An Open Letter to the Lahui May 23rd, 2009
Letter to the Lāhui:
Early this week I was a part of a panel “Hoʻopunipuni: The Myth of Statehood” organized by Arnie Saiki, in Los Angeles. Julian Aguon, Kekuni Blaisdell, Kuhio Vogeler and I all spoke about the many different and connected deceptions that have maintained the fiction that Hawaiʻi belongs to the United States.
We discovered that the audience, largely consisting of Hawaiians living in Southern California, was desperate to understand the nature and direction of the sovereignty movement in Hawaiʻi. They wanted to be connected to and contributors to the movement but did not understand why there was fighting between Kanaka Maoli in Hawaiʻi, why there was such opposition to Kau Inoa and the Akaka Bill, what the US Supreme Court decision on the Ceded Lands implied, and mostly when we in Hawaiʻi would finally give them a unified and clear path to follow.
I told the audience that we fight among ourselves in part because of the pernicious and ingrained deceptions that America has provided that have succeeded not only in disguising its imperial nature in the world but also convincing Kanaka Maoli that the US has some legitimacy in its claims to our land and our loyalty. To their complaints that we seemed to be fighting among ourselves, I replied that we have not just one American lie to contend with, but one lie after another, collectively confusing issues and making it difficult to achieve consensus, much less unanimity, yet we grapple with this constantly, striving to base our movement on fact and truth and some sense of honor.
I do believe that we will continue to disagree over many things, but I see no reason why we should not eventually get to the point where we can at least agree on how we see the US/Hawaiʻi relationship and understand the factual history of that relationship. Before we assume that some Hawaiian people will always be Americans by choice, let us at least be sure that they know the history that even America concedes.
Simply: The US assisted and participated in a conspiracy that helped fewer than a hundred armed malcontents take control of a nation that ruled over more than 38,000 subjects ardently loyal to the Queen. The US violated its own constitution in accepting the cession of the regime it sponsored and impounded nearly 2 million acres of kingdom property pretending that it was a legal annexation. The US imposed a colonial government on an independent nation state and allowed the colonial administration to lease and sell the very best lands of the Kingdom to a small number of already wealthy plantation owners during the first half of the twentieth century. In 1921 the US passed a homestead act in Congress setting aside slightly more than 1/10th of the land it took to benefit the poor and struggling Hawaiians, after first defining who would qualify according to a random assignment of blood quantum, and allowing the same territorial government to fund and parcel the lands as they saw fit.
By 1941, Hawaiʻi was considered an American colony by the international community which seemed to forget that the Kingdom had been a recognized, independent nation state until the United States formed the territorial government, and was placed on the list of “Non self-governing territories” by the newly formed United Nations in 1947.
In 1959, the US declared Hawaiʻi the 50th state after removing Hawaii’s name from the roster of Non self-governing territories and reporting to the UN that Hawaiʻi had been incorporated into the American union by a plebiscite in which more than 90 percent of the vote had chosen statehood. In truth less than thirty percent of Hawai`iʻs residents had actually voted and the only choices voters were given were statehood or continued status as an American territory. At this point, if there were Hawaiians left who remembered that we had been an independent country, they were not talking. Under UN auspices, greater scrutiny should have been applied to the process by which America claimed statehood for Hawaiʻi. Without international voices and with few published objections to our incorporation the US proceeded to transfer control of nearly one and a half million acres of Kingdom lands and Liliuʻs crown lands to the state government requiring only that the new state government assume the trust responsibility once borne by the US government for the native people.
In 1977 a federal-state task force investigating the Hawaiian Homes Act discovered that only a small fraction of qualifying Hawaiians had received homestead lands while a majority of the lands were leased out to non-qualified residents in order to raise funds to administer the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. Moreover, other ceded lands had been leased or sold without any benefit allocated to Native Hawaiians, an apparent violation of the requirement stipulated in the transfer of those lands to the state government in 1959. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs was created in 1978 in order to create an agency that could receive state monies and act on behalf of Native beneficiaries. In 1978 the Hawaii Supreme Court and the Legislature both confirmed that Hawaiians were entitled to a 20 percent pro rate share of ceded land revenues because of the terms of the Statehood Act.
In 1989 a story in the Wall Street Journal detailing the continued failure of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands had the Hawaiʻi State governments and the US government pointing the finger of blame at each other, although the Task Force in 1977 had already proposed a remedy: spend a billion dollars, half immediately and half over ten years and build the infrastructure necessary to put qualifying Hawaiians on the land. Neither would and both accused the other of bearing the responsibility. In 1998, the governor of Hawaiʻi acknowledged that a 20 percent share of ceded lands revenues to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs would amount to ten million dollars. He offered five million as the maximum that the revenue strapped government could afford and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs accepted.
Partly in response to a mounting frustration with the failure of the US to live up to its commitments, and partly in recognition of the dire poverty in which many Hawaiians found themselves, thousands of Hawaiians began to explore sovereignty as an alternative to continued poverty and marginalization. But a growing number of political and community activists and scholars began to analyze the nature of Americaʻs possession of Hawaiʻi and has since identified several different avenues of liberation.
One political avenue is to emphasize the Kanaka Maoli’s status as an indigenous people, which places us under the protection of the UN’s Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; A second acknowledges Hawaiʻi as an American colony, not lawfully decolonized, under the UN’s Article 73. A third focuses on the national status of the Hawaiian Kingdom and its rights under international laws to re-secure its independent status and the end of American military occupation.
Perhaps in response to these national and indigenous affirmations, US Senator Daniel Akaka proposed an alternative in 1994 that would recognize Hawaiian natives as a native people under the jurisdiction of the Congress and is finally poised to pass this legislation known as the Akaka Bill this year. The protections and assurances of this bill became more and more detrimental to Native Hawaiians over the past fifteen years in order to placate a hostile congress and administration. The shape taken by federal recognition has occurred with almost no consultation with Hawaiian organizations.
Regardless of the provisions of the Akaka Bill, federal recognition is merely the latest deception of the US government that it has some legitimate claim to Hawaii’s sovereignty and its lands. The naked truth is that our ancestors created a national government in the 1840s, structured by democratic laws and principles; created property similarly structured by modern laws and principles; secured treaties of recognition, cooperation and friendship; never raised a hostile hand against the United States or any of its citizens; honored the principles of international laws and covenants and strongly and uniformly opposed the takeover by the US in 1897.
Hawaiians today may claim that they have been Americanized, but not without fully understanding how this has come about, not through one deception only, but through a series of deceptions that continue to this day. In my opinion, it is possible that Hawaiians could choose continued incorporation with America or a federally recognized status as preferred political futures. But it would be a betrayal of our ancestors to base that choice on lies. It is also quite clear that we are legally entitled to that choice. Perhaps when all Hawaiians can agree on the history of how we have been claimed by America, we will have fewer fights over who we are and how we should proceed.
It is important that Hawaiian organizations and agencies like the Office of Hawaiian Affairs do not perpetuate deceptions by pressing for quick and immediate solutions to difficult political issues. As an agency whose mission is to seek the betterment of the Native people, the Kanaka Maoli, it should be leading the attempt to research, uncover, chronicle and discuss the history of our relationship with the United States. It should not be hurrying a process that Hawaiian people have not fully discussed. Unfortunately, its official position with regard to federal recognition is that time will only erode the political, economic and social conditions of Native Hawaiians in Hawaiʻi and that the Akaka Bill, regardless of its provisions, offers the only foreseeable relief.
Hawaiian sovereignty activists see the restoration of a Hawaiian nation as a long-term process of education, advocacy and requiring a commitment on the part of Hawaii’s people, not just Natives, to a just resolution of the American fraud. It is not likely that OHA can exert much leadership in this kind of dynamic, and it appears that its strategy, more and more, is simply to try and isolate the sovereignty movement as either hopeless or irrelevant. The extent to which this strategy wastes the talents and energies of a growing number of Kanaka Maoli is the true measure of its failure of leadership.
Finally, America’s insistence that it has legally taken our sovereignty has consequences for the fate of the Crown and Government lands. Whenever the US or state governments can assert an unchallenged claim to these lands, we as a nation are a step closer to losing them. Thus far, both governments have been able to assume ownership merely by possessing and controlling these lands and by virtue of US declarations in the Newlands Resolution, the 1900 Organic Act and the 1959 Statehood Act. The Hawaiʻi Supreme Court’s 2008 injunction against the sale of Ceded Lands because of our “un-relinquished claims” was a significant protection of our lands and claims which would afford us the time and the political support that our movement has only rarely received.
When the US Supreme Court’s opinion remanded the case back to Hawaiʻi, I concluded that we needed to fight this case again, arguing even more strenuously than ever that the Crown and Government lands are the property of the Hawaiian Nation and that the US permanent control over it is unlawful. OHA and the other plaintiffs chose to dismiss the suit in exchange for state legislation which, in my opinion, simply emphasizes the State’s possession of these lands and maintains the fiction that our national claim is limited or unobtainable. It is my belief that we should attempt to secure this injunction once more in the Hawaiʻi courts and require the United States to call forth or create the law that dispossesses us. That, at least, would clarify our relationship with America and bring forth the patriots who will lead us home.
Written in the Republic of Ireland
May 11-15, 2009
Jonathan Kay Kamakakawiwoʻole Osorio