With ironic timing, just as OHA CEO Kamanaʻopono Crabbe was beginning his press conference on the rift with the Trustees, the Hawaiʻi Reconciliation Commission, including OHA Trustee Peter Apo was on campus at Kamehameha discussing how to integrate the concept in curriculum. Headed by Kahu Dr. Kaleo Patterson, the Reconciliation Commission has sought to both raise awareness of the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom as well as reach mutual understanding and allow for the release of bitterness on both “sides” in order to move forward. It was agreed that the process of reconciliation is context-specific, and some areas for possible work at Kamehameha were touched upon. But as was done in South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there is a role for catharsis through reenactment, through art and other media. This reenactment technique is also used in Cuba.
It is nearly forgotten that the Clinton years were called by some the “Age of Apology.” As Melissa Nobles notes in her book The Politics of Official Apologies, “governments are not in the habit of apologizing for their own injustices, let alone those perpetrated by former governments in distant and not-so-distant pasts. Yet they sometimes do … the desired outcomes are clear, if not always achieved.” Apologies are, however, a major (usually first) step toward reconciliation.
The reconciliation process in Hawaiʻi is centered on churches through The Interfaith Alliance Hawaiʻi, which includes representatives of a broad range of faiths. The impetus for reconciliation was behind the two apologies in 1993, that of the United Church of Christ (UCC) on January 17, and the joint resolution of Congress, Public Law 103-150 in November. The effectiveness of such apologies is often questioned (by my students in particular), but I always respond that as a Hawaiian history teacher, the apology is tremendously useful; I can now state unequivocally that the overthrow was illegal. Five years before the apology, when I took Hawaiian history, it would have been controversial in the extreme to teach an illegal overthrow. By the time I graduated from college it was a settled historical issue. In that vein, the Reconciliation Commission has forwarded a bill (supported by OHA with amendments) to mark January 17th as Hoʻokūʻikahi Day (Reconciliation Day), named after the commemorations that occur at Puʻukoholā heiau, of the unification of Hawaiʻi Island.
There has rarely been a better moment for reconciliation in the Hawaiian community than now. In my view, it is not merely about “moving on,” i.e., accepting the status quo, but about a true recognition of historical injustices. This must precede any attempt to get past differences. The differences over the direction of nation building, or re-building are real and, it seems, mutually exclusive. So reconciliation will not be an easy matter. Because a sense that certain actions, such as holding the aha for organic documents, is seen to preclude other avenues, perhaps if the sides can at least agree on what is at stake with each path, that can be a starting point. Such a starting point is badly needed in what is essentially a nation at war with itself.