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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 18, 2004

OHA trying to eliminate options

By Anne Keala Kelly

Given the relentless nature of the federal recognition juggernaut, considering some basic truths is an imperative for Hawaiians.

When I say Hawaiians, I am referring to kanaka/kanaka maoli/kanaka 'oiwi, the descendants of the original people of this place whose 'ohana signed the Ku'e Petitions of 1897. I realize there were non-kanaka who signed that petition, but I'm talking about Hawaiians in and out of Hawai'i who are eligible for federal recognition.

The Ku'e Petitions represent the voice of almost every one of the nearly 40,000 Hawaiians who were alive in 1897 and as a people and an independent nation-state rejected attempts by the United States to occupy and annex Hawai'i. They did not want federal recognition, federal money for healthcare and education ... they didn't want federal anything.

Anyone with some knowledge of Hawaiian culture and the sovereignty struggle knows that to Hawaiians, the Ku'e Petitions, more than 100 years later, offer some of the most compelling evidence of resistance. The petitions are free of the Americanized interpretation of Hawaiian history, and are experienced by many Hawaiians as something like a direct communication from kupuna (elders) to 'opio (the young).

Culturally speaking, what one's kupuna wants is usually not debatable, and in some ways is like a command. That is why most Hawaiians who have seen the petitions or know of them react so powerfully. This document has opened the hearts and minds of Hawaiians in a way that "enrolling" and "federalizing" them will never achieve. The tens of thousands who signed the petitions are no longer living, but they have more power in death than the state and federal government, and all the Hawaiians they've manipulated into promoting federal recognition have in life.

Whether or not you agree with my analysis of how the Ku'e Petitions influence the issue of federal recognition, it's only one of the many reasons I have for disagreeing with the "enrollment" the Office of Hawaiian Affairs began yesterday.

It was the 111th anniversary of the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom and Queen Lili'uokalani. And OHA used it, while cloaked with illegal-overthrow indignation, to begin its enrollment. OHA attempted to co-opt the commemoration of an event that represents the opposite of federal recognition.

So threatened with irrelevance, OHA became political vandals, in a way, committing a kind of sacrilege. Strong language? Consider it this way: If OHA, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) and others have their way, the 112th anniversary of the illegal overthrow will become the first anniversary of the day Hawaiians signed up to acquiesce to the U.S. takeover of the Hawaiian kingdom.

OHA's elected trustees work for the state. They were elected by natives and non-natives, and are paid by all the taxpayers. I don't like what Freddie Rice and his cohorts did. It was white supremacy, using the judicial system to create a metaphor for cross-burning. Instead of burning it in front of a house or a church belonging to black people, they burned it in front of a distressed state agency that looks like it belongs to Hawaiians.

But still, OHA was told by the Supreme Court that conducting elections for Hawaiians only is unconstitutional. Therefore, wouldn't it stand to reason that the Rice v. Cayetano decision that invalidates Hawaiian-only elections conducted by a state agency extends its reach to include OHA's enrollment of Hawaiians for the purposes of electing delegates?

Also, OHA has spent into the millions of dollars to convince Hawaiians and lawmakers to ignore other legal and political options and to go along with federal recognition legislation that requires an election.

Even if OHA manages to separate itself from the physical process by hiring the CNHA to conduct the enrollment and/or the convention, isn't OHA still setting up an election? It's as if OHA believes the ends justify the means — that fixing the primary will have nothing to do with the election's outcome.

Pro-federal recognition entities insist Hawaiians can be a tribe that equates "self-determination" with voluntarily giving the ever-changing U.S. Congress plenary power over them as a people, and that doing so won't affect independence claims in the international courts. They've fully embraced the "corporate model" that Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawai'i, has been trying to establish since Alaska Native tribes signed a land claims settlement act in 1972. Simultaneously, they deny being opposed to Hawaiian independence.

OHA represents the interests of the state and federal governments. Both want to end Hawaiian claims to the nearly 2 million acres of crown and government land, aka "ceded lands." And yet OHA insists it represents the Hawaiian people, even though it has not given independence advocates even a fraction of the money it has spent on lawyers and lobbying and "educational" programs that promote federal recognition.

There is no place for OHA in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. Discourse about sovereignty includes independence. The Ku'e Petitions have galvanized that.

Messy as it may seem to people who are too inconvenienced by that fact, or who have no imagination for a Hawai'i where America isn't running the show, Hawaiians are talking independence and looking for ways to live it, create it and reclaim it.

Where is OHA? Leading a congressionally driven rush to solidify power over the Hawaiian people.

Anne Keala Kelly is a historian and writer based in Honolulu.