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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 14, 2005

Admissions ruling means Hawaiians must look at all options

By Anne Keala Kelly


When the red river of 15,000 Hawaiians poured out of the 'Iolani Palace grounds and surged up through Nu'uanu Aug. 6, it was like watching an age-old ritual, even though it's only happened a handful of times over the past century.

It struck me that this mass of Kanaka Maoli flesh was following the queen's funeral path, a connecting walkway between where Hawaiian leaders lived and conducted the business of government, and where they, along with Hawaiian freedom, were laid to rest.

Hawaiians have not accepted or recovered from 1893. That's why when a displaced haole, armed with an attitude and a lawyer, takes a jab at us in the courts, we respond with anger and outrage — we experience it as yet another in a 112-year long series of invasions and thefts of what is ours.

The Kamehameha Schools is part of the living legacy of Hawaiian nationhood. It is proof of Hawaiian status not just as a people who share ancestry and culture, but also as a people with a national history.

It is that history and our potential future history that lingers uneasy on the minds and in the hearts of Hawaiians as we read and analyze the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. Why, some of us are wondering, did Kamehameha Schools defend their admissions policy based on race when the indisputable truth is that Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop was only concerned with her people, the subjects of her kingdom and the descendants of her ancestors?

Why is the truth of Hawaiian genealogy and "sovereignty" scarce when Hawaiians enter the American courts? It's one thing to lose a fight for the truth, but if you lose a phony fight it's like the fight was fixed.

Race is America's blood sport, and its courts will adjudicate with their blood rules, rules constructed as a way to dispossess Hawaiians and other peoples of their land, resources and if need be, their sanity.

"They" have made us believe 400,000 Hawaiians can't do what our kupuna did when they were a dying population of only 40,000.

One thing was clear on Aug. 6: When Hawaiians come together, the truth is a living, breathing thing that Hawaiian people aloha with pride and dignity. That is what binds Hawaiians beyond the insults and outrage.

But when we walk away from a gathering, what do we take, and what do we leave behind? Can we truly connect as one in the American system? And that system is clever enough to deploy Hawaiian-isms that fool us into thinking we have power with institutions and agencies like the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, or Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, or our beloved Kamehameha Schools.

Sen. Dan Inouye's out-of-synch press release glossed over the 9th Circuit's ruling, saying when the Akaka bill passes, " ... Native Hawaiians will be postured to reclaim their ancient dignity and forge a destiny for themselves in partnership with the state and our nation."

The immediate reaction Hawaiians had when they learned about the ruling was to voice loudly their distrust in the American system, and to suggest that the American military get out of Hawai'i. And those words came from Hawaiians who have supported the Akaka bill.

As I watched so many Hawaiians move as one unified entity, I was reminded of something kupuna Peggy Ha'o Ross said recently at a gathering of the Hui Pu, a Hawaiian coalition opposing the Akaka bill. I had asked her to comment on the bill, and she talked about how in the past 30 years she's come to understand "we are not Americans."

Then she said something that went beyond the outrage Hawaiians feel over the theft of the kingdom. She said "We are not Americans, we know this now, so what do we want to do about it?"

If there were any substance to Hawaiians having "agency" in the American system and power over our own destiny as a people, so many Hawaiians would not be fleeing to a better life in America (our diaspora is over 40 percent). The reality that 60 percent of the homeless on O'ahu are Kanaka Maoli would jolt us into action.

And the fact of America's militarization of Hawai'i, that is now expanding to swallow up even more of our land, would surely inspire us to march en masse.

Things that make Americans feel safe surround us: military, media, their politics, their justice and their culture. But we are also inundated with Hawaiian ideas and kuleana that somehow end up getting stalled in the roar of our own political and cultural rhetoric. Is it possible to get beyond this latest outrage to the opportunities it presents?

For Kamehameha Schools, this is an opportunity to get back in touch with the Hawaiian people, to overhaul their admissions policy and do more outreach to the indigent children that line the highways, sleeping in cars and under tarps with their parents.

It's an opportunity to offer 100 percent free education to the most needy who are Kanaka. This may seem naive, but imagine if the millions spent on the "race" defense had gone to those children.

For all of us, it's an opportunity to do more than perform a march. No matter where we stand politically as individuals, for or against the Akaka bill, it's time for us to talk to each other seriously about all our legal options, including independence and free association, not just federal recognition.

It's time for us to consider our actual physical, psychological and spiritual condition as a people, and to take a fresh look at the kuleana that comes with the legacy our ali'i left us.

Anne Keala Kelly is a Native Hawaiian journalist and filmmaker. She wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.