Challenges lie ahead for Hawaiian recognition

I’d like to feel good about the native Hawaiian recognition act signed into law by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, but it’s getting difficult to muster optimism as thorny issues of Hawaiian rights drag out.

The measure forms a commission to establish a roll of qualified Hawaiians, with the hope of eventually leading Hawai‘i’s indigenous people to some form of sovereign self-government.

The problem is that sovereignty implies a measure of independence from the state government, and it’s inherently contradictory for the state to organize the effort after Hawaiians have failed to organize themselves or even agree on a definition of sovereignty in the more than 30 years since the  movement began.

The state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which is paying for the new effort, came up short in its well-publicized Kau Inoa program to organize a Hawaiian roll and constitutional convention. Prominent Hawaiian activist Bumpy Kanahele failed to gain traction with a similar effort.

The failure of Hawai‘i’s congressional delegation to pass the federal Akaka bill for Hawaiian political recognition exposes any special rights for Hawaiians granted by the state to legal challenges, as with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Rice v. Cayetano ruling that struck down Hawaiian-only voting in OHA elections.

The gathering for Abercrombie’s bill signing at Washington Place was telling. The celebrants inside were the “haves” among Hawaiians — legislators, OHA trustees, civic clubs, ali‘i trusts — who enjoy considerable power in the broad community and aren’t inclined to greatly rock the boat.

The Hawaiian “have nots” who have little power and want to get it by restoring a truly independent Hawaiian government were out on the sidewalk protesting the bill as a sellout of Hawaiian rights.

No sovereignty drive will achieve credibility until Hawaiians can organize a leadership and agenda on their own and sell it to a critical mass of the diverse population of people with native blood.

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7 Comments on “Challenges lie ahead for Hawaiian recognition”

  1. Richard Gozinya Says:

    This has become one of those divisive issues where rational discussion is becoming more and more difficult. I find myself avoiding all debate since even among friends the talk seems to quickly escalate to name calling and the swapping of personal interpretations of historical events, usually incorrect in matters of fact on either side. I really dislike how the tone of discussions has turned to animosity. I’m a big believer that what joins us makes us stronger and what divides us makes us weaker and, for this old dude, we are headed down a path to weakness. Others’ mileage will, of course, vary.

  2. Andy Parx Says:

    Thanks Dave for being one of the few in the MSM to recognize that having the state leading an effort at sovereignty is “inherently contradictory.” But then you must see that goes double for the Akaka bill which the kanaka see as an attempt to steal their land, one last time, fair and square.

    The idea giving back the land only when there is a native group to receive it- the original premise of the Akaka bill- and then having that group be the state would be hilarious if it weren’t so utterly unjust.

    The haves and have-nots are not on opposite sides just because the “haves” have find themselves in those positions. Rather it’s the opposite- they have chosen to become “haves” because they don’t see this inherent contradiction, while the “have-nots” have chosen to be have-nots based on their aversion to “state run sovereignty,” preferring the UN model that agrees that it’s ludicrous to have the “occupying nation” determine how the indigenous people organize their “nation.”

  3. Larry Says:

    I recall that when Sen. Akaka came to Hawaii to promote his bill originally, he promised to hold public hearings around the state. Instead, hearings were held only on Oahu, where there was likely to be more support and less resistance. That was a divisive move from the very start.

    How can one say that Hawaiians must speak with one voice when every action is designed to divide them?

    Besides, the argument that we don’t have to listen to, or consider, or negotiate with, or whatever, with an oppressed people unless they are unified or speak with one voice is a long-running racist attitude. We white folks have a multitude of disagreements, whether over politics (political parties), religions, attitudes toward abortion, slavery, native rights, patriotism, war and peace,socialism vs. capitalism, immigration, and so on. Why do we have the privilege of being allowed diverse opinions on any and all subjects but deny it to those we have oppressed?

    Sure, it would be convenient for _us_ if Native Hawaiians had only one voice. But that’s not reality. The reality is that we just don’t want to consider sovereignty, and diversity of opinion is just a handy excuse to put off discussion.

  4. David Shapiro Says:

    Larry, I certainly don’t expect Hawaiians to speak with one voice any more than anybody else, but no political movement has ever succeeded without demonstrating enough commonality of interest to get a critical mass of constituents behind some kind of leadership and agenda. It has to grow from the people and not be contrived by the state or federal governments. Until that happens, no “settlement” will settle anything.

  5. Doug Says:

    If only that were true, David. Plenty of less-than-perfect, non-critical-mass “political movements” have managed to topple governments when supported (tacitly, covertly, or overtly) by powerful outside forces and/or violence.

  6. Andy Parx Says:

    The US always say “if you kanaka maoli can all agree you can have your land back.” But they do all agree on one thing- they want their land back.

  7. shaftalley Says:


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