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This story was co-published with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.
Zalei Kamaile dreamed of owning a home.
The professional ukulele player worked long hours entertaining tourists on Oahu and saved her tips in a cookie jar. The money went into a modest house fund for her and her mother, but she knew that wouldn’t be enough. So in 1987, Kamaile, then 35, took the one step she considered her best shot at homeownership. She applied to a homesteading program for Native Hawaiians. Created by Congress in 1921, the program had a singular goal: return Hawaiians — especially impoverished ones — to their native lands.
Over the next two decades, Kamaile received