Why Hawaiian Sovereignty Transcends Left and Right

Recently, on the program Democracy Now, host Amy Goodman and celebrity Leftist intellectual Cornel West made fun of Hawaiian claims to continued independence:

AMY GOODMAN: It might make many Hawaiian separatists happy to believe that Hawaii isn’t a part of the United States.

CORNEL WEST: That’s true. That’s true.

West has gained attention of late as a critic of Barack Obama, saying that the African-American left expecting in him John Coltrane, but got Kenny G. If the sovereignty movement canʻt depend on the left, on whose support can we depend? This predicament is the result of the unusual relationship between Hawaiians, their historical circumstance, the left, the right, and the relation of each to law and power. Thanks mainly to Noam Chomsky, the left has a strange relationship with international law in particular. After decades of sarcastic remarks about how world powers, especially the US, should follow international treaties and convenants, but do not, the left is left with a jaded attitude towards the very concept of international law, which, in many ways, is anathema to American exceptionalism. In a kind of provincialism, the right simply refuses to acknowledge any authority in international law, as if the world consisted solely of Hollywood, Wall Street, a few Main Streets, the Rust belt and the Bible belt. Their authority lies in power, its projection, and the rightness of their religion and values.

The Hawaiian cause treads a delicate course between these views, taking the rights-based approach of the left and the realism (i.e., the idea that states are the primary actors on the world stage) of the right. The independence wing of sovereignty rejects the jaded view of the left on international law and the provincialism of the right – on the latter point, much of the movement is about rethinking Hawaiians’ place in the world by changing vocabulary (deoccupy vs. decolonize, seized lands vs. ceded lands, etc.). Add the well-meaning support of Native Americans, helping us to “untangle” the complex web of Hawaiian sovereignty, and the situation becomes even more convoluted (an exception is Mohawk radio host John Kane, who gets it).

This predicament simply means that Hawaiians do not fall easily into ready-made categories, not even “native” ones, and that the need to educate a broader public is implicated. This is no easy task, but one that requires media-savvy and a well-scripted message. Iʻll be working on this message over then next few months.


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6 responses to “Why Hawaiian Sovereignty Transcends Left and Right

  1. onibaba1

    It’s pretty clear that Hawaiian Sovereignty transcends left and right because even within the movement, there are those who advocate progressive ideas, and those who perpetuate ideologically right-wing libertarian values.

    From the standpoint of a Hawaii independence advocate, if you were to deconstruct the terms “Kingdom advocate” or “Hawaiian National,” in its myriad interpretations, it is a trope that is laden with all the divinity, determinism and pastorality that progressives generally eschew.

    To self-identify as a sub-altern, as an anything-but-a-US-citizen, has tremendous validity and as a norm in Hawaii, real value for promoting a deoccupation or decolonization mindset. However, no matter how many people or how many times you might argue against it, Hawaii is one of the US fifty states, and as a citizen you still receive all the rights and abuses that come with that citizenship. To utter that should not betray how the surreptitious and fraudulent conditions of statehood occurred, but to deny it, does betray a kind of intellectual comport that progressives generally embrace.

    Kingdoms seem like a strange concept for progressives who are moving away from identifiers that connote such strong embellishments of nation-ality, because there is a general recognition that borders are liberalizing and laws reflect changing attitudes towards both migrants and ex-pats as a consequence of trade and globalization. This should not undermine struggles for State-recognition, but there should be clarity as to what those figurative boundaries are really motivated by. Usually they are hegemonic and oppressive forces and not a pastoral obligation to reassert a kingdom.

    Xenophobia, on the other hand, is the right-hand of nationalist uprisings. Whereas independence struggles– at least since the creation of the UN– is seen as the left hand of liberation politics.


  2. Is there a link to the audio?


  3. Raelian Donna Grabow

    A lot of high-brow, ultra-intellectual, deconstructionist about right and left blah blah here
    … especially Onibaba’s false assertion that, “no matter how many people or how many times you might argue against it, Hawaii is one of the US fifty states,”
    The facts are:
    1. there is NO treaty of annexation to the USA.
    2. The USA Dept of Interior is unable to show that Hawai’i is not a sovereign nation.
    3. the nation of Hawai’i had peaceful treaties with 20 different countries.
    and had 90 embassies and consulates around the world before 1893.
    3. The Hawaiian citizens (whom resided before the 1993 overthrow on the Hawaiian Kingdom,) were NOT all ‘indigenous Hawaiians.’ The Hawaiian citizens were and are a mixture of kanaka maoli, Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, and European descent.

    A militaristic empire such as the United States, just can’t go around breaking international laws and claiming the Pacific Sandwich Islands.
    It’s time that other countries step up to the bully nation and help the oppressed nations to resume their government and country.


  4. Noa Napoleon

    Iʻm not sure I agree that “Hawaiian sovereignty transcends left or right.” On the sovereignty FB blogs I notice a very strong contingency of liberals who seem to use sovereignty and race struggles as a platform for promoting their views on sovereignty and culture. Those views include totally gutting Hawaiian law of any remnants of Christianity and replacing those laws with what they would call a multi-religion nation. Their courts would be multi-national courts and their religious laws would restrict religious expression to those religions and nations whoʻs religions are “not inherently racist, homophobic, and against the environment.” Thereʻs gonna be a severe clash over this kind of progressive dogma that has the potential to alienate otherwise civc minded Hawaiians from getting involved in nation building.


    • umi

      Itʻs probably more left than right, but in crucial ways, the argument for continued existence is conservative (in the traditional sense – “gentlemenʻs agreements” and all that…


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