The Hawaiian sovereignty movement appears to have grown out of a social movement in the islands in the mid-20th century. According to one scholar, Professor Lawrence Fuchs’ Hawai‘i Pono: A Social History (1961), p. 68, “the essential purpose of the haole [foreigner] elite for four decades after annexation was to control Hawai‘i; the major aim for the lesser haoles was to promote and maintain their privileged position…Most Hawaiians were motivated by a dominant and inclusive purpose—to recapture the past.”
Native Hawaiians were experiencing a sense of revival of Hawaiian culture, language, arts and music—euphoria of native Hawaiian pride. Momi Kamahele in her article, Ilio‘ulaokalani: Defending Native Hawaiian Culture, Amerasia Journal (2000), p. 40, states that “the ancient form of hula experienced a strong revival as the Native national dance for our own cultural purposes and enjoyment rather than as a service commodity for the tourist industry.” The sovereignty movement also resulted in the revitalization of “the Hawaiian language through immersion education.” John Dominis Holt, author of the 1964 book On Being Hawaiian (1995), p. 7, is credited for igniting the resurgence of native Hawaiian consciousness.
“I am a part-Hawaiian who has for years felt troubled concern over the loss of Hawaiianness or ethnic consciousness among people like ourselves. So much that came down to us was garbled or deliberately distorted. It was difficult to separate truth from untruth; to clarify even such simple matters for many among us as the maiden name of a Hawaiian grandmother, let alone know anything at all of the Hawaiian past.”
Tom Coffman, Nation Within (1999), p. xii, explained that when he “arrived in Hawai‘i in 1965, the effective definition of history had been reduced to a few years. December 7, 1941, was practically the beginning of time, and anything that might have happened before that was prehistory.” Coffman admits that when he wrote his first book in 1970 he used Statehood in 1959 as an important benchmark in Hawaiian history. The first sentence in chapter one of this book reads, the “year 1970 was only the eleventh year of statehood, so that as a state Hawai‘i was still young, still enthralled by the right to self-government, still feeling out its role as America’s newest state.” He recollected in a another book, Catch a Wave: A Case Study of Hawai‘i’s New Politics (1973), p. 1:
“Many years passed before I realized that for Native Hawaiians to survive as a people, they needed a definition of time that spanned something more than eleven years. The demand for a changed understanding of time was always implicit in what became known as the Hawaiian movement or the Hawaiian Renaissance because Hawaiians so systematically turned to the past whenever the subject of Hawaiian life was glimpsed.”
The native Hawaiian community had been the subject of extreme prejudice and political exclusion since the United States imposed its authority in the Hawaiian Islands in 1898, and the history books that followed routinely portrayed the native Hawaiian as passive and inept. Holt explained, p. 7, that after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom the self respect of native Hawaiians had been “undermined by carping criticism of ‘Hawaiian beliefs’ and stereotypes concerning our being lazy, laughing, lovable children who needed to be looked after by more ‘realistic’ adult-oriented caretakers came to be the new accepted view of Hawaiians.” This stereotyping became institutionalized, and is evidenced in the writings by Professor Gavan Daws, an American historian, who wrote in 1974, Shoal of Time, p. 291:
The Hawaiians had lost much of their reason for living long ago, when the kapus were abolished; since then a good many of them had lost their lives through disease; the survivors lost their land; they lost their leaders, because many of the chiefs withdrew from politics in favor of nostalgic self-indulgence; and now at last they lost their independence. Their resistance to all this was feeble. It was almost as if they believed what the white man said about them, that they had only half learned the lessons of civilization.
Although the Hawaiian Renaissance movement originally had no clear political objectives, it did foster a genuine sense of inquiry and thirst for an alternative Hawaiian history that was otherwise absent in contemporary history books. Professor Noenoe Silva’s Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonization (2004), p. 3, a political scientist, states, “When the stories can be validated, as happens when scholars read the literature in Hawaiian and make the findings available to the community, people begin to recover from the wounds caused by that disjuncture in their consciousness.”
As a result, Native Hawaiians began to draw meaning and political activism from a history that appeared to parallel other native peoples of the world who had been colonized, but the interpretive context of Hawaiian history was, at the time, primarily historical and not legal. State sovereignty and international laws were perceived not as a benefit for native peoples, but were seen as tools of the colonizer. According to Professor James Anaya’s Indigenous Peoples in International Law (2000), p. 22, who specializes in the rights of indigenous peoples, “international law was thus able to govern the patterns of colonization and ultimately to legitimate the colonial order.”
Following the course Congress set in the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, under which “the United States returned 40 million acres of land to the Alaskan natives and paid $1 billion cash for land titles they did not return,” it became common practice for Native Hawaiians to associate themselves with the plight of Native Americans and other ethnic minorities throughout the world who had been colonized and dominated by Europe or the United States.
The Hawaiian Renaissance gradually branched out to include a political wing often referred to as the “sovereignty movement,” which evolved into political resistance against U.S. sovereignty. As native Hawaiians began to organize, their political movement “paralleled the activism surrounding the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, student uprisings and the anti-Vietnam War movement,” explained Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (1999), p. 113.
In 1972, an organization called A.L.O.H.A. (Aboriginal Lands of Hawaiian Ancestry) was founded to seek reparations from the United States for its involvement in the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom government in 1893. Frustrated with inaction by the United States it joined another group called Hui Ala Loa (Long Road Organization) and formed Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana (P.K.O.) in 1975. P.K.O. was organized to stop the U.S. Navy from utilizing the island of Kaho’olawe, off the southern coast of Maui, as a target range by openly occupying the island in defiance of the U.S. military. The U.S. Navy had been using the entire island as a target range for naval gunfire since World War II, and as a result of P.K.O.’s activism, the Navy terminated its use of the island in 1994. Another organization called ‘Ohana O Hawai‘i (Family of Hawai‘i), formed in 1974, even went to the extreme measure of proclaiming a declaration of war against the United States of America.
The political movements also served as the impetus for native Hawaiians to participate in the State of Hawai‘i’s Constitutional Convention in 1978, which resulted in the creation of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (O.H.A.). O.H.A. recognizes two definitions of aboriginal Hawaiian: the term “native Hawaiian” with a lower case “n,” and “Native Hawaiian” with an upper case “N,” both of which were established by the U.S. Congress. The former is defined by the 1921 Hawaiian Homestead Commission Act as “any descendant of not less than one-half part of the blood of the races inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands previous to 1778,” while the latter is defined by the 1993 Apology Resolution as “any individual who is a descendent of the aboriginal people who, prior to 1778, occupied and exercised sovereignty in the area that now constitutes the State of Hawai‘i.” The intent of the Apology resolution was to offer an apology to all Native Hawaiians, without regard to blood quantum, while the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act’s definition was intended to limit those receiving homestead lots to be “not less than one-half” of native Hawaiian descent by blood. O.H.A. states that it serves both definitions of Hawaiian. As a governmental agency, O.H.A.’s mission is to:
“…malama (protect) Hawai‘i’s people and environmental resources and OHA’s assets, toward ensuring the perpetuation of the culture, the enhancement of lifestyle and the protection of entitlements of Native Hawaiians, while enabling the building of a strong and healthy Hawaiian people and nation, recognized nationally and internationally.”
The sovereignty movement created a multitude of diverse groups, each having an agenda as well as varying interpretations of Hawaiian history. Operating within an ethnic or tribal optic stemming from the Native-American movement in the United States, the sovereignty movement in Hawai‘i eventually expanded itself to become a part of the global movement of indigenous peoples who, according to Ivison, Patton & Sanders’ Political Theory and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2000), p. 89, reject colonial “arrangements in exchange for indigenous modes of self-determination that sharply curtail the legitimacy and jurisdiction of the State while bolstering indigenous jurisdiction over land, identity and political voice.”
In her article Settlers of Color and “Immigrant” Hegemony: “Locals” in Hawai‘i, Amerasia (2000), p. 17, Professor Haunani-Kay Trask, an indigenous peoples’ rights advocate, argues that “documents like the Draft Declaration [of Indigenous Human Rights] are used to transform and clarify public discussion and agitation.” Specifically, Trask states that, “legal terms of reference, indigenous human rights concepts in international usage, and the political linkage of the non-self-governing status of the Hawaiian nation with other non-self-governing indigenous nations move Hawaiians into a world arena where Native peoples are primary and dominant states are secondary to the discussion.”
This political wing of the renaissance is not in any way connected to the legal position that the Hawaiian Kingdom continued to exist as a sovereign State under international law, but rather focuses on the history of European and American colonialism and the prospect of decolonization. As a result, sovereignty is not viewed as a legal reality, but a political aspiration.
According to Professor Noel Kent’s Hawai‘i: Islands under the Influence (1993), p. 198, the “Hawaiian sovereignty movement is now clearly the most potent catalyst for change,” and “during the late 1980s and early 1990s sovereignty was transformed from an outlandish idea propagated by marginal groups into a legitimate political position supported by a majority of native Hawaiians.” The political activism relied on the normative framework of the developing rights of indigenous peoples within the United States and at the United Nations. At both these levels, indigenous peoples were viewed not as sovereign States, but rather non-State nations. According to Corntassel & Primeau’s article Indigenous “Sovereignty” and International Law: Revised Strategies for Pursuing “Self-Determination, Human Rights Quarterly (1995), p. 347, “indigenous peoples were viewed not as sovereign states, but rather ‘any stateless group’ residing within the territorial dominions of existing sovereign states.”
When the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC) passed a resolution “Recognizing the Rights of Native Hawaiians to Self-Governance and Self-determination” in 1991, it was heralded as the beginning of a reconciliatory process between native and non-native Hawaiians for the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom government. This resolution prompted the President of the UCC, in 1993, to issue a formal apology and committed the church to redress the wrongs done to native Hawaiians. In Professor Andrew H. Walsh’s Historical Memorandum on the Hawaiian Revolution of 1893 for the UCC’s Sovereignty Project (1992), p. 24, who was commissioned by the UCC’s Sovereignty Project to assist UCC officials in preparing a statement of apology in 1993, found that certain members of the Hawaiian Evangelical Association were complicit in the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom government:
“The Christian church founded by American missionaries in Hawai‘i played no direct role in the Hawaiian Revolution of 1893. The Hawaiian Evangelical Association was, however, clearly under the control of white leaders who backed the revolution and attempted—at some cost—to influence indigenous Hawaiians to accept its outcome. The church’s leaders endorsed the revolution in their correspondence with Congregational officials in the United States and vigorously attempted to enlist American Protestant support for annexation. In addition, several individual ministers of the HEA played active roles as advocates of the revolution to the American public.”
The UCC’s Redress Plan included multi-million dollar reparations and the transference of six parcels of land on five islands to Native Hawaiian churches, the Association of Hawaiian Evangelical Churches, and the Pu‘a Foundation. Professor Eric Yamamoto, a legal expert in reconciliation, in his book Interracial Justice: Conflict & Reconciliation in Post-Civil Rights America (1999), p. 215, views these reconciliatory efforts by the UCC within the framework of post-colonial theory in post-civil rights America, and focuses on interracial justice for Native Hawaiians within the United States legal system—an approach similar to the “United States’ 1988 apology to and monetary reparations for Japanese Americans wrongfully interned during World War II.” Yamamoto and other contemporary scholars, view the U.S. takeover of the Hawaiian Islands as fait accompli—a history and consequence no different than other colonial takeovers throughout the world of indigenous people and their lands by western powers.
The UCC apology also prompted the Congress to pass a joint resolution in 1993 apologizing only to the Native Hawaiian people, rather than to the entire citizenry of the Hawaiian Kingdom, for the United States’ role in the overthrow of the Hawaiian government. This resolution maintained an indigenous and historically inaccurate focus that implied that only ethnic Hawaiians constituted the kingdom, and fertilized the incipient ethnocentrism of the sovereignty movement. The Resolution provided:
“Congress…apologizes to the Native Hawaiians on behalf of the people of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i on January 17, 1893 with the participation of agents and citizens of the United States, and the deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination.”
The Congressional apology rallied many Native Hawaiians, who were not fully aware of the legal status of the Hawaiian Islands as a sovereign State, in the belief that their situation had similar qualities to Native-American tribes in the nineteenth century. The resolution reinforced the belief of a native Hawaiian nation grounded in Hawaiian indigeneity and culture, rather than an occupied State under prolonged occupation.
Consistent with the Apology Resolution, Senator Akaka attempted five times since 2000 to have the Senate pass a bill that would provide for federal recognition of tribal status for Native Hawaiians. On February 4, 2009, he reintroduced Senate Bill 381 for the sixth time, known as the Akaka Bill, to the 111th Congress. According to Akaka, the bill’s purpose is to provide “a process within the framework of Federal law for the Native Hawaiian people to exercise their inherent rights as a distinct aboriginal, indigenous, native community to reorganize a Native Hawaiian government for the purpose of giving expression to their rights as native people to self-determination and self-governance.”
According to Professor Rupert Emerson, an international law scholar, in his article Self-Determination, American Journal of International Law (1971), p. 463, there are two major periods when the international community accepted self-determination as an operative right or principle. President Woodrow Wilson and others first applied the principle to nations directly affected by the “defeat or collapse of the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish land empires” after the First World War. The second period took place after the Second World War and the United Nations’ focus on disintegrating overseas empires of its member states, “which had remained effectively untouched in the round of Wilsonian self-determination.”
These territories have come to be known as Mandate, Trust, and Article 73(e) territories under the United Nations Charter. Because Native Hawaiians were erroneously categorized as a stateless people, the principle of self-determination would underlie the development of legislation such as the Akaka bill.
In 2011, the State of Hawai‘i enacted their version of the Akaka Bill that established a Native Hawaiian Roll Commission called Act 195, which provided “Native Hawaiians as the only indigenous, aboriginal, maoli population of Hawai‘i.” Act 195 also committed the State of Hawai‘i “to support the continuing development of a reorganized Native Hawaiian governing entity and, ultimately, the federal recognition of Native Hawaiians.” The Roll Commission will “determine eligible individuals that with to participate in the process of reorganizing a Native Hawaiian government for the purposes of Native-Hawaiian self-governance recognized by the State of Hawai‘i. Act 195 also expresses the State’s desire to support federal government recognition of a Native Hawaiian government.” Act 195 also provides that OHA will house the Commission and is responsible for it’s funding. The text of Act 195 is replete with inaccuracies and admissions to violations of the law of occupation.
The identification of Native Hawaiians as an indigenous people with a right to self-determination relies upon the U.S. National Security Council’s position on indigenous peoples. On January 18, 2001, the Council made known its position to its delegations assigned to the “U.N. Commission on Human Rights,” the “Commission’s Working Group on the United Nations (UN) Draft Declaration on Indigenous Rights,” and to the “Organization of American States (OAS) Working Group to Prepare the Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations.” The Council directed these delegates to “read a prepared statement that expresses the U.S. understanding of the term internal ‘self-determination’ and indicates that it does not include a right of independence or permanent sovereignty over natural resources.”
The Council also directed these delegates to support the use of the term internal self-determination in both the U.N. and O.A.S. declarations on indigenous rights, and definedIndigenous Peoples as having “a right of internal self-determination.” By virtue of that right, “they may negotiate their political status within the framework of the existing nation-state and are free to pursue their economic, social, and cultural development. This resolution sought to constrain the growing political movement of indigenous peoples “who aspire to rule their territorial homeland, or who claim the right to independent statehood under the doctrine of self-determination of peoples.”
The sovereignty movement and Kana‘iolowalu falsely maintains that aboriginal Hawaiians have a right to self-determination, which implies that aboriginal Hawaiians were never nationals of a sovereign and independent State. Self-determination also implies that aboriginal Hawaiians are an ethnic group residing within the United States of America. Hawaiian history cannot support this position. Aboriginal Hawaiians are the majority of the population of Hawaiian subjects who have been subjected to Americanization and indoctrination. As an occupied State under an illegal and prolonged occupation, the proper framework to understand Hawai‘i’s unique situation is through international law and the laws of occupation and not through the laws of the United States, and, by extension, the laws of the State of Hawai‘i. In this way, Hawai‘i’s vibrant political and legal history is not only embraced, but is honored and respected.