“Aloha Secretary Haaland, and congratulations on your historic, groundbreaking position at the Department of Interior as the first Native American to hold a cabinet seat. Now that we have dispensed with the pleasantries, allow me to introduce myself. I am Kanaka Maoli, and I’m writing to remind you that the United States of America has been holding the Hawaiian Nation hostage for over a century. So, please don’t explore ways to further the cover-up by paying us off or racializing us into becoming a tribe. We want to exercise our rights through self-determination, not American pre-determination.”

Okay, that isn’t how Hawaiian activist, Kealoha Pisciotta, actually worded her letter to the new head of the Department of Interior. But that might be how it came across when Haaland finished reading it.

Kealoha Pisciotta on summit of Mauna Kea- photo credit Keomailani Von Gogh

My irreverent humor aside, Pisciotta’s letter is an important communication for Haaland to receive for some really good reasons, one being that it advocates for Hawaiian rights, something that has been denied us since the U.S. takeover. Another is that it came from a Hawaiian leader who is not employed by the state or federal government. There is a line between Natives who work for the government and those who do not.

Haaland is on the other side of that line, and boy does she have her work cut out for her.

She now runs an agency that is one-part protection, and three parts exploitation and destruction. The DOI has been the delivery system for some really nasty laws and policies that have been anti-Native and anti-Mother Earth.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (previously known as Office of Indian Affairs, that was originally part of the War Department), the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and nine other land and resource-related bureaus are DOI’s responsibility. Most federal leasing of land and water for extraction by the energy industry is through the DOI. And now that Americans are ravenous for green-renewable energy, lithium is the new gold and mining is a priority. Elon Musk and other billionaires are enormously grateful, but I digress.

Many Natives, myself included, hope that Haaland, being a Native woman, can take some of the edge off that bloody blade white people have been carving up Turtle Island with since the Mayflower docked.

But Hawaiians, as a people, need to keep expectations real. Deb Haaland is eighth in line to the oval. She is a key player in the American business of government, not the Hawaiian struggle for self-determination, which is the focus of Pisciotta’s letter.

Sent to Haaland on behalf of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, the Mauna Kea Hui and the Mauna Kea ‘Aelike/Consensus Building Ohana, three groups composed of cultural practitioners and activists, Pisciotta also cc’d some heavies in the letter. At the top of that list are President Biden and the UN’s Secretary-General. Talk about putting it out there.

Kealoha Pisciotta delivering petition against the TMT; more than half a million people have signed it; photo credit Laulani Teale

The letter highlights some often-cited historical wrongs committed by the U.S. against Hawaiians, starting with the U.S. military coup of 1893 that ousted Queen Liliuokalani.

Then it winds its way to, “You may recall the mass protests that have taken place in recent years.” And don’t forget the 2014 DOI hearings when “thousands of Hawaiians testified in person and were opposed to becoming a tribe, like our kupuna who signed the 1897 [Ku‘e] petitions were opposed to becoming American.”

To further emphasize what the U.S. pretends not to know, Pisciotta added a truth-bomb cherry to that sundae, with “We, the Hawaiian people, have never consented to the U.S. occupation of our beloved country.”

But Pisciotta’s motivation for presenting Haaland with the skinny version of “Hawaiian Sovereignty 101” is as important as the letter’s content. She wrote it because Congressman Kai Kahele, who was sworn into office with his hand on Senator Akaka’s bible, said that he and Congressman Ed Case will push for reparations.

One can only speculate how absurd the dollar amount will be when geniuses in DC calculate “fair” compensation for the theft of our nation-state, our land, our rights and our dignity. And any deal would reanimate the Akaka Bill or manufacture something else like it, resulting in pseudo federal recognition of Hawaiians, and more false justification for keeping the Hawaiian nation in chains.

Although reparations aren’t the same as a lawsuit, the idea of paying off Hawaiians brings to mind the pitiful settlement from Eloise Cobell’s monumental case against the DOI.

When it comes to Indigenous peoples, the American tradition has been to withhold as much justice as possible, and then lie about it. With regard to Hawaiians, the goal of the U.S. hasn’t changed one iota since the first criminal act it perpetrated in 1893. And it is not likely to change now because a new Hawaiian is in congress or a Laguna-Pueblo is running the DOI.

Pisciotta and others are standing at the frontline in advance of another attempt by the U.S. to extend generations of injustice into an eternity of injustice.

Collectively, as a force of one, those Hawaiians are proof that we don’t have to wait for, and then react to, the American agenda.

We can assess the threat and acknowledge the urgency without waiting for validation from the state or the media. We can practice self-determination now, use the wisdom of our experience and take evasive action before the axe is swung.

Hawaiians have been on the receiving end of nearly 130 years of American aggression. There have been some very dark times, and there will likely be more. But we have the mana of ancestral memory to draw from. We can look at the horizon with eyes and minds that hold generations of knowledge about the winds and the currents. Our people used to navigate by the stars from the deck of a canoe in the middle of the largest ocean on earth with no canned food or electronic gadgetry. And the darker the night the better they could see their way.

That’s us guys. We determine our own fate. We are the navigators.

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This essay does not reflect the view of Indian Country Today; voices in our opinion section represent a variety of reader points of view. If you would like to contribute an essay to Indian Country Today, email the opinion editor, Vincent Schilling at opinion@indiancountrytoday.com.

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