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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 11, 2006

Sovereignty movement has many turning points

 •  Suits will continue without Akaka bill

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Hawaiian sovereignty movement's path toward passage of the Akaka bill has been torturous, sometimes turbulent, and despite last week's defeat, has helped boost the great Hawaiian reawakening that has accompanied demands for nationhood.

"This movement has been so good in so many ways," said Jon Osorio, director of the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai'i.

Some argue that the movement dates back more than a century to the Ku'e petitions of 1897 and 1898, in which a majority of native Hawaiians signed petitions to Congress protesting U.S. annexation of Hawai'i.

Others argue it came out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s or that it was a natural outgrowth of the Hawaiian cultural renaissance of the 1970s.

Observers differ on the most important features in the sovereignty landscape, but high points include the land struggles of Kalama Valley and Kaho'olawe, anti-development and anti-militarization efforts, the 1978 Constitutional Convention in establishing the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the passing by Congress and signing by President Clinton of the 1993 U.S. apology resolution.

Other key points are the activities surrounding the centennial of the overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani and the establishment by several groups that sought to re-create a Hawaiian government, notably Ka Lahui, the Hawaiian Kingdom, the Reinstated Hawaiian Government and the Independent and Sovereign Nation of Hawai'i.

Even organized crime played a role. Attorney Poka Laenui, also known as Hayden Burgess, was among the earliest proponents of Hawaiian independence and he represented members of the Hawaiian underworld in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Laenui used a defense that to many seemed outrageous: that Hawaiian mobsters could not be prosecuted under U.S. law, since they were citizens of the Hawaiian nation and not subject to U.S. authority. It was sometimes successful as a legal maneuver, but it had a larger goal.

"We used the courts as an educational tool," he said.


Wesleyan University professor Kehaulani Kauanui said the apology resolution was the most critical turning point, in part because it established key facts about U.S.-Hawaiian history that activists no longer needed to argue.

"The apology resolution was absolutely pivotal," Kauanui said.

Laenui said the Hawaiian people were ready for the movement. "It wasn't a spark. It was dry grass that allowed many sparks to catch," he said.

It is clear that the effort to restore Hawaiian national sovereignty during the past three decades has walked hand-in-hand with the unprecedented rebirth of the Hawaiian cultural identity, the expansion of Hawaiian language and education, voyaging and navigating, hula and the martial arts, agriculture and conservation.

Many young Hawaiians in the new century are excited to embrace their culture, and while there were few opportunities two generations ago, today they have many paths along which they can exercise their heritage.

Sovereignty itself, however, has been elusive. And there is no consensus on whether the Akaka bill is part of the main flow toward a Hawaiian nation, a diversion, or a dam.

Osorio feels that the Hawaiian community is still wrestling with its options. The Akaka bill, he feels, interferes with a logical progression toward a Hawaiian nation.

Akaka bill supporter Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, a professor of Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawai'i, said the measure might not be perfect, but can serve a function in a time of increasing challenges to Hawaiian programs, lands and benefits a vehicle for preserving assets until something better comes along.

"We are caught between a rock and a hard place which is not unusual for Hawaiians," she said.

Hawaiian filmmaker and writer Anne Keala Kelly said that while it's being sold as a Hawaiian bill, the Akaka bill actually serves the interests of the U.S. government against Hawaiians.

"This bill was written by non-Hawaiians in Washington, D.C., who got some Hawaiians to go along with it. I don't see this bill as being disconnected from the overthrow" of the Hawaiian nation, Kelly said.


Although for different reasons, Mililani Trask, an attorney and representative of indigenous peoples before the United Nations, also said she sees the Akaka bill as dangerous and not part of the sovereignty movement at all.

"You can't build a nation this way. How the hell can we get there? The people haven't been involved," she said.

But Kame'eleihiwa said the bill would provide Hawaiians with a recognized government that can negotiate with the U.S. And Office of Hawaiian Affairs chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said it moves forward the desires set forth in the Ku'e petitions.

"Advocating self-determination for Hawaiians is giving voice to our ancestors," Apoliona said. "It's doing the business they left for us to finish."

Ironically, the Akaka bill has served as a unifier of some Hawaiian activist individuals and groups but in opposition to the bill. A notable confederation called Hui Pu was formed to oppose the bill.

"The sovereignty movement is broad-based and quite diverse, but it is from the people," Osorio said.

The failure of supporters of the bill to gain the support of many sovereignty activists pretty much guarantees that the independence effort will continue outside the framework of the Akaka bill, he said.

Kauanui said she anticipates "a renewed sense of grassroots pro-independence Hawaiians trying to fight the state."

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.