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Native Hawaiians march for federal status

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WASHINGTON - Lokahi, 'We March in Unity,' was the theme of the Aloha March 2000.

As the Hawaiian independence movement seeks national awareness of the complex issues concerning federal recognition of the Hawaiian people, it also struggles with something of an image problem.

First, there are several camps within the movement. Many Hawaiians seek complete independence from the state and U.S. government, while others, recognizing the probable futility of becoming a separate territory, would be happy with formal recognition.

Still others favor the "let's leave things as they are and just get recognition through continued piecemeal federal funding" approach.

Hence the unity theme.

But Al Kaulia, Po'o for this year's Aloha March Aug. 10 and 11, says squabbling over methods of independence is superficial, it's just one big, happy family of Hawaiians having a typical, noisy difference of opinion. The real question people should be asking is, "Just who are the Hawaiian people that are doing the unifying?"

Kaulia is quick to point out that Hawaiian is not just a pure-blood Polynesian thing. He says the Hawaiian nation is one of many people of many bloods and backgrounds, Polynesian, Filipino, Asian, English, Swedish, Spanish. In other words, Hawaiians are the descendants of the millennia-old Polynesian and Micronesian cultures, plus descendants of whoever jumped ship and intermarried into the traditional culture between the time of the island's discovery by Capt. James Cook in 1778 and Hawaii's overthrow in 1893.

At the time of the Hawaiian government's overthrow and imprisonment of the nation's titular queen, Queen Lili'uokalani, Hawaii had enjoyed formal diplomatic relations with the United States government for 67 years. With a representative government and a western judicial system, the Kingdom of Hawaii had entered into multiple international trade and treaty agreements with the United States, England, Spain, France, Germany and all the other major western powers by the mid-1800s.

A hub for the Pacific whaling industry, Hawaii had a flourishing economy as a trade center for everything from sugar to furs to sandlewood. The seat of government, Iolani Palace, built in 1882, had electricity and telephones installed several years before the White House in Washington, D.C.

The social structure was highly stable. Living conditions were equable. Land usage was guaranteed to ali'i (nobles) and maka'mainana (commoners) alike by Kamehameha III in 1848. Even "foreigners," American and European males, had voting privileges.

The land was rich, the seas abundant, the waters pure, the culture comfortable and harmonious. Hawaii was, by most meanings of the word, a paradise.

And then, a handful of American and European businessmen, backed by U.S. warships in Honolulu Harbor, staged a coup d'etat. Iolani Palace was captured, Queen Lili'uokalani imprisoned and a provisional government established.

An act fostered by special interests, the takeover was heavily protested by President Grover Cleveland to Congress.

"This military demonstration upon the soil of Honolulu was of itself an act of war; unless made either with the consent of the government of Hawai`i or for the bona fide purpose of protecting the imperiled lives and property of citizens of the United States," Cleveland wrote.

"But there is no pretense of any such consent on the part of the government of the queen ... the existing government, instead of requesting the presence of an armed force, protested against it. There is as little basis for the pretense that forces were landed for the security of American life and property."

Despite a petition with 29,000 Hawaiian signatures opposing the new government and proposed annexation, plus petitions asking that annexation at least be put to a public vote, no vote was ever held and the provisional government remained in control.

With the start of the Spanish-American War, the United States discovered yet another advantage to annexation: Hawaii's strategic naval importance in the Pacific. With a new president in the White House, a Joint Resolution of Annexation was quickly passed by Congress, and on Aug. 12, 1898, Hawaii was transferred into the possession of the United States.

One Hundred years later

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Hard on the heels of the Rice vs. Cayetano Supreme Court decision last February, granting "non-Hawaiians" the right to vote for trustees on the board of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, formal recognition of the Hawaiian people is more critical than ever.

The Supreme Court based its decision along racial lines, determining that "Hawaiian-only" voting privileges - even for a Hawaiian-only governmental organization - are race-based and therefore unconstitutional.

Most Hawaiian Natives say the Supreme Court decision missed the point, confusing racial-bias with national identity. They fear Rice vs. Cayetano is a huge step toward abrogating the few rights and little representation the Hawaiian people have gained in over 100 years.

Kaulia points out that the right of Hawaiian-only voting privileges in OHA elections is the same as any Native American tribe holding tribal member-only elections.

But with no formal recognition, with no government-to-government relationship with the United States, the Hawaiian people don't have a legal leg to stand on.

"To look at us as a race and not a culture, that is not correct," says Kaulia. "Remember that at the time of the overthrow, we were a nation. We had foreign treaties. This isn't about Native, Indigenous Hawaiians. This is about a nation, a nation that was comprised of a diversity of people that have grown and multiplied.

"What we're trying to do with the march is to bring to bear on our federal government ... and the global world ... an awareness that the reconciliation process must now begin ...We want the right for self-determination."

Being on an island, stuck thousands of miles away from the mainland, hasn't done anything to help bring attention to the situation. Although Congress passed and President Clinton signed Public Law 103-150 in 1993, apologizing for the U.S. government's role in the overthrow and its subjugation of the Hawaiian people, little has transpired since then.

Recognizing Native Hawaiians are about to lose Clinton's support after the November elections, Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, is leading a committee to introduce a federal bill to grant Hawaiians self-determination and political status. But there is caution in Congress about rushing into anything - an attitude Hawaiians have become accustomed to.

"Thirty-one years I've been involved in this," says Charlie Maxwell, state chairman of the advisory committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. "And we have always asserted, yelled, ranted and screamed that we are native people of this land. But no one, no one, recognizes that, not even the United Nations. We've been to the United Nations trying to gain independence and it never happens."

Maxwell, who is also a member of Akaka's committee, points out that although Hawaiians comprise a minority of the population in Hawaii, they have the highest incidence of suicide, child and spouse abuse, poverty and ill-health. He says they also score the lowest on educational tests nationwide.

"We are a square peg in a round hole," he says. "We don't fit. Our values are just completely different than Western values. If you look at the Vietnamese, Filipinos, Chinese cultures ... in 10 years they will assimilate into the Western culture because it's very similar to their culture.

"They obtain, they acquire, they want to take everything for themselves. Whereas Hawaiian culture is communal. We share and make sure everybody has something. We share the land. Love and companionship and family is the most important thing.

"So that's why our culture clashes."

So far the Hawaiian independence movement is a peaceful one, earmarked by educational events such as the Aloha March. And Maxwell, who says he foresees success in the long run, says the movement should stay that way - peaceful and persistent.

But a lot of young Hawaiians are more militant in their attitudes and a lot more insistent on immediate fulfillment of their independence or, at the very least, federal recognition. One hundred years is enough, they say.

And it's the squeaky wheel that gets the attention, Maxwell says. As loving and fair-minded as the Hawaiian people are, he says, "always remember that we once were warriors. Our ancestors were warriors."

For more information on the Hawaii independence movement check out