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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 21, 2002

Equal opportunity can't serve those who lack equal footing

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

I've heard it from so many different quarters in the last week — discussion over the admission of a non-Hawaiian student into the Maui campus of Kamehameha Schools, and within the same conversation, debate over the portrayal of King Kamehameha by a non-Hawaiian actor in an upcoming made-by-Hollywood film.

At first, the two seem only tangentially related. But many people seem to sense that beneath both lies the same hurt, the pain from a very old injury.

After decades of struggle to maintain and reclaim their culture, Native Hawaiians find themselves with new battles and what seems like new enemies.

What's worse, it appears that now battles are being lost that many assumed had already been permanently, decisively won.

The Kamehameha Schools was one thing Hawaiians could count on, the cornerstone upon which the culture could rebuild and survive into future generations. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has been too changeable and volatile to live up to its full promise. Other programs and agencies and halau have had their successes, but none come close to the reach of Kamehameha Schools.

The anger that has surfaced seems to be focused on the statement that no other "qualified applicants" of Hawaiian ancestry could be found to fill up the class. How could this possibly be true when so many earnest part-Hawaiian students are disappointed in their efforts to gain admission to the school? Could it be that the system actually works against those it purports to serve? The thought of injustice from the inside is even more unbearable than the attacks from outside forces.

It is understandable that the beneficiaries of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop's will, who were so badly hurt by the actions of some former Kamehameha schools trustees, would be quick to jump to the defensive position of saying this group is just as bad. It's a gut-level reaction after such injury. But it isn't fair. It's important that those with a vested interest keep from looking at the Kamehameha Schools as either "broken" or "fixed." There are myriad shades of gray in between, and while many of the old problems have been addressed, the new leaders of the school need time, trust and input from the beneficiaries to continue the forward movement, to continue to "Imua Kamehameha."

Inherent in all this struggle is the opportunity for Hawaiians to come together, to own their culture and shape its future. There are many people who don't see that equal opportunity doesn't serve those who aren't on equal footing. There are many who will never understand the terrible ache of fighting for the dignity of your people and their values. But there are many who do, and that's a powerful common bond and a source of both the wisdom to know the right thing to do and the strength to get it done.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.