Sovereignty advocates disrupt Akaka Bill presentation

Who speaks for Hawaiians?

A meeting on the Akaka Bill reveals a divided community

By Alan D. Mcnarie
Wednesday, September 16, 2009 10:30 AM HST

“We don’t want nobody to give huhu,” said ILWU business agent Wallace Ishibashi. “We agree to disagree on that issue….”

“That issue” was the Akaka Bill, which would set up a framework for creating a native Hawaiian governmental body that the U.S. would recognize. With the Obama Administration’s support, the long-stymied bill now appears to be headed for passage. Ishibashi had organized a series of meetings with native Hawaiian leaders at the ILWU’s leadership hall to disseminate information and exchange views about the bill. The ILWU’s state leadership supports the bill, but the Hilo meetings recognized both sides of the issue. In one meeting, union members had talked with OHA Trustee Bob Lindsey, who supports the bill; another had tapped the views of Hawaiian sovereignty groups that opposed it.

The Sept. 7 meeting, where Ishibashi made his “no huhu” remark, brought the opposing sides together: Lindsey shared the podium with Jade and Robin Danner of Hawaiian Homestead Technology, Inc., who had testified on the bill and who supported the it with some amendments; the audience held far more sovereignty activists than union members. The idea of the meeting was for the Danner sisters to brief everyone on the exact contents of the current bill, which had undergone major revisions over its 10-year history. But Ishibashi’s “no huhu” dream was quickly shattered, as the meeting turned from a briefing session into an acrimonious debate, and sometimes into a literal shouting match between supporters and opponents.

“That’s treasonous,” said one sovereignty activist of the bill. “You’re creating a native uprising among our countrymen.”

Over the course of the five-and-a-half-hour meeting, the Danners outlined how the bill would grant recognition to a government formed by Native Hawaiians. First, the U. S. Secretary of the Interior would appoint a nine-member commission to create a list of eligible Native Hawaiian voters who wanted to participate in the new government. “Native Hawaiian,” here, is defined by a 27-line-long description, but basically would be determined by whether or not someone could prove he had an aboriginal ancestor in Hawaii prior to the overthrow, or who could trace an ancestor who was “eligible in 1921 for the programs authorized in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.” No blood quantum would be involved. Those Native Hawaiian voters would then elect an assembly to create a constitution, which would then have to be ratified by the voters on the eligibility roll and accepted by the Secretary of the Interior. After that, a native Hawaiian “governing entity” would be elected, whose powers would include authorization to negotiate with the “federal, state and local governments and other entities,” to protect the civil rights of participating Native Hawaiians, and to “prevent the sale, disposition, lease or encumbrance of lands, interests in lands, or other assets of the Native Hawaiian Governing Entity.”

That “governing entity” would still fall well short of a sovereign state, however. It could not, for instance, negotiate treaties with foreign governments or raise a standing army. And, thanks to a Bush-era concession, it could not authorize gambling.

The Danners’ presentation was repeatedly interrupted by sovereignty supporters who disagreed with the bill’s language and/or content. The Danners and audience members sometimes argued over who had interrupted whom.

Kale Gumapac of the Kanaka Council said that the account of Hawaiian history included in the bill skipped a large section of history that was key to the case for sovereignty. Others asked why the document hadn’t been translated into Hawaiian, why kupuna councils hadn’t been consulted, and why the nine appointed commission members were not required to be Hawaiians themselves. The answer, according to Jade Danner: Originally, the panel members were required to be Hawaiian, but that language was deleted in order to avoid a legal challenge, such as the ones Kamehameha Schools and OHA had faced about racial discrimination. Instead, the bill requires a person to know the Hawaiian language and to have at least “10 years of experience in the study and determination of Native Hawaiian geneology.” Most of all, the bill’s opponents challenged the right of any government to take over lands and assets that, they claimed, belonged to the Kingdom of Hawai’i.

Among those assets, according to Lindsey, would be those controlled by OHA, which gets revenues from former crown and government lands — lands usually called “ceded lands,” but which some sovereigns call the “Mahele Land Trust.”

“The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, once this government is created, disappears. It will be absorbed,” Lindsey said, though Jade Danner disagreed that OHA’s demise was inevitable.

“That is a likely outcome of the negotiations, but it’s not an absolute,” she told the Big Island Weekly afterward.

Also up for negotiation could be the property administered by Department of Hawaiian Homelands — which raises the stakes for everyone in the state, because of the DHHL’s habit of leasing its land for public and commercial facilities. In Hilo, for instance, DHHL land sits beneath the airport, the sewage treatment plant, and Prince Kuhio Plaza, Wal-Mart, Office Max, Ross, Home Depot, and the future Safeway and Target sites, among other assets.

Many sovereignty supporters maintain that those assets still belong to the Kingdom of Hawai’i, which they claim was illegally overthrown and so, according to international law, still exists.

They disagree among themselves about who exactly the legal heir to the kingdom is — several different groups claim to be the true successors — but few people in the union hall audience seemed to think that those assets should belong to a government set up under the Akaka Bill.

The Danners argued that the bill would not extinguish any claims of the Kingdom; that it was federal law, dealing with the assets and problems of Native Hawaiians under an existing federal framework.

Jade Danner said she supported the reinstatement of the Kingdom of Hawai’i. But she argued that re-recognition of the kingdom was a long-term project that could take a century or more. When one Hawaiian elder suggested that “What we need is the blue hats (United Nations peacekeepers)” to come in and enforce Hawaiians’ rights, Danner said currently 75 percent of the “blue hats” were U.S. troops, and the U.S. was hardly likely to send them in to fight its own troops. A long-term campaign was needed, she said, to change the American peoples’ minds.

In the mean time, she contended, Native Hawaiians could use the Akaka Bill to tackle problems such as the high rate of diabetes among their people, and give legal weight to their own customs, such as the reconciliation process of ho’oponopono.

She didn’t appear to win many converts.

“You’re actually allowing the perpetuity of an illegal system,” argued one sovereignty supporter.

“It’s just another form of capture,” said another of the Akaka Bill framework.

“It’s as though you’re creating a wholly separate government for a fictitious Hawaiian people,” said Gumapac.

“The people who are pushing this bill are trying to divide the Hawaiian people,” contended Rev. Ron Fujimoto, a non-Hawaiian who has worked for years with Hawaiian groups.

But others recognized that Hawaiians were already divided, and their internal conflicts were making them easier for outsiders to exploit.

“As long as we are as divided as we are, Congress is saying, hey, let us go….” said one elder. “There is a wealth of knowledge here. Let us come together as one common force.

But as the meeting broke up, that unity had yet to be achieved. Toward its end, when one Hawaiian corrected another about the origins of the Hawaiian flag, Ishibashi sighed.

“We can’t even get together on one flag,” he said.


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