Yesterday was my tenth or eleventh Sovereign Sunday, and I’ve watched its decline with disappointment. About eighty people mulled around our “our” side of the ‘Iolani Palace grounds, while the Reinstated Kingdom of Hawai’i, whose numbers also seem to have dwindled held a louder, and more vibrant gathering which, from my perspective, was mainly a Hawaiian music concert. I saw one of my dissertation committee members, Ty Kawika Tengan, and mentioned how I’d thought of writing a blog entry about the day, but that it was basically a non-event. He observed what I’d often noticed about the palace – the Sovereignty factions coalescing, people milling around the very impressive and inspiring Ku’e petition boards (1800 of them, each with the name of a signatory of the 1898 petitions against annexation), and tourists wandering around photographic the palace as if we weren’t there. Even the governor took his weekend walk through the grounds with his bodyguards. Last year, newly-appointed head of the Department of Natural Resources (DLNR, which manages the so-called ceded lands, including the Palace) Bill Aila noted that he wasn’t there at the gathering because he had to be, but because he wanted to be. It was something like the state of the movement.
When Kamehameha or OHA puts out the word, thousands show up, but this is mainly when the trusts are under threat. Hawaiians can agree on what they oppose – losing what little they have. But the extent of support for something more is unclear. Even though Hawaiians voted in 1996 to pursue some form of sovereignty, talking to people in the community provides unclear feedback. We all run in fairly small circles and think they comprise the world. My students are mainly happy with the way things are now, but they don’t pay bills. Most Hawaiians are quiet about their views. At my daughter’s Hawaiian immersion school, nearly all the parents said they were there for “the Lahui” (the nation), but they aren’t representative either.
There was a lack of promotion of the event, which undoubtedly hurt attendance. Also, many Hawaiians are engaged at a much more grassroots level in work that builds the bricks of nation without the glamor of being at the top of the pyramid – education, health, economics. People are also surviving – everyone with kids was several hours late.
There were no speeches or music, just quiet discussion. Sovereign Sunday remains important symbolically – the grassroots work is more significant in the long run – but symbols are what we live by. Ultimately “sovereignty” itself is largely symbolic – many feel that the gains sovereignty could bring can be accomplished under the current structure. But symbols hold sway over people’s aspirations and actions – they inspire them in ways that defy explanation.