The Evolution of Sovereignty – continuing the conversation with Kyle Kajihiro

The concept of sovereignty has evolved over time. As ‘Umi points out, it originates from the idea that a nationʻs independence and legitimacy derived from the divine authority of its monarch. But over time sovereignty has come to be understood in the international community as deriving from the will of the people to constitute an independent state.

Kyle Kajihiro of Hawai'i Peace and Justice

Parallel to this development is the emergence of the concept of universal human rights. There is now a general consensus in the international community that in certain circumstances, considerations of human rights supersede the sovereignty of any particular nation and allow for international intervention in a sovereign country to enforce human rights.

A practical expression of the co-evolving ideas of sovereignty and human rights is the emergence of “self-determination” as an universal human right of all peoples. In theory this means that a people sharing a particular history, culture, territory, social organization and identity as a nation can freely determine their own political status.

But as Hardt and Negri point out the very nature of sovereignty has transcended the nation-state and constitutes a global network form of power and control: Empire. This has both facilitated and been countered by network forms of resistance, such as the Arab Spring and Occupy movements


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7 responses to “The Evolution of Sovereignty – continuing the conversation with Kyle Kajihiro

  1. Great site and scholarship, inquiry on your part. Wanted to get your thinking, or consideration on Bishop Tutu’s Unbutu (Sp) Theology of Reconciliation, and view of self-determination, the intrinsic individualistic, and non-interdependent meaning and reality of that word, probably related to South African context. How does reconciliation apply to Hawaii social political present day context.


  2. Hi Kyle,
    You observe that:
    “a general consensus in the international community that in certain circumstances, considerations of human rights supersede the sovereignty of any particular nation and allow for international intervention in a sovereign country to enforce human rights.”
    That seems to me to be true, and a great leverage point for building international solidarity for indigenous rights. The example raised by Patterson above was based on the powerful mass movement organized by the ANC coupled with winning over the cooperation of the international community for their demand of self-determination.
    I had a good friend who helped develop the new legal system in South Africa (Hawood Burns) who pointed out that reconciliation could only successfully be carried out after the actual transfer of power. Otherwise it was just a concession. Sorry for butting in, but I have done a lot of work for the American Indian Movement over the years, and benefitted from many long discussions on this topic.
    Would be great to get your response to learn more.


  3. Kyle Kajihiro

    Hi Chip and Kaleo – I admire Tutu and the theology/philosophy of Ubuntu. The idea of a deep interrelationship of beings is similar to Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist concept of interbeing, which I embrace. But I don’t think that the principle of “self-determination” contradicts this concept. On the contrary, self-determination is essential for restoring the freedom, justice, and human dignity of oppressed and colonized peoples. When the oppressed liberate themselves they help to liberate their oppressors as well.

    My limited understanding of international law is that the “self” that is eligible for “self-determination” is generally understood to be the indigenous or colonized peoples harmed by colonization or occupation. In Hawai’i’s case it gets complicated because at the time of the overthrow Hawai’i was an independent and cosmopolitan nation-state, not formally a colony or a tribe, as Keanu Sai and others have made clear; the injured parties included Native Hawaiians, who constituted the majority of the population as well as Hawaiian nationals, including non-Kanaka Maoli subjects of the Kingdom. It seems Hawai’i’s international rights or claims pertain to three areas: laws of war, occupation, and sovereignty among nation-states; the laws, processes, and organs pertaining to decolonization and self-determination that emerged after WWII with the UN; and the newly emerging body of indigenous human rights principles. Chamorro legal scholar Julian Aguon has a great article on this coming out soon.

    The original idea of human rights pertained only to individual rights, which is a shortcoming. Indigenous peoples tried to remedy this with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, where the “s” in “peoples” was important for defining a collective rights of peoples, including self-determination. This expanded the “self” to include collective as well as individual rights.

    I agree with Chip’s observation that “reconciliation could only successfully be carried out after the actual transfer of power. Otherwise it was just a concession.” After all, you can’t have dialogue when one party has its boot on the throat of the other. Even in restorative justice practice (and ho’oponopono too?) it is important to stop and correct the offending behavior and its impacts before restoring the broken relationship.

    I think that “reconciliation” as it’s used by the U.S. in Hawai’i’s context is hollow as long as the fundamental violation of Hawai’i’s right to exist as a nation continues. It’s like saying “Oops, my bad. Can we move on?” without removing the harm or making whole the injured party. In Hawai’i, the harm is still present and getting worse. Iwi kupuna continue to be desecrated. The military expands and destroys the ‘aina and communities. The state seeks to sell or develop the “ceded lands”. Kanaka Maoli struggle to survive the worst economic and social statistics.

    The apology by the churches to Native Hawaiians was important but incomplete, as Kaleo knows very well from his struggles with the church over this issue. They said sorry, gave some money and a few parcels of land to Native Hawaiian churches and a foundation that was supposed to support the Hawaiian movement. The UCC pretty much washed their hands after that; they felt absolved. Funding from the churches for Hawaiian issues dried up. Perhaps the UCC was able to make peace with the Native Hawaiian churches, but the redress had very little benefit to the Hawaiian community and the sovereignty movement, because the fundamental injustice of the occupation still remained in force in Hawai’i. I think it would have been better if the churches joined a covenant of solidarity with Kanaka Maoli in their continuing struggle for justice and liberation. I agree that mass movement and international solidarity is critical for Hawai’i, in addition to legal, political and other strategies.

    Sorry to be so long winded. I look forward to others’ thoughts.


  4. Pingback: “The Indigenous Sovereign Imaginary” « Craig Santos Perez

  5. “The Evolution of Sovereignty – continuing the conversation with Kyle Kajihiro | theumiverse” was indeed a splendid posting, cannot wait to look over much more of ur posts.
    Time to spend several time online lolz. I appreciate it -Lorene


  6. Sovereignty.

    The supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable power by which any independent state is govern; supreme political authority; paramount control of the constitution and frame of government and its administration; self sufficient source of political power, from which all specific political powers are derived; the international independence of a state, combined with the right and power of regulating its internal affairs without foreign dictation; also a political society, or state, which is sovereign and independent.
    Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 455, 1 L.Ed. 440; Union Bank v. Hill, 3 Cold., Tenn 325; Moore v. Shaw, 17 Cal. 218, 79 Am.Dec. 123; State v. Dixon, 66 Mont. 76, 213 P. 227.
    Black’s Law Dictionary 4th Edition (1951) page 1568.


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