Land co-owned by the extended Kaio famiy in Laie and also BYU-Hawaii became publically embroiled in a Facebook controversy on Dec. 14 when a video featuring Martha Kaio, who lives on the land, went viral through the community. In the video, Kaio claims the university shut off her water three months ago in an effort to force her and her family off their land.
But members of the Kaio Family Committee Trust, who control the land, and a BYUH press release both said a water line broken during campus construction was the reason the family doesn't have water.
Martha Kaio said she feels the lack of water is BYUH’s way of trying to push them out of their home to build new married-student housing and dorms. However, Kekela Miller, a spokeswoman for the Kaio family group, and BYUH officials said that was not the case. Miller said, “They did not evict them off; President Tanner, President Wheelwright and Brother Black did not shut off the water. They did not tell them to move off the land. The family did.”
The Kaio family is working together to resolve the disagreement, said Miller in an interview a day after the video was posted. “The Kaio family will not fight each other. We will do it the way we were taught by our grandparents: sit down and talk about it,” she said. The family sent out of press release on Dec. 17 saying they are working together privately on the issue.
The Kaio Family Committee Trust, or the Kaio Ohana LLC, whose members and managers are comprised from their immediate relatives, meets on a monthly basis. As occasion requires, the family decide how their land should be best used to suit the interests of the Kaio family at large. Miller said Martha Kaio’s words do not reflect their family as a whole.
Martha Kaio, who was also interviewed before Dec. 17, and Miller both said the Kaio family members who reside on the property at BYUH were invited to these meetings, but Martha and her husband, Kealoha, decided not to attend the meetings to voice their concerns about lack of water.
According to the Martha Kaio, they have been without water since Sept. 12. "My purpose for [the Laie Voice video] is that we had our water shut off and we want BYU-Hawaii to turn the water back on,” Kaio said.
A university press release on the water issue says, “In September 2016, a pipe that was used to supply illegally diverted water to the parcel broke. The Kaio Ohana LLC as well as Martha and Kealoha Kaio were informed of the broken pipe and were aware that they would need to work with the Laie Water Company to legally establish water service. BYU-Hawaii is neither a state licensed purveyor of water, and therefore cannot legally act as a public utility; nor will it incur the liability associated with providing free water service."
A letter from BYUH Vice President Norman S. Black to the Kaios and the Kaio Ohana LLC said, “BYU-H learned of a water line break on campus early morning [of Sept. 6, 2016] from which K-Boy [Kealoha Kaio] has been diverting water to service an unpermitted dwelling on the parcel BYU-Hawaii owns as co-tenants with the Kaio Ohana, LLC.”
Since the water pipe broke, according to Miller, the Kaio Ohana committee has been working with the family living on the land and the university to resolve the disagreement. Miller said the university did all it could to help the Kaio family, but Kealoha and Martha Kaio denied the assistance.
Martha Kaio argued that during the time of President Eric Shumway, who served as president of BYUH from 1994 to 2007, there was no problem with having running water in their home, saying in the video they had “water access from them with no argument.” Kaio says in the video she feels that the water shut down was BYUH’s way of “trying to evict us off from our Kuleana Land.” When asked whether she had a written agreement between her and the university regarding their water usage, she said could not provide any documentation.
Miller said, “None of the presidents at BYUH have granted access to the water. I do not know where Martha got that information from.”
Martha Kaio said they haven’t paid for water over the years they’ve lived behind the campus. Miller said the family should have gone through Hawaii Reserve Inc (HRI), which owns the Laie Water Company, to get the water. “It wasn’t K-Boy who did it. It was way before they were on the property,” Miller said.
According to Martha Kaio, the land her family currently resides on is “Kuleana Land.” Kuleana Land is in reference to lands that were given to Native Hawaiians who could be caretaking tenants in conjunction with the Kuleana Act of 1850, which, per the Hoakalei Cultural Foundation, “grant[ed] to the common people titles for their own lands and house lots, and certain other privileges.”
Miller explained that the original Kuleana Lands were given to her great-great grandfather, Amaka Kaio in the 1850s, shortly after the Kuleana Act was passed. “They were working the land already, so they were awarded that land and the land was passed down from generation to generation,” Miller explained. Miller’s grandfather was the konohiki, or sole heir of land title and caretaker of that land, who also had a responsibility to take care of his immediate and extended family, which she said he did.
The Kaio Ohana owns parcels of Kuleana Lands, including the 0.32 acre of land behind the BYUH Heber J. Grant building. However, Miller said the family hardly goes to that property. “To be honest, we never went up to that place. We grew up in Kapo’ohaile,” Miller said. Martha Kaio confirmed that even though their immediate family spends Thanksgivings and Easters there, the family doesn’t collectively gather at the property behind BYUH. The title of caretaker then was passed down through the family. “Today,” Miller said, “Pele Marasco is our konohiki.”
Despite the extended family’s wishes, the Kaio family who lives on the property does not want to move. “We have given them ample solutions, but they don’t want to leave the land," said Miller. "That land is not owned by them. It is our family Kuleana Land.”
Negative speculators and commenters on the Facebook post, said they feel BYUH is “taking advantage of the aloha spirit the community of Laie has given to the university, and by virtue, the church. Miller disagrees with these comments. “In the history of Hawaii, you never see people sitting down and agreeing and disagreeing together,” Miller observed. “It’s either the Hawaiians are trying to get back on their land, but the thing is, we already are on our land. We don’t have to prove to anybody that we own the land.”
In Miller’s opinion, if the Kaio family decides to leave the property, it would be a “win-win situation.” The Kaio family feels that this is the best solution to repair relations within the family, she said, and the family’s relation to the university.
In two days after Martha Kaio's video was posted, it had been shared more than 3,000 times and more than 155,000 people had watched her video, according to the Laie Voice Facebook post.
The Laie Voice's post has elicited negative reactions to BYUH and the LDS Church. Derek Erickson said on the Facebook post, “This new BYU does not show aloha for Laie or its residents like the old days. The community needs to stand up and say no more!” Melanie Kelly Halsey, from Ewa Beach, said, “Wow, way to show the love of Christ! How ridiculous of the church to allow this! I guess money talks more than Christian values.” There were other comments that personally attacked members of the BYUH administration.
However, there were Kaio family members and others who commented on the Facebook post saying they felt this matter shouldn’t have been on a social media platform because it is a family matter and did not tell the whole story.
Unfortunately, Miller said, people who have jumped to conclusions and made shortsighted speculation, don’t have all the facts. She feels the Facebook post by Laie Voice is biased and one-sided. “BYUH stands for what they believe in. They were Christ-like in persuading K-Boy to move. Do you think that Laie would be a community without the PCC, BYUH, HRI, or the temple?”
Martha Kaio said if she is wrong, she will apologize publicly on social media.
Miller added, “The church was not stealing our land. And yes, it’s sad that there are people out there, who are members, who want to stir up all of this." She noted that proponents of Hawaiian rights are “raising the Hawaiian nation flags saying, ‘They’re stealing our lands. People are getting kicked off of Kuleana Lands.’ It’s just not the case.”