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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hawaiian renaissance

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Marchers headed toward the 'Iolani Palace grounds during a centennial protest of the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy.


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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The voyaging canoe Höküle‘a, shown with Diamond Head in the background in 1974, still serves as a reminder of the rich Hawaiian culture and traditions.

Advertiser library photos

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

In 1977, farmers, academics, activists and others gathered in Waiähole to resist development projects in Kalama Valley.

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There are myriad measures by which to quantify the Native Hawaiian experience of the statehood era.

Compared to the general population, Native Hawaiians in their homeland account for disproportionately high rates of poverty, infant mortality, homelessness, incarceration, drug and alcohol abuse, and chronic disease, while recording disproportionately poor results for longevity, high school completion, college enrollment, career advancement and overall income.

However, a more basic measure may reveal the most compelling narrative of the past 50 years of Hawaiian history: In 1970, the first year in which the U.S. Census combined pure Hawaiians and part Hawaiians into a single category, the total Native Hawaiian population in Hawai'i stood at 71,274. By 2000, the total had increased to 239,655.

Adjustments in the way census data is collected may account for some of the statistical phenomenon.

However, it may also be argued that the nature of census reportage — self-identification — would suggest that the change reflects not just an increase in the actual number of pure and part Hawaiians, but an increase in the number of people willing to identify themselves on the basis of their Native Hawaiian heritage.

Given the dramatic changes within the Native Hawaiian community during this period, particularly within the overall context of the 116 years since the overthrow of the Monarchy, it's an argument worth consideration.

While the passage of statehood was widely viewed as the end of the territorial era and the beginning of a new age of full American citizenship, many older Native Hawaiians of the time saw it as the latest in a continuum of events that had all but erased their unique social, political and cultural identity.

Today, Hawaiian scholars and activists assert that statehood was only made possible by the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy orchestrated by American businessmen in 1893 and the subsequent annexation of Hawai'i by the United States — under dubious circumstances — seven years later.

By 1959, however, knowledge of these events was largely suppressed by an educational system that emphasized Americanization as inevitable progress and a post-World War II social and political climate that valued conformity to a homogeneous set of American ideals.

Thus, activists say, an older generation of Native Hawaiians who still remembered Hawaiian political independence was coerced into silence and a younger generation was raised in protective ignorance of their cultural heritage.

By the mid-1960s, a renewed interest in traditional Hawaiian arts and culture was beginning to emerge.

The so-called second Hawaiian Renaissance (which referenced an earlier re-examination of Hawaiian arts and culture under King David Kalakaua) was led by musicians such as the Sons of Hawai'i, Gabby Pahinui and Hui 'Ohana, such scholars as Mary Kawena Pukui, kumu hula George Na'ope (founder of the Merrie Monarch Festival), navigator Nainoa Thompson and others seeking to perpetuate and advance traditional Hawaiian knowledge and culture.

The renaissance also would lead to the resurrection of the Hawaiian language, which had all but disappeared from academic curricula in the preceding decades. The foundation of Hawaiian immersion schools in the 1980s has helped to produce a new generation of Hawaiian-literate scholars, who in turn have reclaimed overlooked knowledge and records through their examination of antiquarian Hawaiian texts.

As Hawaiian arts and culture were making a comeback, young Native Hawaiians inspired by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the worldwide struggles by indigenous peoples to attain social justice turned their attention to land struggles brought about by the tourism-propelled development boom of the 1960s and '70s.


In Kalama Valley, Waiahole/Waikane and other fronts across the state, academics, farmers, activists and others organized to resist development projects that threatened to displace entire communities and further alienate Native Hawaiians from land and sea. These early struggles would eventually splinter and evolve into movements against militarism, environmental destruction, American "colonialism" and other perceived threats.

The successes of these movements, while few and far between, were significant, perhaps none more so than the U.S. military's return of Kaho'olawe to Hawaiian control.

In a larger sense, the cultural and political activism of the period helped to restore a sense of Hawaiian pride, which would later manifest in the modern Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

Over the past two decades, advocates for Hawaiian independence and self-determination have bolstered their positions through close study of modern Hawaiian history, ultimately concluding that the overthrow, annexation and statehood were each achieved illegally.

In 1993, thousands of Native Hawaiians and their supporters staged a tense, emotional four-day observance of the 100th anniversary of the overthrow. Activist and physician Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell credits the "Onipa'a" event for exerting political pressure on Hawai'i's Congressional delegation to take their grievances to Washington.

This ultimately resulted in the 1993 Apology Resolution, introduced by Sen. Dan Akaka and approved by Congress and former President Bill Clinton, in which the U.S. government acknowledged its complicity in the overthrow.

Blaisdell and a coalition of other Hawaiian leaders are now calling for similar acknowledgement of the illegality of annexation (because it was enacted by Congress through simple resolution) and statehood (based on the exclusion of other voter options set forth by the United Nation's designation of Hawai'i as a non-self-governing territory).


While many Hawaiians have comfortably reconciled the contradictory aspects of their native and American identities and favor continued membership in the union, others are committed to realizing Hawaiian self-determination.

Just what form that may take remains in dispute, with some favoring autonomy with state and federal systems (similar to that of Native American and Inuit peoples), others full independence as a kingdom, republic or democratic nation.

"It's important for us to pursue self-determination and independence but how we do that depends on what we decide collectively," Blaisdell said. "I'm not into kingdoms, but some people are."

Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, former director of the University of Hawai'i's Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, said a necessary first step would be for the state and federal governments to adopt the U.N.'s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which includes provisions for self-determination and the return of sovereign lands.

"If 50 years of statehood have been so good for our people, the Native Hawaiians, the indigenous people this land, who have lived here for the past 100 generations, then let the state Legislature adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, that 144 nations of the world have voted in favor of on Sept. 13, 2007, and let the Hawai'i state Legislature call upon President Barack Obama to have America adopt the UNDRIP," she said.

"Then let America follow the international standards set by the (UNDRIP). ... Let all the Hawaiians who move away from Hawai'i return home to land that they can live upon."

While visions of independence take many different forms, some Native Hawaiian activists believe that a community of people proud of their Hawaiian heritage and empowered to act on their own behalf will help to determine where Hawai'i goes in the next 50 years.