My article in The Nation – the original

There were several versions, but you may be able to see the difference between the final version and this one below: The Nation edited it to be more colloquial (I wasnʻt too happy about that) but also had one of the most rigorous fact checking regimens of any US publication (that was good). I didnʻt have many “wrong” points, but had to “tone down” some of the language from this original. Also, some had to be cut for their (restrictive for this topic) 1000-word limit. But The Nation is the oldest weekly newsmagazine in the US. Founded in 1865, it is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year (2015). It is also the most important media outlet of the left, and I was quite proud to write for them. You should see some significant differences in turns of phrase and the way data is presented.

On June 24th, in the conference room of the Hawaiʻi State Capitol in Honolulu, Native Hawaiians gathered for the first of several hearings held by the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) throughout the Hawaiian Islands as well as on the U.S. continent. The hearings were held to ask Native Hawaiians for input on the formation of a Federally recognized nation. Surprisingly, after decades of endeavoring to achieve such a status, the overwhelming response to the panel of DOI officials was “aʻole” – no. At the Honolulu hearing, Political Science Professor Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua questioned the “reestablishing of a relationship” between the Federal government and the Native Hawaiian community, when no relationship existed other than the treaty relationships with the Hawaiian Kingdom. She asked DOI to recognize that “you are on our land,” proposed “free, prior and informed consent” and neutral international monitoring. Several speakers also reminded DOI that Hawaiʻi was previously a neutral, multi-ethnic country, and stated that the descendants of its non-native citizens were now being disenfranchised. Between two and five percent at all the hearings spoke in favor, including Hawaiian Roll Commissioner Naʻalehu Anthony, who said he did not want to pass the struggle on to his son after watching three generations fight for Hawaiian rights.

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Mainstream media coverage focused on tone, rather than content and missed the real story, which was that a shift in Hawaiian political will and a consensus had emerged over the proper route to sovereignty. In a community known for its divisiveness, this shift was quite stunning. Under the radar, a new view of Hawaiian history had taken hold, one in which debates over the history of the Hawaiian Kingdom, overthrown in 1893, were at the center.

Unified in 1810 by King Kamehameha I, Hawaiʻi was recognized internationally as a sovereign, independent country beginning in 1843. Fifty years later, the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi had treaties with nearly all the sovereign states in existence, including five with the US. In 1893, Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown by sugar businessmen backed a company of US Marines. President Cleveland called this unauthorized intervention an “act of war,” withdrew the proposed annexation treaty and agreed to reinstate Liliʻuokalani. On Feb February 9th, 1893, The Nation wrote, “We could not by annexation at the moment gain anything which we do not now possess.” A standoff between the President and Congress over the question of annexation prevented any action for five years.

When William McKinley took office in 1897, he attempted a second treaty, but this failed in the Senate, in part because of petitions opposing annexation. When the Spanish-American war broke out the following year, McKinley and annexationists in Congress led by Alabama Senator (and Ku Klux Klan “Dragon”) John Tyler Morgan decided, in the words of Congressman Thomas Ball of Texas, “to do unlawfully that which can not be done lawfully.” In 1898 they purported to annex Hawaiʻi via Joint Resolution. While the Congress issued a formal apology to the Hawaiian people in 1993 “for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893 with the participation of agents and citizens of the United States,” it is the subsequent annexation by resolution that lies at the heart of the current drama.

Those who accept that Hawaiʻi was annexed, legally or not, have pursued a course of Federal recognition leading to a limited form of “sovereignty.” This view is epitomized by former Governor John Waiheʻe, who said at the University of Hawaiʻi that one “would have to be illiterate” not to recognize the illegality of annexation, but questions how such a position would benefit Hawaiians. Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) Trustee Oswald Stender said more bluntly, on film, that Hawaiʻi was illegally annexed, but “so what?” The “domestic” approach to sovereignty first took form in the proposed Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act – the so-called “Akaka Bill” – named after its sponsor, the Native Hawaiian Senator Daniel Akaka. The bill circulated through Congress for twelve years before expiring with its sponsor’s retirement and the death of senior Senator Daniel Inouye in 2012. A new approach was devised in which the Department of Interior would propose “rule-making” changes that would allow Hawaiians to join the more than five hundred native nations already in existence. Fitting Hawaiians’ unique history into the template for Federal recognition has been a persistent challenge for advocates of this approach.

Others, taking the law at face value, find that if annexation was illegal, it is tantamount to saying that it did not occur at all. As a mere domestic instrument, a resolution, it is argued, cannot have effect in foreign territory. This means Hawaiʻi is under a prolonged military occupation, albeit one that the United States has not yet admitted to. The independence view was buoyed by a case in the International Court of Arbitration involving Hawaiʻi as an independent country. Hawaiʻi will also be listed in the 2013 War Report, a catalog of contemporary international conflicts published in Geneva, Switzerland, as an occupied state. The independence camp was given a further lift when in May, OHA CEO Kamanaʻopono Crabbe sent a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry asking for “advisement” on possible breaches of international law stemming from OHA support of Federal Recognition. Unsurprisingly, the letter caused uproar on one side and prompted petitions of support on the other.

At its root, the conflict between supporters of independence and Federal recognition stems from divergent beliefs about law and power. Independence advocates view the international law and specifically the law of occupation as safeguards against the continuation of an illegally constituted, and essentially occupying, government – the State of Hawaiʻi. They call not for decolonization, but deoccupation, as was done in the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) upon the breakup of the Soviet Union. Federal recognition supporters are sometimes beneficiaries of Hawaiian “entitlements” such as the Federal Hawaiian Home Lands homesteading program or are U.S. military veterans, and argue that the United States would never allow a withdrawal regardless of Hawaiʻi’s legal status internationally. These views and the paths they imply appear to be mutually exclusive, making reconciliation difficult. Some suggest that a further reexamination of Hawaiʻi’s widely misunderstood history is implicated as the only route to any kind of reconciliation.

ʻUmi Perkins teaches Hawaiian history at the Kamehameha Schools and Political Science in the University of Hawaiʻi system.

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Filed under Globalization, Hawaiian history, intellect, Uncategorized

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