department of Hawaiian Homelands has a bad record for 75 years that included; losing applications, leasing lands to non-Hawaiians before the native Hawaiians, favoritism, fraud, neglect, conflict of interest and ammending the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 without the consent or input of the beneficiaries. No one has a clear idea of what those 52 ammendments means in terms of the pros and cons, more importantly what affect they may have had in the Kahale Smith's case.

For 18 years this situation has caused economic, physical, mental and spiritual stress on Kahale. His wife left him because she couldn't take the pressure. His children moved with his wife, leaving him alone to battle the department that led to the straw that broke the camel's back.

We know how humiliating this all has been, we have seen the department and the State's Sheriffs office come with the John Wayne attitude and saying, "we're just doing our job" with no feelings what so ever, committing Genocide.

There is no doubt in our minds that the State of Hawaii's Department of Hawaiian Homelands, sheriff's office and the attorney general are all responsible for Kahale's death. One day, all of you will be called to stand trial for the death of this man.

Our heart felt love and aloha goes out to his wife and children for whom this lesson was meant for. We will miss this gentle giant who was loved by his friends, family and children.

Kahale Smith was a dear friend of mine and where ever you are, you will be missed in the Anahola Bay and we will continue to struggle for justice, your death my friend was not in vain.

E na`i i ka pono `a`ole i pau

Laiana Wong

E na makamaka heluhelu `olelo Hawai`i o keia wahi kulanui aloha o kakou, kahi e ola mahunehune nei ia mea he ho`ona`auao, ka mea ho`i nona ka `olelo pinepine `ia e `o ia ka mea e pono ai keia moku`aina, ka mea no na`e nona ka hulikua wale `ia mai i ka wa koke iho no e `ike `ia ai ke ku`u `ana iho o na kahawai kala e ho`oki`o ana i ke aupuni, aloha makahiki hou kakou.

E huikala mai ho`i i ko`u hapai `ana i keia `ano `olelo ho`okaumaha, eia na`e, i loko o keia makahiki e ho`ohanohano `ia nei `o ka `olelo Hawai`i, ua hele a he mea poina wale ka po`e Hawai`i. `Ea, e ku`u hoa welo like, mai noho a mana`o mai ua palekana kakou i ka ua mea `o ko kakou noho `ana aku nei i loko o Bachman Hall, a me kekahi mau huaka`i kaka`ikahi wale no a kakou i maka`ika`i hele aku ai i lalo o ke kapikala. Eia no ke ho`auhe`e `ia nei na Hawai`i mai kela wahi keia wahi o ko kakou `aina pono`i.

Ua ahuwale ka hopena o ka ho`opi`i `ia `ana o ka uku komo kula, pehea ka pakeneka, `o ia ho`i ka ho`auhe`e `ia o na Hawai`i mai na papainoa aku o keia kulanui, ka mea ho`i e noho nei ma luna o ko kakou `aina pono`i i `aihue `ia e ka haole. Tsa! `Ea, ma kahi o ke `oki `ana i na papa `olelo Hawai`i (`a`ole paha e launa ia hana me ka mana`o o ke kia`aina e malama i makahiki no ka ho`ohanohano `ana i ka `olelo Hawai`i), ke mana`o `ia nei paha e aho ka `oki `ana i ka pu`u o na Hawai`i me ka waiho `ana ia kakou i waho o ka `ipuka, kahi e kulukulu li`ili`i ai ke koko a ku`u ka luhi.

Peia no paha ka mana`o o ke aupuni a me kona ilamuku, `o ke Ke`ena o na `Aina Ho`opulapula Hawai`i (K`AHH), ma ko lakou pa`i `ana i ka `aina a me ka hale o Kahale Smith. Ua lilo paha kona ku`e `ana i mea ho`onaukiuki ia lakou, a `oiai he mana ko lakou e pa`i ai ia ia, `o ia ihola ka lakou o ka hana `ana aku nei i Anahola, Kaua`i, i ka Po`aha i hala iho nei. Mali`a o lilo ia kipaku `ana i mea e pio ai ia mana`o ku`e o ua `o Kahale. Kahaha! `A`ole ia `o ka mea i loa`a mai. Ua lilo na`e ia pau `ana ona i ke ahi i mea e `a ai ka inaina o na Hawai`i a i mea ho`i e ho`ike ahuwale `ia ai i mua o ke akea ke `ano maoli o ke aupuni `Amelika a me kona limahana (ke K`AHH), he keu no ho`i a ke aloha `ole i na Hawai`i.

`O ka mea `apiki, `a`ole i pau ko Kahale hihia i ka ho`oponopono `ia, a `oiai ua mau no kona hemahema i ka ua mea `o ke kapulu o ke kukulu `ia `ana o kona hale, ho`ole akula `o ia i ka uku i ka molaki i ke K`AHH. Mali`a o ho`ahewa kekahi kanaka ia Kahale i ka ho`ohalahala wale a me ke kuhikuhi wale aku i ke aupuni a i ke K`AHH paha no na pilikia a pau o kona noho `ana me ka mana`o e lilo ia mau pilikia i kumu e uku `ole ai i ka molaki. Eia ka`u `olelo i `ike `o ia ala, ua halahu wale ia mana`o. Uku akula no `o Kahale i ia kala i loko o kekahi waihona kala Escrow, kahi e malama `ia ai a hiki i ka ho`okolokolo `ia `ana o ka hihia. Aia no ia hihia e waiho ana i ia manawa me ka ho`oponopono `ole `ia, ho`ouna wale `ia mai he akua lele na ka ho`omana kala. Ua pau ka hale i ke ahi, `a`ole na`e i pau ke ahi o Kahale. Eia no ke ola nei i na pulapula, a e lilo no ia i pulakaumaka no ke aupuni e ho`omana`o mau ai e `a`ohe wahi pono o kana hana.

Wahi a ke K`AHH, he pono ka `ohi `ia o na `ai`e e waiho nei. I kala ho`i ia e pono ai na Hawai`i e kali nei `o ke kako`o `ia mai. Peia no paha ke kukulu `ia `ana o kekahi Wal-Mart ma ka `aina ho`opulapula i Pana`ewa. Wahi a ke K`AHH, i mea ia haleku`ai e pono ai na Hawai`i. He aha ke `ano o ia mana`o? `O ka hana `ino anei i na Hawai`i ka mea e pono ai na Hawai`i? Eia ke kupanaha o na kupanaha. He Hawai`i ka limahana o ke aupuni, a eia no `o ia, ma kekahi `ano, ke ho`oili nei i ka hewa i luna o kahi Hawai`i (`o Kahale) no ka nele o kekahi Hawai`i he `aina a he kala paha e kukulu ai i hale i luna o ia `aina. Ho`okahi wale no hopena e `ike `ia ma muli o keia `ano no`ono`o, `o ia ho`i, e hulikua ana na `ale o ka moana a e pa`a ana ka pu`u o kahi Hawai`i i ka lima o kekahi Hawai`i me ka `umi aku a `umi mai `oiai ka luna e kuaki`i maila me kona mino`aka nui `a`ole o kana mai.

I ala kakou a `ike i ka `oia`i`o, e `ike no ho`i kakou e `a`ole pau ka hana a Kahale a `a`ole pau ka hana a kakou. E na`i wale na`e kakou i ka pono `a`ole i pau.

Never a gentler man walked...

Aloha kakou.

Kahale and I spent many hours delving into our common geneology. He was a great resource for me and the many people with whom he was family... pronounced 'ohana. Never a gentler man walked keia mau mokupuni and our loss is surely felt 'round the world.

Kahale never once uttered a bittter word to me. He expressed his disappointment with the DHHL, but condemned no man. Like the true great spirit that he is, Kahale kept any low utterances to himself.

Now that our crisis is so prominently displayed through his death, please keep his aloha, his anoai alive and live the words "ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono." Truly, our righteousness will preserve this aina.

J. Michael Barretto
PO Box 383
Hanapepe HI 96716
Fax (808)335-8530

Kahale Smith

January 19, 1996

by Sue Dixon

Though some will remember Kahale Smith as a martyr, his brother says that would be wrong. "He just snapped," says Henry Smith. "If they hadn't kept hassling him, he wouldn't have set the house on fire."

And if law enforcement officers hadn't physically restrained him, Henry says, he might have been able to talk to his brother into coming out of the house alive.

As it was, Kahale perished in his burning home last Thursday morning and, says Henry, "the department of Hawaiian Home Lands said the Commissioners murdered my brother."

It was a standard Hawaiian Homes eviction gone crazy. A crowd had assembled at Kahale's Anahola home, DHHL officials, law enforcement officers, movers and a deputy attorney general were at the scene. One minute Kahale, 59, was cooperating, the next the house was in flames.

The first time he was ordered to vacate. In 1984, Kahale, a gentle giant of a man, chained his 300-pound frame to a wooden railing on the front porch of the home he purchased in 1977 on property leased from DHHL. He won that battle and another in 1986 when the state Supreme Court ruled that he could stay until a settlement in his dispute with DHHL could be reached.

He was ordered to vacate again on September 30, 1993. He lost appeals to both the Circuit and State Supreme courts and was ordered again to vacate in April 1995. A court order finally set the date for January 5, 1996. Officials showed up on January 18.

Kahale never gave up. The house he had bought from DHHL in 1977 was defective and he wanted it fixed.

Even after years of receiving notices to vacate and losing appeals, no one was prepared when officials finally showed up to evict.

Henry said Kahale called him at 8:00 a.m. and said officials and movers had arrived to move him out. When Henry got there he found his brother frantically trying to save personal property and important legal papers such as tax returns that he was preparing for clients.

"DHHL people were all over his case for moving too slow," Henry says. All of a sudden, Kahale just headed for the house. Two or three minutes later it was on fire.

Sometimes people snap over something they could have handled a day or an hour later. But Kahale had been handling his frustration for years. In fact, says Henry, his brother had been released from the hospital only a few days earlier. "Chest pain," says Henry. "Stress."

The stress stemmed from something Kahale didn't believe was right. He had been sold a defective house. So had some of his neighbors. DHHL sued the contractor, was awarded a settlement and agreed to fix the faulty homes.

"They told him they would fix his window, shower and the roof," Henry says, Kahale got an estimate for repairs that totaled $65,000. He got another estimate for a new house. That came to $46,000. He wanted either a complete repair job or a new house. Windows, showers and roof weren't satisfactory.

Henry says as the dispute went on, his brother kept paying a little on his mortgage. A little wasn't enough. That's why DHHL officials showed up last Thursday ready to evict.

Kahale knew he was fighting a lopsided battle. Last summer, he told the Kaua'i Times his ship was sinking but he was determined to stay with it.

That's why it's not hard to link him to martyrs like the Buddhist monk who went up in flames in protest of the Vietnam War. Kahale's private war erupted last Thursday morning. He was out-numbered and overpowered. Chaos reigned and no one would listen to him.

But, says Henry, his brother wasn't trying to be a martyr. He just snapped.

I wouldn't call Kahale a martyr either. I'd call him an unsung hero, a man who represented hope to more native Hawaiians who have stood up despite overwhelming odds to fight for their rights.

The Reverend Kaleo Patterson had called for an end to Hawaiian Home evictions until DHHL can get its own house in order. That's a sane piece of advice.

For years, DHHL has found excuses for playing by a duplicitous set of rules. Challenge to those rules is met with force against homesteaders like Kahale, force that leads to retaliation and sometimes tragedy./

Sure Kahale snapped. His house was falling apart. He wanted to have something to leave one day to his wife and four children. He'd been given a take it or lose it remedy by the department. He'd lived under the threat of eviction for more than a decade. And the stress was taking its toll.

Kali Watson, Hawaiian Homes Commission chair, has expressed shock and sympathy at the recent events surrounding Kahale's death.

Mayor Maryanne Kusaka announced her regret. "I knew him as a good, mature, gentle individual, positively involved in community projects. He was particularly proud of what he contributed to Anahola park." She said in a press release, "It is a tragic end to Kahale's life".

Tragic unfair but in a very real sense a heroic statement that reflects the frustration of generations of homesteaders who, in their beliefs have never quite accepted the white man's rules.

Slowly, slowly the outlook for Hawaii's native people is brightened. But for Kahale time ran out.

Friday, January 19, 1996

The battle between 59-year-old Gilbert Smith and the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands ended yesterday with a deadly fire on Kaua`i. Smith had been withholding mortgage payments on his Anahola home, protesting what he called shoddy construction. While deputy sheriffs and DHHL officials surrounded the house, state agents entered to deliver the eviction notice. Smith had apparently poured gasoline on the floor, and while the agents watched, he lit a match and set fire to his home. The officers escaped without injury, but Smith remained inside, where he died. Today, DHHL spokesman Francis Apolina expressed sorrow and shock over the tragedy. The man's nephew, Kamealoha Smith -- who yesterday blamed the department for his uncle's death -- met today with DHHL heads on O`ahu. "The biggest question that I have on my mind," said Kamealoha Smith, "is what went wrong." While an investigation into the incident continues, 30 Hawaiian groups plan to meet tomorrow in Kalihi to plan memorial services for Gilbert Smith, and discuss various complaints against the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

Tuesday, January 23, 1996

Native Hawaiian leaders gathered today on the grounds of Iolani Palace to remember the life of Hilbert Kahale Smith, who died last Thursday after setting fire to his Anahola Homstead house during his eviction. They were critical of the state Department of Hawaiian Homelands, some calling the agency responsible for Smith's death. "The department chose to follow an iron-fist policy of dispossessing Mr. Smith rather than fulfilling their legal obligations to him as a beneficiary," said Ka Lahui Hawai`i leader Haunani-Kay Trask. Smith was being evicted after a 17-year fight with the state; he stopped paying his mortgage in protest of shoddy construction work on his home. Trask called for the resignation of DHHL head Kali Wilson and the department's commissioners. Wilson said he hoped the department could learn from what happened on Kaua`i. "Hopefully something positive will come out of this," he said. However Smith said he had no plans of stepping down, saying that recent legal settlements and land appropriations demonstrated the need for stability. "My intent is to continue what we've been doing in furthering the program," he said. Smith will be remembered with a memorial service and candlelight vigil at 6:30PM this Saturday at Iolani Palace.

Hawaiian dies during eviction

Kauai man burns home, himself, after long court fight with state

Honolulu Advertiser
Friday, January 19, 1996

By Jan Ten Bruggencate and Greg Wiles

Ananhola, Kauai - Hilbert Kahale Smith, a huge, gentle man, appeared calm and resolved as he walked around his Anahola Hawaiian Homes living room, pouring gasoline on the floor.

State sheriffs and a moving company had showed up at 8 a.m. yesterday at Smith's home on rural Mahuahua Road. They had a writ of possession issued by the District Court, and proceeded to evict Smith from the house he has owned since it was new.

Smith had a box of wooden matches in his hand.

One mover was in the house with Smith.

"I said, 'Don't do it,' be he just lit one and dropped it," said Manuel Lomosad . "As soon as it hit the floor, the flames came out. We were standing in the flames."

An hour later, Smith was dead inside, and his brother, Henry, was accusing the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands of murder.

"Hawaiian Homes murdered my brother. They drove him to this," said Henry, who was himself evicted from his Hawaiian Homes property last year.

"They knew something like this would happen. He did indicate that he wasn't going to move out peacefully."

Hawaiian Homes Chairman Kali Watson said he was shocked and saddened by Smith's death, and called for an investigation of the entire case. "There's a sincere feeling of deep sorrow and we'd like to express our deep felt condolences for the family," said Watson, explaining that the department will try to help the family out if it can.

Hawaiian groups on other islands were planning memorial services yesterday. But on Kauai, many in the Hawaiian community were simply stunned.

"I can't talk about it now," said Michael Grace, a Hawaiian lands activist who has been the subject of sheriff-led evictions ordered [by] the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the Office of the Attorney General.

Hilbert Clarence Kahalelehua Smith, 59, was a soft-spoken man who weighed over 300 pounds. He once owned a shop in the Coconut Plantation Marketplace, and once ran the snack shop in the Lihue State Building. He prepared taxes for people, and was a quiet supporter of Hawaiian causes.

He was firm when he believed he was right. And when it came to his Hawaiian Homes house, he believed he was right. He and many other residents were awarded house and lot packages in 1977, but quickly found the houses flawed.

Smith and other residents reported rusting and leaking roofs, floor weakness, electrical and plumbing problems, collapsing cabinets and other construction defects.

So he refused to pay his DHHL mortgage. The department found him delinquent, canceled his lease and in 1984 ordered him to vacate the property.

Smith and other lessees sued the department because of the construction defects, and the court halted the eviction process. But when Smith and the state couldn't reach agreement about repairing the defects, it again held a hearing, canceled his lease and ordered him to vacate.

He appealed, but his appeal was dismissed. Legal maneuvering continued until Jan. 5, when the District Court issued a writ of possession, which allowed the department to evict Smith.

"He fought the fight," said his attorney, Mark Zenger, who had planned to file an appeal of the eviction order. "He went to the newspapers. He went to court. He went to the Supreme Court twice. He went to three (DHHL) administrative hearings. He kept coming back. He never stopped. His claim remains unresolved today."

Other residents accepted Hawaiian Homes offers of repairs to their homes. But Smith said many of those repairs were insufficient, and left people with the need to repeatedly fix their houses. His brother Henry likened it to a car.

"You had four flat tires and they only fixed one," Henry said yesterday.

The analogy was an appropriate one for Hilbert Smith, a car buff who made money repairing and reselling old cars and selling parts. Several older cars and antique vehicles stood in his yard yesterday, surrounding the burned-out shell of his home.

Zenger said Smith, who often fought without the help of an attorney, was exhausted by the battle but continued fighting for the house because he wanted to be able to leave it to his children.

"He was a martyr," Zenger said.

"He called me this morning and said, 'Come help me. They moving me out,'" Henry Smith said.

State officials said when he was informed of the eviction, Hilbert Smith began assisting sheriff's deputies and employees of Kauai Freight in moving his belongings out of the house.

Lomosad of Kauai Freight said that one point about 9 a.m., he and Smith were alone in the house. Lomsoad said he was standing in the living room near the front door, when Smith walked in from the back of the house with a red plastic gas can.

"He just got the can and turned it upside down and walked around. He was mumbling - he talked very softly - something about 'If I can't have the house, I might as well burn it.' Something like that."

"He didn't show any signs of being in distress or anything like that," Lomosad said.

Lomosad said he was near the front door, and ran out, expecting Smith to follow. But when he looked back, Smith was no longer there.

"Within a couple of seconds, there was smoke everywhere and flames were coming out the front door."

Sheriffs deputies broke in a window to try to reach Smith, but couldn't find him. They tried to enter the kitchen door, but it was barricaded by Smith's body.

It was not clear whether he was trying to prevent entry, or whether he had collapsed there.

Smith loved, hated Hawaiian Home

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Friday, January 19, 1996

By Joan Conrow and Mary Adamski

Anahola, Kauai - Hawaiian homesteader Hilbert C. K."Kahale" Smith blamed his "broken down" house for ruining hishealth, destroying his marriage.

Still, he loved his Anahola home and vowed to torch itrather than turn it back to the Department of Hawaiian HomeLands.

And during an eviction yesterday morning, Smith did justthat, burning to death in flames that engulfed the house. HawaiianHomes was trying to repossess the house, saying Smith wasdelinquent on lease payments.

"It's a tragedy," said Kauai police Lt. Martin Curnan. "Hewas burnt beyond recognition."

The house, the focus of an 18-year fight between Smithand Hawaiian Homes, was gutted. Only the metal roof and frameremain of the home that Smith claimed had been cursed by faultyworkmanship since he moved in.

The state attorney general has begun an investigation,said Kali Watson, chairman of the Hawaiian Homes Commission.He set a meeting today to debrief his department employees.

Curnan said Smith, 58, reportedly was cooperating withthe surprise eviction when he suddenly went back inside thehouse, where he apparently had earlier poured gasoline. Smithwas seen lighting a match about 9:50 a.m., Curnan said, and thewooden structure was quickly engulfed. "He made no attempt toget out."

Police are unsure whether Smith intended to kill himselfor got caught in the blaze and couldn't escape.

Curnan said an autopsy may help answer that question.

But Smith's brother, Henry, who witnessed the eviction,said he doesn't think the fire was planned. "He had too manydocuments that I know he wouldn't burn," said Henry Smith, whowas evicted by Hawaiian Homes last October after a similarhousing repair dispute. A valuable old coin and paper moneycollection also was in the house.

Henry Smith said his brother initially was "in a joyousmood" during the eviction, "but there were too many bossestelling him to do this, do that. They were touching a lot of stuff he 
didn't want them to, and it was getting him upset, depressing him.

"I believe they drove him to that, to the point of noreturn."

Once the fire started, he said, he tried to reach hisbrother but was blocked by law enforcement officers.

"If they hadn't blocked me, I know I could have gottenhim out. They didn't do anything, and nobody came up to me tosay so much as 'I'm sorry.' They had 20 guys there. Don't tell methey couldn't prevent this."

Ten sheriff's deputies joined Hawaiian Homes and theattorney general's office in serving the eviction papers.

Smith told deputies that he needed gasoline to start upand move his cars, said Gregg Takayama, spokesman for thestate Department of Public Safety.

"They allowed him to get the gasoline to pour into thecars," Takayama said.

"It happened very quickly. There wasn't much they coulddo once he set himself on fire."

Takayama said none of the deputies knew that Smith hadpreviously threatened to burn the house rather than turn it over.

Smith threatened to set the house afire when he wasinterviewed in June and October by a Star-Bulletin reporter, whotold Hawaiian Homes officials Chad Taniguchi and John Hirotaabout the threat.

Watson said he could not comment on whetherdepartment staffers were forewarned.

"I don't know what was said or conveyed to departmentpersonnel. We are in the process of investigation to find out thecircumstances leading up to this tragic incident," Watson said.

Curnan said Kauai police were never told that Smithintended to burn his house. Police didn't respond until the call of a fire came in, he said.

Kauai attorney Ken Carlson, who represented Smith inhis last legal fight against Hawaiian Homes, knew of Smith'sthreat to burn his house but said he didn't go to Anaholayesterday because "there have been so many false alarms that Ididn't think that this time it would be anything otherwise. Still, it 
doesn't really surprise me, because how many years has he beengoing through this frustration?"

Kay Smith, married to Smith's second cousin, wasstunned to learn that the man who once baby-sat for her childrenhad perished in the flames. She found it difficult to believe hisdeath was planned. "He's like the most congenial, wonderfulperson," she said. "He's always been a real happy guy."

Carlson said Smith called him about 8 a.m. yesterday andalerted him to the eviction. "He sounded pretty up," Carlson said,certainly not like someone who planned "to do himself in." Hesaid Smith was talking about moving his cars, "like he was tryingsave his assets."

Henry Smith said his brother had been hospitalizedrepeatedly because "of the stress he was going through with this,"and was under the care of a cardiologist and psychiatrist.

"His avenues were exhausted and I think he saw thatthere was nothing for him after this," Carlson said. "He's madethis issue his life and now they've defeated him."

Hawaiian activist Harold Jim, who had aided Smith in hisfight for more than a decade, said he believes his frienddeliberately took his own life because he was "disgusted, sick ofHawaiian Homes. They drove a man insane, to kill himself andburn himself. That's how they treat Hawaiians."

Jim said he believes some Hawaiian Homes officialswere waging a personal vendetta against Smith.

"I'm very, very angry," Jim said. "It was totallyunnecessary what the commission did to him. They just wantedto get rid of his ass. They cost him his wife, his job, his kids,everything."

Carlson said: "He had no other avenue but to give his lifeso maybe somebody would review what DHHL has done.

"Kahale has played the ace in the hole here."

A step-by-step anatomy of a tragedy

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Friday, January 19, 1996

Hilbert Smith and his attorney, Ken Carlson, contended Smithwas not delinquent on his lease because he was makingpayments to an escrow account authorized by the courts, butnever recognized by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.Smith offered to pay off his loan last year, but the agency said itwas too late. His homestead history:

June 29, 1977
Smith was granted a $25,000 DHHL loan withmonthly payments of $206 due for 25 years.

May 28, 1982
A contested-case hearing was held after Smithfailed to maintain the loan payment schedule. He was ordered tomake payments.

Sept. 6, 1984
The entire delinquent amount was ordered paid byOct. 5.

Oct. 6, 1984
The department ordered him to vacate by Dec. 5.

Smith and the other lessees sued the Department ofHawaiian Home Lands over construction defects.

July 5, 1985
Smith requested that his payment schedule bemodified. A state judge granted a stay of the department'srepossession request.

Dec. 20, 1985
The Hawaiian Homes Commission approvedSmith's request to temporarily adjust his payment from $206 to$10.

April 1986
His monthly payment was increased to $175 after adepartment review of his financial status.

Nov. 29, 1988
An out-of-court agreement was reached abouthomesteaders' claims of defective construction, with claimsdismissed or settled.

Smith appealed another effort to evict him. The stateSupreme Court ruled in his favor because he was not affordeddue process.

July 30, 1993
The commission canceled his lease and orderedhim to vacate by Sept. 30. He had 30 days to appeal but took 44days to do so.

Jan. 10, 1994
A state judge dismissed his appeal.

March 10, 1995
He appealed to the Hawaii Supreme Count.

March 10, 1995
The high court dismissed the appeal, and ruledthe Circuit Court lacked jurisdiction to consider the originalappeal.

March 31, 1995
Smith requested a 30-day extension to vacate.

April 13, 1995
The department gave him 10 days to move out.

Dec. 8, 1995
Kauai District Court granted the departmentpossession.

Jan. 5, 1996
The court issued a writ of possession.

Hawaiians angered by fiery death on Kauai

They're outraged at eviction action

Honolulu Advertiser
Saturday, January 20, 1996

By Jan Tenbruggencate

Anahola, Kauai - Word of Hilbert Kahale Smith's fiery death swept through the state's Hawaiian community yesterday, carrying with it confusion, anger and a nearly universal call for reassessment of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

"I think this thing is going to ignite something in Hawaiians," said Larry Helm, a Molokai small-business owner and Hawaiian homesteader.

"The concern is: Why did it get to this point?" he said.

Charles Maxwell, a Maui activist and commentator on Hawaiian issues, said, "I don't know where the end is, but I know there's a lot of angry Hawaiian people."

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands yesterday referred all calls on the issue to the state Attorney General's Office, which did not return the Advertiser's calls.

Smith, 59, burned to death in the Anahola house over which he fought the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for the last third of his life. He poured gasoline on the carpet and lit it Thursday morning as sheriffs sent by the Department of Hawaiian Homes Lands were evicting him.

A preliminary autopsy report indicated he died as a result of inhaling smoke and fumes, police said.

Members of his family were gathering in Anahola yesterday, but some were still coming from off-island. A daughter said they wanted to all be together before they discussed the circumstances of his death.

Neighbors were outraged by Smith's death.

"These people showed no respect whatsoever," said Wilfred Kaui, a longtime Anahola resident. Kaui, a victim of a series of strokes, sat on a chair on his lawn as his grandsons mowed.

"People are mad. They're really salty for what happened to that man." Kaui said he awoke Thursday to the acrid smell of the smoke from the burning house.

Kaui, who once owned Kauai's largest security guard service, expressed his own concern that the state sheriffs who were evicting Smith should have been able to prevent him from burning his house.

"We were taught in FBI school, if you're with someone depressed, you should stay with him. You don't leave him alone," Kaui said.

Kaui's brother had one of the houses, and it, like Smith's, had defects. Kaui recalled talking to Smith about the electrical problems in his house.

"He was afraid of a short-circuit. He told me, 'I got an electrical problem. I tell them about it, and they didn't do anything,'" Kaui said.

Smith's good friend, William Aki Sr., said he believes Smith burned his house and himself because he was humiliated by the eviction. The man had tried for 18 years to negotiate with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, had failed, and was being thrown out as all his neighbors watched, Aki said.

"There were about 250 people watching what happened there. That kind of embarrassed him. Any Hawaiian you talk to, they have a heart. They have a softness in their heart. You get everybody looking, you get shame," Aki said.

Smith, aware that the department had a writ of possession that would allow his eviction, had already moved this cars off the property earlier this month, but when no eviction came, he moved the cars and himself back to the house, Aki said. Then, without notice, the sheriffs arrived with a moving van.

"Hawaiian Homes should have given him at least 10 days notice," Aki said. "I talked to this officer, and he said it was suicide. I said it was harassment."

Smith's activism began and ended with his battle over the Anahola house. It was part of a 66-unit development in 1977, in which DHHL hired a contractor to build the homes. Buy many Hawaiians awarded homes in the subdivision complained of multiple construction and materials problems.

After lawsuits and years of confrontation, some of the owners settled with the department. Smith never settled. He argued that when he agreed to pay for a new home, he deserve one without construction flaws. He refused to pay his mortgage to the department, although for many years he paid into an escrow account at the 5th Circuit Court.

When the department gave up on reaching an agreement with Smith, it canceled his lease and got an eviction order. Smith fought in court, and got one such order reversed, but the latest one stood and was the basis of Thursday's eviction action.

"I think this man was trying to prove a point. It shows the frustration of people trying to make the system work," said Maxwell. "This wasn't just regular protesting. This was a long, drawn-out thing."

Helm said the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands let the bureaucracy run away with the situation. Before getting to the ultimate confrontation, the department should have tried ho'oponopono, he said. Ho'oponopono is a Hawaiian technique of conflict resolution in which the parties sit down with family elders or community leaders and work out their differences.

"It is to make a wrong right," Helm said. "To dialogue, understanding both sides. Understanding and getting those two sides together so you can get a happy medium."

In Hilbert Kahale Smith's case, there was clearly an issue in conflict. Hawaiian Homes should have worked harder to resolve it, Helm said.

"I think maybe Hawaiian Homes should have said, 'Let's do a whole 'nother house. This one's not good enough,'" he said.

Both Helm and Maxwell said they fear a new round of animosity between the Hawaiian people and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

Helm is from a family with deep roots in the Hawaiian community. His brother, George, who disappeared at sea while paddling to Kahoolawe, became a martyr to the cause of freeing Kahoolawe from military control.

Helm's brother, Greg, is the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands supervisor on Molokai.

Big Island vigil to mourn Kauai homestead activist

Honolulu Advertiser
Saturday, January 20, 1996

By Hugh Clark

Hawaiian homesteaders will gather at noon today at Puhi Bay in Keaukaha to mourn the death of Kauai activist Hilbert Kahale Smith.

Smith died in a fire at his Anahola home on Kauai as he was being evicted by state officials.

Plans for the Big Island vigil were outlined by Patrick Kahawaiola'a, statewide director of Aupuni O Hawaii, which is made up of homesteaders, applicants and their families.

Kahawaiola'a and his followers ended a nearly two- week protest at the project site of a shopping center on Thursday to take a respite at Puhi Bay and plan their next step before a court hearing here on Tuesday.

Kahawaiola'a, a Hilo postal worker, has emerged as a central leader of Big Island protests over Hawaiian issues since the Puhi Bay incident of 1993 when dozens of Hawaiians were arrested in a dispute over use of the seaside park.

He said Smith will "become a martyr" for all issues involving Native Hawaiians, especially homestead concerns.

He described Smith as a member of his group and a friend of five years.

"He was probably the most abused Native Hawaiian," said Kahawaiola'a who, like Smith, has been withholding his home mortgage payments as a protest of state policies.

As much as he admires Smith, Kahawaiola'a said he does not recommend that protesters "go burn yourself."

Aupuni O Hawaii says it has more than 5,000 members.

State Goals, Hawaiian rights issue collide


Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Saturday, January 20, 1996

By Joan Conrow

Lihue -- Hawaiian rights attorney Paul Lucas says Hilbert C. K. "Kahale" Smith's fiery death could either widen or bridge the gap between the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and its critics.

Activists yesterday weren't talking reconciliation.

"This is the beginning of our true fight, to see our warriors going down," said John K. "Butch" Kekahu, Jr. of Anahola. "It's remotivated us to pursue what he's done and make sure his work wasn't in vain."

Smith, 58, burned to death Thursday after setting his home on fire during an eviction for delinquent lease payments. He and the department had battled for 18 years over repairs to the Anahola house that Smith alleged had been defective from the start.

"Hawaiians fighting this issue are so disgusted that Kahale would have to resort this low to get our government to pay attention to us," said Kekahu, who lives in the same subdivision as Smith and is still pushing for repairs to the house he has since deeded to his parents. "I'm sticking with it."

Harold Jim, a member of a Big Island group protesting the use of Hawaiian homelands for a Hilo Wal-Mart store, said he wants to FBI to investigate.

"They were waging a personal vendetta against Kahale," he said, referred to department officials. "We can't back down now, because we know just how far they'll go."

The state attorney general's office is investigating, and Hawaiian Homes Chairman Kali Watson met yesterday with his staff to go over the events leading up to the fire. Agency official John Hirota earlier said Smith had been treated the same as other lessees and that the department tried to avoid the eviction.

Kekahu said he is planning a May 20 civil disobedience action in Anahola and will use Smith's plight as a rallying cry to attract Hawaiians from around the state.

"The Hawaiians are a sickly people, but we're not afraid to die now," he said. "And you know why? Because most of our sickness is on the inside, the hurt and the emotions we feel."

Lucas, an attorney with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., said Smith's dispute with Hawaiian Homes was an extreme case, but many other homesteaders are frustrated by the shoddy workmanship on their homes.

"Most are just living with it, and that shouldn't be. In Kahale's case, I think he had a legitimate defense," Lucas said. "I don't know what happened. It's very sad to see his fight ended this way."

Most of the complaints revolve around homes built in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he said. Disgruntled homesteaders often must hire attorneys and construction experts to prove their case.

"It's a very long, drawn-out process and very expensive," Lucas said. "Most Hawaiians can't afford it."

So the state Legislature created a review panel that in 1993 began accepting claims against the department for the period of Aug. 21, 1959, through June 30, 1988. More than 4,300 claims were filed by last August's deadline, but only about 2.5 percent dealt with construction issues, said the panel's executive director, Melody MacKenzie. Most of those, however, were filed by homesteaders from Kauai and Molokai, she said, and only one has been resolved.

Lucas said Hawaiian Homes cut back evictions for a time, apparently recognizing that "to dispossess a person whose race or class of people have been dispossessed for years is a difficult thing."

Watson renewed the practice, however, seeing delinquent mortgages as another source of homes for Hawaiians on the waiting list.

"That can be good," Lucas said. "But it has to be done with sensitivity."

Lucas said he hopes Smith's death will help the sheriff's office improve the way it approaches evictions. Hawaiian Homes also has been criticized in the past for handling evictions unprofessionally, he said, but the agency is slowly changing.

"It's going to take time," Lucas said.

Critics focus on home land fire death

Honolulu Advertiser
Tuesday, January 23, 1996

By Greg Wiles

The death of Hilbert Kahale Smith on Hawaiian homestead land is renewing criticism and demands by Hawaiian leaders for policy changes at the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

Smith, who died in a fire he started while being evicted from department land, has become a rallying point for a group of Hawaiians who today will call for an end to homestead evictions and for a federal investigation of Smith's death and the department.

"His death is the most egregious wrong in a long line of wrongs," said Haunani-Kay Trask, a member of the Coalition to Stop All Evictions on Hawaiian Homes Lands.

"He is not the first person to be evicted. But we want him to be the last person to be evicted."

Trask, director of the University of Hawaii Center for Hawaiian Studies, was among several Hawaiian leaders who met Saturday at Kaumakapili Church to discuss the aftermath of Smith's death. Others included Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell, Bumpy Kanahele, the Rev. Kaleo Patterson, representatives from the Kingdom of Hawaii and Ka Lahui's Oahu Caucus.

Smith died Thursday after an 18-year disagreement with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands culminated in his eviction from his home at Anahola, Kauai.

Smith poured gasoline on the floor of the residence and ignited it.

The department has pledged to investigate Smith's death and expressed its sorrow.

Smith had been arguing with the department over construction defects, but had been paying his mortgage into an escrow account.

His death brought an immediate outcry from many Hawaiian sovereignty leaders who have said the department pushed him to the edge. It also has renewed attention on the department that administers 187,000 acres of land for the benefit . . . {printed text missing} . . . percent Hawaiian blood.

But not all Hawaiian leaders believe that criticizing the department in the wake of Smith's death is the Hawaiian thing to do.

They believe problems with the department should be worked out through ho'oponopono - the traditional Hawaiian resolution process of working through problems by talking.

"This is a time for Hawaiians to come together, to go back to their traditions, to learn to handle this crisis in a Hawaiian way," said Lela Hubbard, a member of Ka Lahui Hawaii. "A traditional concept in our culture is forgiveness."

Said Melvin Kalahiki, Council of Hawaiian Organizations president and former Department of Hawaiian Homes commissioner, "I can sympathize with those who have strong feelings. But at the same time they need to understand those that serve there are looking after the benefits as Hawaiians."

"We need to come up with solutions rather than pointing fingers, because it's easy to point fingers."

Yet some of those who have come together in the Coalition to Stop All Evictions on Hawaiian Homes Lands believe ho'oponopono won't work. Evictions like Smith's involve courts and law enforcement officers who don't respond to ho'oponopono, Trask said.

"The time has long past since there could be any talking about this," Trask said. "Hawaiians have been evicted for 20 years."

Hubbard worries about losing support if Hawaiians criticize too harshly.

"I don't think we should be whipping posts or doormats. But I think the silent majority wouldn't want to see all this fighting," she said. "They would want to see positive things and proposals to make changes that are realistic and intelligently thought out."

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands was created by the federal government in 1920 and was turned over to the state of Hawaiian in 1959.

It has been criticized for poor progress in awarding land leases to native Hawaiians and for favorable deals with politically connected individuals.

At the beginning of this year, some 16,000 people were waiting for homestead land.


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