Posted on: Monday, August 10, 2009
Some Hawaiian activists reject statehood, saying it’s a ‘crime’
Activists point to illegal acts, starting with the overthrow
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
In 1959, what opposition there was to Hawai’i statehood was based on a variety of factors, from fears that communists had infiltrated the territory’s labor unions to concerns that statehood would further disenfranchise its Native Hawaiian population.
Fifty years later, Hawaiian activists are calling for an end to the statehood era, not as a goal unto itself but as a necessary step in remediating a series of illegal acts through which, they say, the United States robbed Hawai’i of its rightful status as a sovereign nation.
Contemporary opposition to statehood, and by extension the larger Hawaiian sovereignty movement, is largely the result of a re-examination of Hawaiian history sparked by the so-called second Hawaiian renaissance.
As Native Hawaiian political activism flourished throughout the 1970s and ’80s – notably with the hard-fought success of the Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana – a new generation of Native Hawaiian scholars turned a critical eye to the circumstances that surrounded the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, the U.S. annexation of Hawai’i in 1898, and Hawai’i’s entry to the union in 1959, and began to formulate legal bases for Hawaiian independence.
The cause of Hawaiian self-determination has been taken up by myriad organizations large and small, from the state-affiliated but largely autonomous Office of Hawaiian Affairs, to grassroots organizations like Ka Lahui Hawai’i and Kanaka Maoli Tribunal Komike, to the estimated 20 or more individuals and groups that have claimed status as independent Hawaiian kingdoms, republics or other governmental forms.
While the specific terms of independence each group advocates may vary widely, the justifications are typically predicated on the grounds that the overthrow, annexation and statehood were all achieved via illegal means.
The Apology Resolution of 1993 – introduced by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, passed by both houses of Congress, and signed by then President Clinton – acknowledged “that the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii occurred with the active participation of agents and citizens of the United States and … that the Native Hawaiian people never directly relinquished to the United States their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people over their national lands, either through the Kingdom of Hawaii or through a plebiscite or referendum.”
Though the resolution did not directly provide for or require any redress for Native Hawaiians, the fact of its very existence has served to bolster Hawaiian sovereignty claims.
“Because of onipa’a (the massive demonstration of Native Hawaiian sovereignty advocates in observance of the 100th anniversary of the overthrow) in 1993, because of that pressure, Sen. Akaka felt compelled to investigate and that’s why they drafted the apology,” said physician and noted Hawaiian activist Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell. “They apologized for their role in the overthrow. They admitted it was a violation of treaties and international law and that they have violated the sovereignty of Native Hawaiian people and their right to self-determination.
“Now they have to apologize for annexation and statehood,” he said. “These are major crimes.”
No formal treaty
Native Hawaiian scholars argue that annexation was illegal both in relation to the overthrow and in the way in which it was approved by Congress by resolution (requiring a simple majority vote) versus formal treaty, which would have required a two-thirds majority vote.
As Lilikala Kama’eleihiwa, former director of the University of Hawai’i’s Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, argues: “Because of the queen’s restraint (in ordering no military resistance to the overthrow) and because there was no Hawaiian conflict with the American military, the taking of Hawai’i as an American territory in 1900, without a vote of the citizens of Hawai’i, and against the anti-annexation petitions signed by 95 percent of the Native Hawaiian population, continues to be illegal today.”
The argument against statehood seemed less clear until the 1990s, when Hawaiian scholars learned of Hawai’i’s theretofore little-known inclusion on the United Nations’ 1946 list of “non-self-governing territories.”
In 1953, the U.N. General Assembly passed Resolution 742, which held that inhabitants of non-self-governing territories were entitled to various options for self-government, including statehood, free association, commonwealth status or independence, with preference given to independence.
In 1960, a year after statehood was accepted by Hawai’i voters, the U.N. General Assembly reviewed the list and adopted a declaration stating that all non-self-governing territories were entitled to independence and self-determination.
Hawaiian sovereignty advocates argue that the “yes or no” options on the statehood ballot unfairly limited voters’ options to immediately accept statehood or remain a territory (the default assumption for a “no” vote), thereby denying them the opportunity to pursue options for self-governance.
Blaisdell said he and other kupuna are working to bring the issue to the attention of U.N. member nations in hopes of having the matter brought before the U.N. General Assembly.
“Our Hawaiian nation does not have a seat in the U.N., so we have to go through a member nation that is willing to help us. To do that, we have to properly inform them.”
Blaisdell and a coalition of Hawaiian leaders and community activists have also written to President Obama asking for a meeting to address Native Hawaiian grievances and requesting his help in suspending action on the controversial Akaka bill.
Richard Falk, an emeritus professor of international law at Princeton University and U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said the 1959 plebiscite was “legally dubious because it did not allow Hawaiians to exercise their full sovereign and inalienable right of self determination.”
“Of course, the long passage of time and the absence of effective opposition in 1959 could be argued to amount to a waiver,” Falk said. “However, if Hawai’i was once a sovereign entity, and if the right of self-determination remains operative, then the people of Hawai’i remain entitled to some sort of assessment of their preferences as to status.”
Falk added that while the limited options on the ballot do not necessarily invalidate the plebiscite, “it is easier to suggest that changing circumstances and the improper limitation of options in 1959 mean that the plebiscite was defective and needs to be superseded by a new more authoritative expression of the will of the Hawaiian people.”
Yet, sovereignty advocates remain steadfast in their efforts to attain self-determination.
For scholar-activists like Kama’eleihiwa, the urgency of the mission is evident in the appalling demographic profile of Native Hawaiians: low life expectancy and high infant mortality; increasing homelessness; disproportionately high numbers of Native Hawaiians in prison; disproportionately low numbers of Hawaiians in higher education, whether as students, faculty or administrators.
“Of course, the most galling issue is lack of access to our ancestral lands,” Kama’eleihiwa said. “We are a sea-going people, but lucky if 1 percent of us can afford land on the ocean anymore. We want land upon which to live and raise our children, upon which to build our houses and schools, where we can speak our ancestral language, and upon which we can plant our kalo and ‘uala, and practice our culture. We are the only natives in the Pacific that do not control a land base.”
And for those problems to begin to be resolved, Kama’eleihiwa, Blaisdell, Niheu and a growing number of others argue, the era of statehood must give way to something new.
Reach Michael Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.