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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 17, 2005

Hawaiian dreams reach beyond recognition bill

By Jonathan K. Osorio


The general public may find it difficult to understand why many Native Hawaiian sovereignty activists oppose the federal recognition bill being ushered through the Senate by Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye.

At first glance, it would seem that a law allowing us Hawaiians to form our own government under the plenary power of Congress, even without guarantees of lands and resources, would be an improvement over our current position and might be significant protectors against the judicial threats to our current "entitlements," the Hawaiian Home Lands and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

The politics are also confusing because the plaintiffs in the court cases threatening Hawaiian programs are quite visible and vocal opponents of federal recognition.

What the public needs to recognize is that Hawaiian sovereignty is a large and diverse political, cultural and social movement that has been a part of Hawai'i's society for more than 30 years and has contributed to significant public discussions about such things as the environment, nationalism, justice, history, education, the arts and the direction of the economy.

From the movements to prevent the urbanization of agricultural lands, the protection of Kaho'olawe and the efforts to revive and revitalize Hawaiian language, arts and history, a powerful faith in justice and law, as well as a resolve to determine our own future has motivated, now, three generations of Hawaiians and people of conscience who are not themselves Hawaiian to pursue a peaceful and determined resolution to the theft of our national government and its lands.

The United States benefited from the Hawaiians' national loss with the addition of thousands of acres of federal lands and military bases. The state of Hawai'i could hardly exist without control of the 1.4 million acres of public and private (crown) lands which the United States "transferred" to the state in 1959.

The sovereignty movement's many organizations have managed to assert at least three well-supported arguments:

  • Hawai'i is a nation-state with a national sovereignty that did not end when the United States invaded Hawai'i in 1893.

  • Hawai'i is a colony of the United States with the right to decolonization and the right to self-determination under United Nations rules and and international law.

  • Hawaiian people are a native people with rights to maintain their cultural integrity, manage their resources and pursue their own economic interests, under the protection of international covenants.

    Hawai'i would appear to have a stronger case for self-government than many of the states that have come into being since the United Nations was formed. Yet, the American government's response to these assertions of national and indigenous rights by Hawaiians has been not to recognize Hawai'i's right to self-government but to offer a political solution that only might prevent Hawaiians from suffering more losses at the hands of American courts.

    The sovereignty movement has never been particularly cooperative with the federal government and the state of Hawai'i, nor should it be. This is a popular nationalist movement that cuts across age, class, gender, education and ethnicity, calling not just for the restoration of lands and other resources, but for a determined commitment to our national identity as Hawaiians — as patriots. The Americans can no more legislate a solution for our national aspirations than Britain could for Americans in the 18th century.

    Ultimately, the United States cannot demonstrate that it is morally equipped to lead democratic movements in the rest of the world unless it is prepared to tolerate democracy and abide by the ideals of self-determination closer to home. While Hawai'i residents may be anxious about where Hawaiian self-determination may lead, we should be more concerned when law and democracy are trampled by powerful governments.