About Us

Mission, Vision, Values, & History


E mālama a e kahu i ka loina me ka moʻomeheu Hawaiʻi.

Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation’s mission is to protect and advance Native Hawaiian identity and culture.

NHLC carries out its mission by integrating Kanaka Maoli (indigenous Hawaiian) values into the practice of law and advocacy in courts and before administrative agencies. Our work contributes to the protection and preservation of Native Hawaiian culture, identity, health, and well being. NHLC provides Native Hawaiian families and communities with legal advocates to navigate legal challenges in which Native Hawaiian rights are at stake.


He Hawaiʻi pono i alakaʻi ʻia e ke aloha ʻāina.

NHLC’s vision is a just Hawaiʻi guided by Hawaiian values, customs, and ways of knowing.

NHLC envisions a Hawai’i in which Native Hawaiian culture and practices enable a more just, equitable, inclusive, sustainable, and abundant way of life for all.


PONO (Justice + Righteousness)

Ua Mau ke Ea o Ka ʻĀina i ka Pono

The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.

We work to enable pono outcomes that foster life for the ʻāina and lāhui.

KULEANA (Privilege + Duty)

I kua naʻu.

Let me help.

‘Ōlelo No‘eau 1218

Advocating for the lāhui and the ʻāina is NHLC’s kuleana. We are honored, committed, and focused on fulfilling it.

ONIPAʻA (Determined + Steadfast)

E onipaʻa i ka ʻimi naʻauao.

Be steadfast in the seeking of knowledge.

Motto of Queen Liliʻuokalani

NHLC has stood ʻonipaʻa for Hawaiian identity, culture, people, ʻāina, rights, and justice since 1978. We are proud to be consistent and reliable ʻonipaʻa advocates for the lāhui.

WIWOʻOLE (Brave + Bold)

Ua hele au me ka manaʻo pʻa, Ua paio au me ka manaʻo koa, ua lanakila au me ka manaʻo pono, Ua mākaukau au me ka manaʻo wiwoʻole.

I went with conviction, I battled as a warrior, I prevailed through righteousness, I was prepared with bold belief.

Joseph Nāwahī

Hawaiian justice requires hulihia – transformation. Though necessary and inevitable, change is inherently disruptive and often uncomfortable. We commit to being wiwoʻole as advocates for the hulihia the lāhui needs.

PILINA (Relationships)

E ala! E alu! E kuilima!

Arise, Come together, Join hand in hand!

‘Ōlelo No‘eau 258

Our kupuna knew pilina is necessary for success against formidable challenges and that respectful interdependence strengthens us.


Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation was born during a period of reawakening for the Hawaiian people. During the 1970s, Native Hawaiians were engaged in monumental land struggles.

They were increasingly evicted from rural areas to make way for residential or tourist-related developments (Kalama Valley and Makua Valley). They were also evicted from one of the last fishing villages on O’ahu so that the State could build an industrial park. By the second half of that decade, Native Hawaiians were protesting the military’s use of the island of Kaho‘olawe as a bombing target. Meanwhile, a renaissance in Hawaiian culture was blossoming. Native Hawaiians were learning how to navigate across the Pacific using traditional methods aboard Hokule’a, a replica of voyaging canoes used by pre-historic Polynesians. They were revitalizing the indigenous language, which was outlawed shortly after the overthrow of the Hawaiian government.

This reawakening was another phase of dealing with a legacy of colonization. The Native Hawaiian people, who inhabited these islands as early as 300 A.D., had a complex culture and land tenure system. Recognized as a nation in the international community, the Native Hawaiian monarchy had treatises with other countries. But with Western contact, their sovereignty slowly eroded until a group of businessmen, supported by the U.S., overthrew the Native Hawaiian monarchy in 1893.

The loss of sovereignty and their lands have plagued Native Hawaiians. The U.S. recognized that lands set aside by the Hawaiian Monarchy for the benefit of the Hawaiian people (or ceded lands) retained a special character, and until today must be used for the betterment of Native Hawaiians. And the U.S. also adopted a law, the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, aimed at returning Native Hawaiians to the land. But justice was still out of reach.

As part of a grassroots effort to remedy the injustices suffered by Native Hawaiians, NHLC was formed in 1974. The concept of creating a law firm devoted to the needs of Native Hawaiians arose out of the difficulty Native Hawaiians faced in getting leases under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act. Those lands were increasingly being leased to non-beneficiaries of the Act, while Native Hawaiians languished on a waiting list for decades. Originally named the “Hawaiian Coalition of Native Claims,” the organization fought against a then-new wave of dispossession from the land to make way for a boom in urban development. Since then, NHLC has worked steadily to establish Native Hawaiian rights jurisprudence.