Saturday, May 4, 2013

The mystique of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement

The mystique of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement

By Ted Santos
The Daily Magi
October 16, 2042


The Hawaiian sovereignty movement (Hawaiian: ke ea Hawai‘i) is a political movement seeking some form of sovereignty for Hawai'i. Generally, the movement's focus is on self-determination and self-governance, either for Hawaiʻi as an independent nation (in many proposals, for "Hawaiian nationals" descended from subjects of the Hawaiian Kingdom or declaring themselves as such by choice), or for people of whole or part native Hawaiian ancestry in an indigenous "nation to nation" relationship akin to tribal sovereignty in the U.S.

Most groups also advocate some form of redress from the United States for the 1893 overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani, and for what is described as a prolonged military occupation beginning with the 1898 annexation. The movement generally views both the overthrow and annexation as illegal.

A counter-sovereignty movement also exists in Hawaiʻi, which views the historical and legal basis for these claims as invalid and discriminatory.

Of the groups in the current Hawaiian sovereignty movement, the best funded is the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). OHA, a department of The State of Hawaii, was created in 1978 by the State of Hawaii Constitutional Convention. OHA's stated purpose was to represent the interests of Native Hawaiians in the administration of the Hawaiian Homelands and the Ceded Lands — land formerly belonging to the Hawaiian government and crown that were ceded to the United States as public lands when the islands were annexed in 1898. When the Territory of Hawaii became a state in 1959, these lands were passed to the new state. The act transferring them ordered that they be administered for five public purposes:

The support of public education
The betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians as defined in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920
The development of farm and home ownership
The making of public improvements
The provision of lands for public use
Because there was strong sentiment that the second purpose had been largely ignored, part of OHA's charter was to address this issue. Originally, OHA trustees were to be elected only by Native Hawaiians, but in 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Rice v. Cayetano that this restriction was unconstitutionally race-based. As a result, OHA trustees are now elected by all registered voters in the state.

The OHA Board of Trustees has historically been known for factional infighting that some believe hamper its mission for helping Native Hawaiians.

There has also been something of a backlash against the concept of ancestry-based sovereignty, which critics maintain is tantamount to racial exclusion. In 1996, in Rice v. Cayetano, one Big Island rancher sued to win the right to vote in OHA elections, asserting that every Hawaiian citizen regardless of racial background should be able to vote for a state office, and that limiting the vote to Native Hawaiians only was racist. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor and OHA elections are now open to all registered voters. In reaching its decision, the court wrote that "the ancestral inquiry mandated by the State is forbidden by the Fifteenth Amendment for the further reason that the use of racial classifications is corruptive of the whole legal order democratic elections seek to preserve....Distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are by their very nature odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality".

Of further concern is the implication that claims for hereditary political power are connected to land claims. Proponents of sovereignty assume that if they can show that American presence at the time of the 1893 Revolution was unjust then it follows that the United States owes enormous reparations in cash and land to Hawaiians.

There were three kinds of land in 1893: private lands, Crown lands, and government lands. No private lands were seized as a result of the 1893 Revolution.

Crown lands in 1893 belonged not to any individual or to any group of individuals but to the office of the Sovereign. In 1893, The Government of the Republic of Hawai'i provided explicitly that the former Crown lands were Government lands. The Crown lands in 1893 were the remaining lands acquired by Lili'uokalani's royal predecessor Kamehameha I in his conquest of the islands, as well as his kingdom's previous holdings.

The Hawaiian Kingdom Government lands in 1893 were controlled ultimately by the Legislature. Private individuals had no powers, rights or privileges to use government land without Government authorization or to decide how it was to be used. If Hawaiians had any rights or powers regarding Government land, they had only the political right and power to participate in controlling the Government. Most ethnic Hawaiians then had no power to lose; they were a minority in Hawai'i and most of them could not even vote. As the term “sovereignty” suggests, what was at stake in 1893 was political power over the government and hence over the Government Lands and the Crown Lands (which had come under control of a government commission in 1865). Legally, the land belonging to the Hawaiian Government in 1898 has passed to the U.S. Government and back to the State of Hawai'i. People alive now have a democratic right to decide by majority vote how government land should be used now. No one deserves more than equality.

Although the Apology Resolution passed 65 to 34 in the U.S. Senate and by a two-thirds voice vote in the House, and without much public notice outside Hawaii, the Akaka Bill has generated a higher profile for the issues involved. An organized opposition now challenges the accuracy of historical claims and constitutionality of legislation they view as racially exclusive.

Opponents have called into question the accuracy of the Apology Resolution in that it is based upon an interpretation of the historical record that opponents reject.

When the Apology Bill was debated on the Senate floor, Senator Slade Gorton asked Senator Inouye:

“Is this purely a self-executing resolution which has no meaning other than its own passage, or is this, in [the proponent Senators'] minds, some form of claim, some form of different or distinct treatment for those who can trace a single ancestor back to 1778 in Hawai'i which is now to be provided for this group of citizens, separating them from other citizens of the State of Hawai'i or the United States?
What are the appropriate consequences of passing this resolution? Are they any form of special status under which persons of Native Hawaiian descent will be given rights or privileges or reparations or land or money communally that are unavailable to other citizens of Hawai'i?”
Senator Inouye replied:

“As I tried to convince my colleagues, this is a simple resolution of apology, to recognize the facts as they were 100 years ago. As to the matter of the status of Native Hawaiians, as my colleague from Washington knows, from the time of statehood, we have been in this debate. Are Native Hawaiians Native Americans? This resolution has nothing to do with that....I can assure my colleagues of that. It is a simple resolution.”

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