Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is suing a group of families in Hawaii to compel them to sell their traditional rights to land he purchased in 2014.
The acreage, on the north shore of Kauai, includes small sub-sections of land known as "kuleana lands." According to Indian Country Media Network, this means native Hawaiian families retain the rights to use the land even if they don't live on it. There are 14 such parcels of land on Zuckerberg's 700-acre property, the outlet reports. Zuckerberg posted photos of his family on vacation on the property in December, days before filing the lawsuits. He hasn't indicated what he plans to use the land for.
Three companies owned by Zuckerberg (Pilaa International LLC, Northshore Kalo LLC, and High Flyer LLC) filed eight lawsuits last month to identify the owners of the kuleana lands on his property, with the intention of getting those owners to sell their rights to the land, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reports.
That legal process is known as "quiet title," and is commonly used by plantation owners to disenfranchise native families, CBS News reports. For families faced with expensive legal action, selling their land can seem like the easiest option although, as the Star Advertiser points out, that can mean severing a link to ancestral land that's been in a family for generations.
A local lawmaker, state representative Kaniela Ing, told CBS News that he plans to introduce legislation that would force land owners like Zuckerberg to enter a mediation process before he's allowed to single out and offer buy-outs to native land owners.
“Zuckerberg may be acting more transparently than the sugar barons, but it doesn’t make what he is doing right,” Ing told CBS. “In fact, if he’s successful, he will legitimize centuries of land theft in a modern legal context.”
Zuckerberg's lawyer, Keoni Shultz, called the process "standard and prescribed" in a statement to CNBC.
"It is common in Hawaii to have small parcels of land within the boundaries of a larger tract, and for the title to these smaller parcels to have become broken or clouded over time," Shultz said.