It's not clear how much the state could end up paying in damages to people who have spent years on the waitlist for Hawaiian homesteads following last week's Hawaiʻi Supreme Court ruling concluding that the state failed to properly manage the century-old land trust.
Seventy-six-year-old Liberta Hussey Albao, one of the original plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit filed more than 20 years ago, was harvesting bananas in her backyard in Wailua when her phone began ringing off the hook.
The state Supreme Court had unanimously ruled in her favor in one of the longest-running court battles over the Hawaiian home lands trust.
"Iʻm getting so much telephone calls -- 'I didnʻt know.' 'What did you go through?' 'What is the process?' 'Why didnʻt you tell me?'"
Albao was never one to seek the spotlight about her role in the lawsuit. She was among the more than 2,700 Native Hawaiians who sued the state back in 1999, arguing the state had breached its trust obligations by not awarding homesteads in a timely manner.
"I remember people saying, 'You die on the waitlist.' I couldnʻt comprehend that because I didn't know there were so many people on the waitlist."
She found camaraderie in the group of plaintiffs who shared their stories and their lives for the past 20 years. Her voiced cracked with emotion talking about those who died waiting for the decision.
"Iʻm gonna cry 'cause 400 died, maybe more. Itʻs so heart-wrenching. Itʻs very painful. Why did the Supreme Court take so long? Why?"
The high court gave Albao and the other more than 2,700 Native Hawaiians in the lawsuit a right to compensation for their losses. But she says that’s not the point.
"Many times, itʻs not the money. Monetary compensation. Itʻs the loss of being on the homestead land. Put us on the land," she said.
The Hawaiian Home Lands Trust was established by Congress in 1921 to provide land to Native Hawaiians of 50 or more percent Hawaiian blood for a $1 a year.
More than 27,000 native Hawaiians are currently waiting for land.