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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 8, 2001

More voices of na kanaka
When 'nation' is given five meanings with inconsistent use, that's confusion

By Patrick W. Hanifin

 •  Land and culture have been lost; now we risk losing our soul — our aloha spirit

Alani Apio ("Kanaka lament," March 25) admits to being in a "place of ... confusion" and then proves it: The Hawaiian nationalism he advocates is indistinguishable from the racism he denounces.

His confusion arises from using the word "nation" in five inconsistent ways:

  1. A government — specifically, the monarchical government of Hawai'i that was overthrown in 1893.
  2. An independent country — specifically, the country that Kamehameha I founded and that endured until 1898 when America annexed the Republic of Hawai'i.
  3. An Indian tribe — without precedent in Hawaiian history, because there has never been a Hawaiian Indian tribe.
  4. A territory — the 'aina that he loves and that was here millions of years before any human.
  5. A group of individual citizens.

The last use of "nation" is the most confused. He never explicitly tells us how the members of this group can be identified.

Apio does say that the "nation" that he wants to restore is the one that Kamehameha I created — the Hawaiian Kingdom. He acknowledges that "the Hawaiian Kingdom wasn't race-based." Kamehameha created the kingdom by conquering his rivals with the help of immigrants like Englishman John Young (Queen Emma's grandfather). Under the kingdom's rule of citizenship, anyone born here was a citizen and anyone who came here could become a citizen.

Many immigrants and their children became judges, legislators and government executives.

Like the multi-ethnic kingdom, its multi-ethnic successors, the state of Hawai'i and the United States, follow the rule of citizenship by birth and naturalization. Apio shares with his fellow citizens the equal right to participate in a sovereign government. He has an equal right to try to learn whatever he thinks is deepest and most valuable in human culture and so make it his own culture. (Like the rest of us, he gets no guarantee of success.)

He has what he says he wants. Why is he so angry?

Equality isn't good enough for Apio. He claims to belong to a group that deserves more than equality with the rest of us.

In his superior group he includes himself, his family, and other people he calls "Kanaka." What these "Kanaka" have in common is "shared genealogy"and "shared ancestors." He also mentions a "shared culture," but he describes people as "Kanaka" even though they are happily "assimilated" into American culture. He ignores people who participate in Hawaiian culture but lack "Kanaka descent." Thus, living a distinctly Hawaiian culture is neither necessary nor sufficient to be "Kanaka."

Ancestry is necessary and sufficient. Anyone who can trace his ancestry in Hawai'i back to 1778, before the first non-"indigenous" people arrived, gets to be a member of Apio's "nation." This definition picks out the same individuals as the state's definition of "Hawaiian," which the Supreme Court held in Rice v. Cayetano is racial. Only the label has changed.

Apio defines "racism" as a doctrine of "inherent differences" among groups and "the idea that one's own race is superior." The moral evil of racism is that it divides people into superior and inferior groups based on ancestry.

As the Supreme Court said in Rice, "it demeans the dignity and worth of a person to be judged by ancestry instead of by his or her own merit." The evil is the same regardless of the size of the hereditary group: a race, a nationality, a tribe or an aristocracy.

Apio rightly attacks the Hawaiian Homes program as racist because it requires a certain blood quantum. But so does his "nation." He reverts to "the racist ideology of blood quantum" that he denounces: A member of Apio' s "nation" must have Hawaiian blood. As the Supreme Court said: "Ancestry can be a proxy for race; it is that proxy here."

The nationalism Apio advocates is actually another one of those alien imports he despises. It is the blood nationalism invented in central and eastern Europe in the 19th century. Blood nationalism excludes everyone who lacks the blood of the indigenous group; for instance, a Jew or a Turkish immigrant can never be a true indigenous German.

Governments based on blood nationalism claim to "preserve and perpetuate" the nation's culture, as Apio hopes to do, but ultimately they destroy culture. If you want to see where blood nationalism leads a multi-ethnic society, look at the bloody ruins of what used to be Yugoslavia.

Interpreting Hawaiian culture in terms of a blood nationalism that is alien to Hawaiian history is what keeps Apio in his "place of anger and confusion." He rejects the "infuriating implication that we as Kanaka are not capable of handling life" but claims that some people commit suicide — the most extreme case of not being capable of handling life — because they are "Kanaka."

Apio sincerely believes his gut feelings about Hawai'i's history. But where historical facts are at issue, gut feelings aren't enough. The courts are full of plaintiffs who sincerely believe that they have been wronged. Some are right; some are wrong. That's why we hire judges and juries: to look beyond feelings and find the facts.

Once the confusion created by using "nation" in five different ways is sorted out, all the rhetoric about an "oppressed nation" demanding the return of a "stolen nation" comes down to this story: A group defined by ancestry — the "Kanaka" — exclusively controlled the government of the independent country of Hawai'i. In 1893, America invaded and stole from the Kanaka group that government and the territory it owned.

But Apio admits this story is false: "because the Hawaiian Kingdom wasn't race-based, therefore it's wrong under both nations' laws for America to acknowledge only indigenous Kanaka" as entitled to privileged status.

An oligarchy of the richest Hawaiian and haole men governed the kingdom in 1893. Most ethnic Hawaiians could not even vote. Ethnic Hawaiians were a minority in Hawai'i. They did not own the Government Lands, the government did. As Apio admits, they did not have any special group rights to land or power. When you've got nothing, you've got nothing to lose.

Apio's admission of error is not altered by his anti-American diatribe.That is merely "yo' momma" rhetoric (as in, "I'm wrong, but yo' momma's an [expletive deleted].")

Apio abhors racism, yet he advocates superior privileges for his own group defined by ancestry. He tries to reconcile his confused feelings by advocating a Kanaka "nation." But at bottom his "nation" amounts to a demand that Hawai'i should be torn out of the American Union so that a minority defined by racial ancestry can have a privileged position over their million fellow citizens.

Ultimately, Apio faces a choice: Does he stand by what he calls "the ideals of America — truth, justice, equality," that "provide the groundwork for the denial of any and all inequalities and discrimination"? Or does he stand with the Confederacy of the Civil War — for secession, division and racial privilege?

Like Apio, Hawai'i faces a choice. In Apio's words, will we "continue to fight and divide ourselves and 'ohana over an arbitrary, baseless, racist notion of koko — blood"? Or will we pursue the American ideal of equal rights for all — never fully achieved but still worth striving for?

Patrick W. Hanifin is a Honolulu attorney.