Stolen islands: Hawai'i demands sovereignty


By Kekuni Blaisdell

1993 marked the centennial of the 1893 United States' armed invasion of Hawai'i. On January 17 more than 12,000 indigenous Hawaiians, or Kanaka Maoli, joined a sovereignty rally expressing their outrage at the invasion and the lawless occupation and theft of our government and lands beginning a century earlier.

The current Kanaka Maoli independence movement began in the 1960s, but as early as the 1893 invasion and 1898 annexation of Ka Pae'aina (the Hawaiian archipelago), Kanaka Maoli vigorously resisted the takeover. The 1895 indigenous armed revolt against the haole (Western) usurpers, however, was quashed, with more than 200 rebels tried for treason and our Queen for misprision of treason.

Well aware of the indigenous opposition, the haole annexationists would not agree to an island-wide plebiscite on the political status of the islands.

Once annexation was in force under the US-imposed Territory of Hawai'i; the official policy toward us Kanaka Maoli was assimilation. Our indigenous language had already been banned in the schools in 1896. Under US haole colonial domination, we were taught to be ashamed to live the "primitive" ways of our ancestors. We were told we were fortunate to be Americans first and then, unfortunately, Hawaiians.

In earlier years, we learned to be afraid to be Kanaka, a term of derision usually associated with adjectives such as "dumb", "lazy", "drunk" and "dirty". Only in certain rural kipuka — isolated pockets of self-reliant Kanaka Maoli who were able to remain on, and live from the land and the sea — were remnants of the traditional culture and resistance to foreign domination maintained.

The 1959 US imposition of statehood brought an economic boom. Later the US military began to use Hawai'i as a mid-Pacific base for the Vietnam War. When the rural kipuka were besieged in the 1960s and 1970s by commercial, government and military developments, resistance to the establishment, especially by organised Kanaka Maoli, became overt.

Indigenous people began to claim ownership of their land to protest tourist, military and government-driven encroachments on island residents. In the 1970s, mostly rural Kanaka Maoli affected by the land dislocations joined with university activists to learn of and assert our special legal rights as the indigenous people of Ka Pae'aina.

This new empowerment was strengthened by the incorporation of our traditional Kanaka Maoli beliefs, language, and practices. These include aloha 'aina (love the land), malama 'aina (care for the land), malama kai (care for the sea), and spiritual ceremonies at gatherings.

Land occupations, evictions, jailings, court trials — mostly losses but occasional wins — continued. Numerous taro-roots organisations sprouted. Two causes in the 1970s gained special prominence. The ALOHA (Aboriginal Lands of Hawai'i Ancestry) reparations proposal went all the way to the US Congress in 1973. Then, in 1976, the occupation of the island of Kaho'olawe eventually succeeded in halting the US military's bombing there.

From 1978 to 1980, the state of Hawai'i reacted to contain the spreading restlessness. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) was created as an agency of the state to "better the conditions of Native Hawaiians ... and to serve as a receptacle for reparations" (from the US government).

In 1984, the first Native Hawaiian Sovereignty Conference convened with two of the five main speakers advocating independence from the US. Three years later 250 Kanaka Maoli delegates, attending a convention in Hilo, drafted a constitution for Ka Lahui, a separate nation within the US following the American Indian tribal nation model.

A turning point came in August 1988. At a reparations hearing conducted by US Senator Daniel Inouye on the University of Hawai'i Manoa campus, a demonstration for "sovereignty, not reparations" attracted the TV news cameras. Caught off-guard, Inouye publicly acknowledged, for the first time, our Kanaka Maoli people's right to sovereignty.

Alarmed, state of Hawai'i and US officials began to co-opt the sovereignty movement in order to maintain their control over the ultimate prize — the almost 2 million acres of our stolen Kanaka Maoli lands and the over 1 billion dollars in annual revenues from their natural resources.

Since 1988, the term "sovereignty" has been co-opted by US and state officials, including Senators Inouye and Daniel Akaka, Governor John Waihee, the OHA trustees and native legislators. Their definition of "sovereignty", however, is continued US and state control of our stolen Kanaka Maoli lands.

Three main models of "sovereignty" are now apparent, with multiple minor variations:

  • A "sovereign Hawaiian nation as a political subdivision of the state of Hawai'i", with the Hawaiian Home Lands as the land base. This model is promoted, but not yet openly, by the congressional delegation, the governor, the legislature, the OHA and the State Council on Hawaiian Homestead Associations. All of these parties support the governor-appointed 19-member Sovereignty Advisory Commission, recently created by the state legislature, that will advise on a state plebiscite for a "convention to propose an organic document for governance of a Hawaiian sovereign nation".

  • A Hawaiian nation within the US as proposed by Ka Lahui. This arrangement would be guided by US policy toward American Indians and Alaskan Natives. It would require petitioning the US Congress. If approved, the US Department of the Interior would oversee the new native government, perhaps through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Presumably the Hawaiian Home Lands and some negotiated "ceded" (stolen) Kanaka Maoli lands would constitute the new nation's land base.

  • A restored independent Kanaka Maoli nation, with, eventually, complete withdrawal of the US, is favoured by Ka Pakaukau, the Institute for the Advancement of Hawaiian Affairs and, perhaps, the 'Ohana Council of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Ka Pakaukau proposes a series of negotiated treaties, between the two nations as equals, with incremental progression toward establishing total Kanaka Maoli control over our entire Ka Pae'aina, as prior to 1893.

All three elements of the sovereignty movement are united by cultural pride, the desire to relieve the painful plight of our people and control of our land. On the other hand, some aspects of all three of these issues also divide us.

Too many modern Kanaka Maoli, like the tourists, have been seduced by the Hawai'i Visitors Bureau to believe that our culture is the Hollywood hula, hapa-haole songs and lei-making.

We have been so Westernised, Americanised, Christianised and de-Kanaka Maoli-ised that most of us are not aware of our ancestors' basic belief — that like all in the cosmos, we Kanaka Maoli originate from the mating of Wakea, our sky father, with Papa, our earth mother. Therefore, all in the cosmos are living, conscious, and communicating siblings. Thus, our spiritual as well as physical and biological attachment to our sacred 'aina, the environment.

Many Kanaka Maoli are still not aware that we natives in our homeland have the worst health, economic, educational, and social indices of all ethnic peoples in our homeland. Many of our own people are not aware that self-government and land and its resources are the two essentials for nationhood, and that we Kanaka Maoli have continued to be denied both by the US since 1893-1898. Because of this deprivation, we, like other exploited indigenous people, continue to decline.

The projection is that by the year 2044 there will be no more piha Kanaka Maoli, "pure" indigenous Hawaiians.

Some of us, however, refuse to accept that prediction and are determined to reverse the five main factors responsible for our grim status: depopulation, because of foreign illnesses and displacement from our lands, and Kanaka Maoli minority status because of continuing foreign transmigration; foreign economic exploitation; cultural conflict; our too eager adoption of harmful foreign ways, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs and the US high-saturated fat, high-cholesterol, high-salt and low-fibre diet; and neglect and malice by the colonial establishment.

Our commitment to the survival of our endangered people is the basis for the Kanaka Maoli movement.

Ka Ho'okolokolnui Kanaka Maoli, the People's International Tribunal Hawai'i, which was held August 12-21 in the centennial year of 1993, marking the US invasion of 1893, exposed and documented the long-suppressed truth of the US theft of our nation in the context of international law, and thus laid the historical, moral, and legal basis for the required remedies.

The Tribunal also brought our indigenous sisters and brothers from abroad to our homeland as expert witnesses, official international observers and cultural participants, thereby providing the basis for further solidarity against the dominant superpower — the US — during the 1993 UN International Year of the World's Indigenous Peoples.
[Kekuni Blaisdell is the convenor of the Pro-Hawaiian Sovereignty Working Group and the coordinator of JKa Pakaukau, a Hawaiian sovereignty organisation advocating a restored independent Kanaka Maoli (indigenous Hawaiian) nation. Reprinted from the Spring 1994 issue of Breakthrough, published by the Prairie Fire Organising Committee.]

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