Disclaimer: This post is mainly for my students in Hawaiian Politics. I personally favor Hawaiian independence, but in educational settings, we cannot ignore the more “mainstream” view of federal recognition, or fail to follow its development. Knowing my position on this topic, Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Peter Apo (who happens to be my uncle) was generous enough to share this piece with me as a guest blog.
The Legislature passed Senate Bill 1520 which did two things. First, it formally recognized Hawaiians as being the indigenous people of these islands by incorporating that declaration into the Hawaii Revised Statutes – the body of state law by which the state governs itself. Second, it creates a 5-member Commission, one commissioner from each County and one at-large, to be appointed by the governor, to begin an “enrollment” process that invites people of Hawaiian ancestry to sign up in order to have a voice in the formal shaping of a Hawaiian Nation. Presumably, this enrollment is tantamount to a voter registration drive whereby citizens of this anticipated nation will have a voice in its shaping. This is a significant step taken by the State of Hawaii to formally engage in supporting a process that is intended to lead toward creating a Hawaiian Nation within the State of Hawaii. This course of legislative action is probably the first step in triggering a series of actions to creagte a state version of the Akaka Bill which the congress failed to pass after 10 years of trying. Its intended as a message to the congress that the citizens of Hawai’i support the Akaka bill which has been re-introduced this year.
It’s good that we create forums to discuss a Hawaiian nation. And as we talk story there is one question that we need to spend a lot more time considering. Who will be the citizens of this Hawaiian Nation? This is fundamental to any nation building. So far, most of the dialogue about Hawaiian sovereignty and a Hawaiian nation finds most people presuming that the nation will be one composed of ethnic Hawaiians. But, there are other voices out there, Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian, who are not as sold on the idea of a restored Hawaiian nation exclusive to Hawaiians. I believe this is an issue that is far from resolved and needs to be addressed. There are three compelling circumstances to consider. First, is Hawai’i residency required to be a citizen of the nation? If yes, it would disenfranchise thousands of Hawaiians now living on the mainland who want to be included. Second, is what is referred to as “continuum”, a federal standard when they consider applications for nation status from American Indians and Native Alaskans. The continuum concept requires that to be recognized as a nation, that “tribe” or native group, in some form, had to exist as as nation prior to becoming part of the Untited States. If applied to Hawai’i, at the time of the overthrow, the nation was not exclusively an ethnic Hawaiian nation. It’s citizenry was multi-cultural. So, should not the descendants of the non-Hawaiian families who were citizens of the nation in 1893 and under Kamehameha the Great have a legitimate claim to citizenship? Third, and very important is the resources to which the nation would be entitled. As of today, Hawaiian claims to resources held by the state, particularly land and revenue from ceded lands, can reasonably be argued as qualifying for transfer to the new Hawaiian Nation. But, consider this. Most Hawaiian wealth is held by the Alii Trusts – particularly the Kamehameha Schools, Queen Liliuokalani Trust, and Queen Emma Land Company. Between the 3 of them (without OHA and Deparment of Hawaiian Home Lands) the basis of wealth is in the hundreds of thousands of acres of land owned in fee title and billions of dollars in cash assets. The chilling effect of Nationhood is that the bulk of the Hawaiian “wealth” would be held outside the jurisdiction of the “Nation” and not available to the nation. So, while Hawaiians seem to be making some progress on the question of political sovereignty – we are absent any vision for creating the prosperity of the nation. Projecting what might be possible in developing economic relationships between a Hawaiian Nation and the Alii Trusts is provocative and elusive. So, continues the long road to self-determination. For more information on Hawaiian issues visit peterapo.com.
Peter Apo was elected a Trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in November, 2010, and is serving a four year term. He was elected to the first OHA board of trustees Office in 1980 – and served a two year term and has since had a distinguished career in public service. In 1982 he won election to the Hawai’i State House of Representatives where he served for 14 years. In 1994 he became Director of Culture & Arts for the City & County of Honolulu. In 1996 he assumed the position of Special Assistant on Hawaiian Affairs to Governor Ben Cayetano. He subsequently returned to the City & County of Honolulu as Director of Waikiki Development. Currently, he is a small businessman and President of The Peter Apo Company,LLC, a cultural tourism consulting firm.
Peter is a founding member of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association and served as its past chairman of the board. He has also chaired the board of directors for the Historic Hawai’i Foundation, the Pacific Islanders in Communications, and was a Regent of Chaminade University. He further served on the board of the Hawai’i Visitors & Convention Bureau and served as Civilian Aide to the U.S. Secretary of the Army for Hawai’i. He continues serving the community on numerous boards and commissions.